Well before Sheldon T. Banks became successful he promised himself one thing: He would never turn his back on Flint.
And he has been true to his word. In fact, the Flint native is extending his footprint in the city through the expansion of one of his businesses, Serenity Funeral Chapel.
For those who know Banks, the expansion plans will hold little surprise. Banks is larger than life. He owns a second business — the Sheldon T. Banks Funeral Chapel — and is also a firefighter for the city.
Furthermore, Banks is a leading force when it comes to giving back to the community. While his list of good deeds is long and impressive, he was most recently honored for his work with “Loads of Luv.” The program is a partnership with Genesee Health Plan that helps local families access clean clothing and laundry facilities.
“All I want to do is help the people of Flint and make them proud and happy,” Banks says. “I hear about all the negativity and how people are shying away from investing here. But for me, I feel like someone needed to stand up and take the reins and make investments into the city.”
The expansion of the Serenity property is a stellar example of Banks putting his money where is mouth is. He bought the property (which had been vacant for about five years) in 2010 at the behest of his mother. Her church was right next door and she liked the peaceful feel of the area. Additionally, it was apparent that there would be lots of room for expansion.
Over time, Banks became increasingly motivated to make use of that available space to grow the business. “There was a big public demand for more room. People kept saying that the space was just too small for their needs, and I had to do something.”
So he set his expansion plan in motion. The highlights include a much larger chapel, a lunchroom with a capacity to host up to 180 people, a large casket selection room and meeting space that will allow people to make funeral arrangements more comfortably. “I will also have space to house my fleet of vehicles right on the property and am creating a large lighted, secure parking lot,” Banks adds.
The renovations are expected to be completed just before Christmas, much to Banks’ relief. The project has not been without challenges and he is grateful for help along the way from one particular local organization.
“Without the help of Metro Community Development, my dreams would just be words on a piece of paper,” Banks says. “They took me under their wings and believed in me and my business when no one else would. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.”
The whole experience has further solidified in Banks’ mind how important it is to serve others. He is also reminded of this on a daily basis through the support of his identical twin brother Marvin (who is also a mortician) and his staff who he describes as some of the most compassionate people he knows.
“All of us try to help each other and our clients, and the renovations will help us do both even better,” Banks says. “To get that help from Metro so that we can continue our work more effectively means a lot.”
One of the things that motivates him to continue forward is the praise and gratitude that he receives on a regular basis. It confirms that he is on the right track and making a difference. Banks says, “upon my demise, I want people to think that I was a man who did what a good man is supposed to do.”
Banks has no plans on leaving the scene any time soon though. In the future, he envisions doing construction on the Sheldon T. Banks Funeral Chapel and also opening up a third business. He can’t disclose the details of his new initiative since it is still in its infancy, but he describes it as a winner for Flint.
Thinking of future endeavors in relation to how it will impact the place where he was born and raised is a no-brainer for Banks. And he wants more people in the community to get on the bandwagon. “I want to see everyone succeed. And that can happen, because Flint has a lot of hidden talent and resources,” he says. “We can’t just wait for large corporations to come in, we have to go back to the days where people ran their own ice cream parlors, or barber shops or car dealerships. Current business owners can only do much.”
And it’s not just the purely business-minded folks who can play a part in the prosperity of Flint, he believes. For instance, as the future of the city, local youth can be instrumental by taking their education seriously. “I would love for Flint to become a Boston, Massachusetts or a Charlotte, North Carolina. Our kids can show outsiders that they can’t write off Flint,” Banks says.
Regardless of age and dream, Banks says the business advice he’d give anyone is the same: Don’t listen to naysayers and act. “Take your dream off of a piece of paper and live it,” he says. “And if that dream takes you away be sure to come back to Flint and reinvest in your roots so that there is a brighter future for others.”