Black History Month: Recognizing CAAN’s Impact Connecting Colleagues and Community Spanning over Three Decades

For more than 30 years, Comerica’s African American Network (CAAN) has led meaningful involvement in diverse projects inside the bank and throughout the community built on the idea of inclusiveness and the strength of recognizing and appreciating difference.

As Comerica Vice President and District Manager – West Oakland District and Banker Connect Customer Support Team Charise Key-Gray explained, “The Comerica African American Network was the first and longest established employee resource group for the bank.”

Key-Gray has also served as a past chairperson of CAAN.

“CAAN was established in 1990 by a group of African American bankers who worked to support career advancement for African American colleagues and to build business relationships in the African American community,” said Key-Gray. “The group has always managed several programs annually to carry out the vision of the founding members. We welcome all Comerica colleagues to participate in CAAN events–and this year, we’ll celebrate 34 years and we currently have close to 600 members.” 

She continues, “With CAAN, we focus on four different areas. We focus on fostering, improving, enhancing and serving, so I’ll share the key mission with you. As far as fostering, we are fostering an environment where African American employees can succeed.”

Nate Bennett, Comerica’s Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer further details CAAN’s importance to the bank.

“Embracing the differences amongst our colleagues and customers allows Comerica to flourish and support success for all,” said Bennett.

“We are committed and stand with our communities to achieve equal justice for all.”

The employee resource group (ERG) brings awareness and education to promote the African American experience. CAAN supports the growth of its members through professional development, mentoring, and networking opportunities.

CAAN now includes the original chapter in Michigan and a chapter in the Texas market.

Since CAAN launch more than 30 years ago, that has now led to 12 different ERGs at Comerica that includes 21 different chapters.

The impact for Comerica’s ERGs is also made in outreach initiatives to support the communities Comerica serves.

“Our successes include collaboration with local organizations MLK Day of Service for over 20 years, as well as collaborating with the American Heart Association,” said Key-Gray. “We participate in the Detroit Heart Walk every year, and we’ve been doing that for 12 years. We also have been supporting the UNCF walks. For 30 years, we have partnered with UNCF by establishing a team and raising funds.” 

Unique programming that CAAN leads allows for colleague collaboration and employee engagement internally while contributing to the community externally.

These activities in the Michigan market include Smiles for a Cause fundraiser to benefit UNCF, where employees can contribute a donation to receive a professional headshot taken by Terrance Talton of My Personal Photographer. Proceeds benefit UNCF.

Others employee engagements include History of Black Rodeo, Black History Month Evening of Celebration at Charles H Wright Museum and Ask Me Anything – Lunch and Learn with Michigan Market President Steve Davis.

When asked how CAAN has influenced the culture of Comerica, Ms. Key-Gray explains, “I think we’ve impacted the culture because we look for opportunities to recognize others. Our main goal is to be inclusive, and that’s why we invite every employee to participate in our events. Inclusiveness has been a strength of ours over the years.” 

Key-Gray has been with the bank for nearly 30 years. She shared that the culture of the bank and its supportive atmosphere inspires her.

“I love Comerica because Comerica has always invested in its employees,” said Key-Gray. “They always look for opportunities to promote. They highlight our skill sets. They provide ongoing training.

“So that’s what I’ve always loved about this company. They also allow us to give back. I had mentors when I started back in 1993. And now I’m a mentor. I’m participating in the Commercial Bank’s mentor mentee program. So we’re always paying it forward.”

For so many Comerica colleagues, that forward payment inspiration is embedded in the true spirt of CAAN, Comerica’s original employee resource group.

Comerica, Diversity and ERGs: Comerica continued to encourage the formation of ERGs to help support and sustain our DEI model. ERGs consist of colleagues with common interests organized to promote cultural awareness, career advancement, colleague connection and community impact. They also build awareness with the general Comerica population and Comerica management and help manage the equity versus equality conversation.

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