Cassandra Williams seemed destined to live a life of service. Her mother worked for more than 30 years as a registered nurse in the Mississippi Delta. Her father was a civil rights and union activist who brought a very young Cassandra and the family from Clarksdale to Memphis when he worked with the union during the sanitation workers’ strike in the late 1960s.
Today, in addition to being part of the Greater Memphis Chamber Chairman's Circle, Cassandra is executive vice president and chief program officer for Hope Credit Union, a CDFI (Community Development Financial Institution) that provides access to financial products and services to residents and businesses in underserved communities. Cassandra guides direction, growth, and continuous improvement to HOPE’s commercial lending and community and economic development activities.
Cassandra left Memphis for a time, but HOPE brought her back to the area. “My dad, Jesse Epps, gave me strong roots here with his work on the sanitation workers’ strike,” she said. “His mission was to ensure people were treated fairly and had the same opportunities as others. His legacy gives me purpose in this place he fought so hard for.”
With her mom’s work as a nurse in the Mississippi Delta, Cassandra takes particular pride in the way HOPE makes investments in rural hospitals and other places that advance access to healthcare.
HOPE was created to provide credit access to businesses in Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana. The CDFI takes a targeted approach to providing that access to both businesses and now individuals with credit standards and products designed to meet the financial needs of the unbanked and underbanked, “people who might traditionally use predatory lenders or check cashers in our community,” said Cassandra.
She speaks with passion about the work HOPE does. “We allow a person with a limited credit history to establish credit and purchase a vehicle for the first time,” she said. “We make it possible for someone who’s never had a bank account before to open that first account. We support small businesses seeking funding, and our goal is to close the racial wealth gap of black homeownership in the Deep South.”
Cassandra joined HOPE in 1999 as a commercial lender in the Mississippi Delta. She has provided leadership for HOPE’s community facilities, health care and New Markets Tax Credit lending. She holds BA and MBA degrees from Delta State University. She has served as an advisor or director for the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the Memphis CDFI Network and the Blues City Cultural Center. She is also on the advisory council for the Delta Region Community Health Systems Development Program and a member of the Lenders Coalition for Community Health Centers.
She and her husband Paul have two adult children, a daughter and a son. When she’s not working, you just might find her riding around the area on her Harley motorcycle.
About the Chairman’s Circle: The Greater Memphis Chamber Chairman’s Circle is a group of more than 160 C-suite business leaders working to spur economic growth, develop the workforce, and improve the business climate throughout the region. Learn more about the group and its task forces here and follow the Chairman’s Circle on LinkedIn.