BRYANT RULE #2, OWN SOMETHING, ANYTHING. An excerpt from a book I am writing entitled The Bryant Rules for Being.

Leased cars don’t count.

According to Target Market, a company that tracks black consumer spending, blacks spend a significant amount of their income on depreciable products. In 2002, the year the economy nose-dived; we spent $22.9 billion on clothes, $3.2 billion on electronics and $11.6 billion on furniture to put into homes that, in many cases, were rented. Among our favorite purchases are cars and liquor. Blacks make up only 12% of the US population, yet account for 30% of the country’s Scotch consumption. Detroit, which is 80% black, is the world’s No. 1 market for Cognac. So impressed was Lincoln with the $46.7 billion that blacks spent on cars that the automaker commissioned Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, the entertainment and fashion mogul, to design a limited-edition Navigator replete with six plasma screens, three DVD players and a Sony PlayStation 2. The only area where blacks seem to be cutting back on spending, is books; total purchases have gone from a high of $356 million in 2000 to $303 million in 2002. Go figure.

The Problem.

Leased cars don’t count (I just like saying that. Sorry).

The bottom line is that we don’t own anything of substance in this country, or at the least, NOT ENOUGH OF IT! This is a big, big problem. Black America is by some reports the 9th largest consumer spending power in the free world, but we don’t own anything.

In the 1920’s, black America owned 85 million acres of land. By 1985 we owned 3 million acres of land. The wrong trend line, in the wrong direction.

And it get’s worse.  From South Central Los Angeles, California, to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Detroit, Michigan, to Harlem, New York, we are literally giving up on and walking away from absolute goldmines – every urban, inner city community in America. Preferring to rent uptown, than to own downtown, is starting to cause it a real problem, and once again we cannot blame the “white man,” the boogie man, or any other man. The true villain here is economic illiteracy, …and once again, the problem and the solution is staring us right in the mirror. This is within our power to change!

The Bible says, “where there is no vision the people perish.”  This is true in more ways than one. South Los Angeles was once a middle American white working class community. A few blacks moved in (say 20%), and walla – it was suddenly “South Central.” Well, let me tell you something about South Central, and places such as Compton, California, where I grew up.  South Central is 15 minutes from the airport, minutes from downtown, 15 minutes from the beach, 15 minutes from Hollywood, and 15 minutes or less from freeways heading east, west, north and south. In short, South Los Angeles is PRIME REAL ESTATE! Hello!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Let’s take Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which most people remember only as a “smokestack city” of the 1970’s. Wrong. Pittsburgh was once a smokestack city, in the times of the Industrial revolution in America, but times have changed. America, like every other developed nation in the world today, has gone through and grown through four major economic shifts; the agricultural age, the industrial age, the technology age, and the information age. 
Yes, Pittsburgh was once an industrial town, and during all of those hard years, when it literally hurt to breath the air (compliments of air polluting smokestacks), and drinking or even swimming in the local water was not a viable option for a rationale human being (compliments of the dumping of waste into the local lakes and waterways).

But that was then and this is now. Today we live in the information age, in a clean economy.  Yesterday, the worse place in all of Pittsburgh was on the hill, next to the lake. Well, guess where city planners had the vision to place poor people? You got it! On the hill, next to the lake.  In today’s day and age, developers and city officials are offering “the poor” the deal of a century – a cash voucher to move out of their dump of a home location. Well, today, the clean economy of 2004, they are building and selling $250,000 town homes on that purported dump of a home location in Pittsburgh. The same land that nobody wanted, on the hill, next to the lake, is now the home that everyone wants. Everyone, but the poor that is.

And then, finally, you have what I refer to as the great Harlem give-away program. For countless years, generations even, the City of New York could not GIVE AWAY land in Harlem. No, we are giving it away.  Right when they are building $1 million brownstones on 125th Street, and a tear down anywhere in Harlem is $500,000. Huh? Look, Manhattan, New York is an Island folks.  Central Park in the middle, surrounded by the upper west side of Manhattan, the upper east side of Manhattan, lower Manhattan…and then Harlem. Something sound, ummm…, strange here?  Central Park surrounded on three sides by “Manhattan,” and then sticking out as obvious as an elephant in our collective psychological living room, you have Harlem.

Let me help you, Translation: Upper East Side Manhattan (= white folk). Upper East Side Manhattan (= white folk). Lower Manhattan (= white folk). Harlem (= BLACK FOLK). 

But at the end of the day, Manhattan is an Island. And with increasing population, increasing wealth, and finite land, after a while white folk surmised that black folk were not so bad. Alas, $1 million town homes on 125th Street.

While touring Harlem in 2002, in preparation for our partnership to educate every child in Harlem in financial literacy over a five-year period, I learned something stunning, and very telling about where we are as a people financially. 10 years ago approximately 85% of all small businesses in Harlem (read black) were on a month to month lease, and they did not want a long term lease. Today, approximately 85% of all small businesses in Harlem (read black) are on a month to month lease, but now the landlord does not want you on a long term lease! How do you say make way for Starbucks and Wal-Mart?  No, no one took Harlem away from black America. This is not a socialize country (sorry to break this to some of my brothers and sisters), and it is not a communist country; it is a capitalist country. No one can buy something unless you sell it to them! And that is exactly what we have done in Harlem. Sold it, for a song I might add. 
And this is what I call the Great Harlem Give-A-Away Program. Because if we keep at this, at this pace, in less than 10-years Harlem is going to a historical district with three homes bearing signs that read: BLACK FOLKS ONCE LIVED HERE. Hello.

The Solution

In 2004 the shackles are no longer on our hands and feet. They are on our minds, hearts and spirits. In order to be free in 2005, we have to become rich in self esteem, knowledge and education.  Specifically, financial literacy education.

Think about it – who is teaching our children Life 101 skills? The basics of a checking account, a savings account, and the importance of credit and investment in their young lives. No one. The largest capitalist country, and the largest economy in the world today, and yet no one is teaching our children Life 101 skills. NO ONE.

That is why Operation HOPE has partnered with the William Jefferson Clinton Foundation, Citigroup, Carver Federal Savings Bank and others, in an effort to education every child in Harlem over
five-years in financial literacy, before they reach 8th grade. 

This is why at Operation HOPE we have already educated more than 143,000 urban youth in financial literacy through our award winning Banking on Our Future program (an Oprah Angel Network awardee in 2001, and the U.S. Treasury Department’s John Sherman Award in 2004), using a growing network of more than 2,000 volunteer HOPE Corps members.
And this is why we have taken the likes of former President Bill Clinton, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, FDIC Chairman Donald Powell, U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, Treasury Secretary John Snow, 10 of the 12 Federal Reserve Bank presidents, superstar Tyrese, and a host of other luminaries and leaders from across America in urban, inner city classrooms across America, highlighting the national importance of financial literacy education in our children’s future.

Together, we can make a difference!

Onward, with HOPE.

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