by John Bryant
We Black folks are the only modern race of people in this country that created a political powerbase, before we created an economic powerbase. Think about it. No other race of people in America has taken this route, except for blacks and to some degree, the Irish. The Irish plan has not worked out much better than ours has on the whole, but they had a few things going for them that Black America did not. Amongst them, they were not an enslaved people, legally prohibited from the basics, such as education, which in the 21st Century is, and will continue to be, the ultimate poverty eradication tool in America. Even our Latino brothers and sisters have gotten off on the right foot here. Say what you will about illegal immigration, Hispanic legal and illegal immigrants alike have learned something important about America, and quickly – you are nothing if not an owner or producer in this country. Result: today 8 out of 10 names on home mortgage applications in California are Hispanic surnames.
Our core problems started with the denial of “40 acres and a Mule,” a visionary promise made by President Abraham Lincoln following the Civil War, but a promise quickly broken following his assassination by those not loyal to his bold vision for a new America. Next to the cruelty of slavery itself, this was the worse thing that mainstream America of that day could do to blacks “trying to move on,” …and to itself. A self-inflicted wound that continues to infect, disease and impact literally the whole of America today in one way or another; manifesting itself in, amongst other indicators, rampant urban crime, a sky-rocketing rate of unemployment, mind-numbing poverty, illiteracy, apathy, poor employment skill sets that are not suited for the education dependent, information age we live in today, and a fundamental lack of appreciation for what ownership and a producer mentality could and would bring us.
For what would have happened if the promise of 40 acres and a Mule was kept following the civil war? Well-meaning and self-determined blacks would have had the opportunity to work together on a farm, their own farm, planting, tilling and cultivating the land until a marketable crop emerged – whether we “liked” each other not. We would have had the opportunity to experience the joy and pain associated with waking up early as a family, and going to bed late as a unified working force, building up a portfolio of land, property and valuable assets that were our own, and of our own making. We would have emerged into the main of life understanding the difference between owning and renting; between working for someone else, and working for oneself, and a greater appreciation for a hand up, and not just a hand out.
In short, with all the rhetoric around a “work ethic” we never got to see early on, in the emergence and development of America, what a good work ethic would get you, and so, exceptions aside, as a race of people we didn’t really learn to value it. Some would say we some of us, still do not today.
Missing this critical step of economic empowerment, ownership and the power of individual property rights early in our developmental process as a people in America, we wholeheartedly embraced the first true mainstream power that seemed to emerge from the fruits of the civil rights movement – political power. Great! Fantastic! But political power without the underpinning of economic empowerment is a car without an engine.
Public policy in America is principally designed around America’s first priority; economics and ownership. Individual property rights. Think about it – from tax breaks and other protections for homeowners, to incentives for the working class, to incentives for small businesses and major corporations alike.. it’s all about owners and producers. Think about it.
Do you really care about a tax break unless you have a job? Do you really care about a bond issuance for infrastructure repairs or investment in your local community, unless you own a home or business? Frankly, those who are not owners or tax payers may not even know what others are talking about. It’s a foreign language to those who are not owners or producers. And so, as a result we have effectively tied one hand behind the collective back of our political leadership; forcing them to pursue a doomed public policy strategy not of proactively protecting, enhancing and growing our own individual property rights, but rather a reactive, defensive “strategy” of trying to protect and preserve an ever decreasing pool of mostly entitlements and public subsidies. READY, FIRE, AIM….
Somewhere along the line we confused “producing” in the private-sector with “mandating” in the public sector. In order for black America to move forward we need a bold, new strategy in and for the 21st Century, and at Operation HOPE, the organization I founded, we call it the Silver Rights movement.
Do it half right and we will bless our children, and our children’s children, with the emergence of a genuine black stakeholder class in America. A force to be reckoned with on merit — and most importantly we can do it.
With the emergence of a black stakeholder class in America we will no longer see homeowners as black, white or brown, but green. We will see our urban, inner city communities not as wastelands, but emerging markets in America, vastly under-served, and the last bastion of lost capitalism. A place of future riches.
Witness the true renaissance of Harlem, New York today – with or without our involvement, I might add. Because Harlem’s newest evolution is not racism based, it is for us, mostly ignorance based. We did not see the opportunity train coming, and now it is pulling away from the station without us.
In the 21st century financial illiteracy will kill the hopes and dreams of literally millions of black Americans with the will to make it. That is why Operation HOPE has educated more than 140,000 urban youth in financial literacy across America, and has committed to educating 5 million over the next 5-years, including a bold 5-year partnership between former President Bill Clin
ton and his William Jefferson Clinton Foundation and Operation HOPE’s Banking on Our Future program to educate every child in Harlem in financial literacy. Let’s give our kids what they really want and what they need – a hand up, and not a hand out.
Full financial literacy should practically then link itself to viable strategies for true economic empowerment, conversion (converting a check cashing mentality into a bank account mentality, a renters mentality into a homeownership mentality, etc.) and ownership in low-wealth communities.
In this regard I am also honored to have a working relationship with President George W. Bush and the Bush Administration; recently accepting a 4-year Presidential Appointment to the Bi-Partisan U.S. Community Development Advisory Board at the Treasury Department, which oversees the CDFI Fund responsible for more than $500 million invested to date in low-wealth communities, and has $15 billion in New Market Tax Credit authority, $6 billion of which has already been awarded in inner-city communities we care about, such as Baltimore, Maryland, represented by my friend Congressman Elijah Cummings; the city where you will find signs and banners posted throughout that read, BELIEVE. Faith, education, self-esteem and opportunity are powerful partners for change in 2004.
In the 21st century I predict that the debate will substantially switch from race and the color line, to issues of class and poverty. We need to make sure we are ready. Black America needs to push itself to be ready; to begin to do things differently. Very differently.
I like people who do things that are not comfortable. I like people who push and who stretch in order to do extraordinary things.
A friend of mine who happens to also be an ultra-conservative Republican asked me recently, “Why have you stuck with me for so long, agreement or no?” I said in response, “It’s because I know that you genuinely care. We may not fully agree on how we get there, but we surely agree on the outcome. I say that publicly. I say that privately. I would embrace you anywhere. You may drive me crazy sometimes, but you are my friend.” If a black man who grew up in a solidly Democratic black community, and who sees himself as “a capitalist with a heart,” can stretch himself enough to become genuine friends with someone who sees himself as an ultra-conservative Republican, agreeing to disagree at most, then no doubt black America can positively challenge ourselves and each other, to do more – and to do more differently.
If our plan is to truly move forward, fulfill our destiny, and to truly live the American dream for our families and ourselves, then in the 21st century black America is going to have to learn to be a little, well, uncomfortable.
Recently, my wife and I were with the family of the late Martin Luther King for “King Day” in Atlanta. The singer and activist Bono was receiving an award, and he said this: “I refuse to hate because I think love can do a better job.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. walked with Jews during the Civil Rights movement. It should be noted that they had a little more than a subtle difference of opinion on a man named Christ. Nelson Mandela negotiated with de Klerk and made him his vice president. Lincoln, a Republican, signed one piece of important legislation, the Emancipation Proclamation. Johnson, a Democrat, signed another piece of important legislation, the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
We are all in this together.
On April 24, 2002 I stood with Former President Bill Clinton in Harlem as we made a commitment to educate every child in Harlem in financial literacy over five years. Five days later, on April 29, I stood with President George W. Bush in South Central Los Angeles as we made a commitment to reclaim our communities. I said the same sort of thing to both: “Our communities are in crisis. I do not care whether you are black or white or rich or poor, Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal. If you want to eradicate poverty, if you want to help me eradicate poverty in my community, you are my friend. And with great respect, if you do not, you are wasting your and my time.” I am pleased to say that neither one has wasted my time.
No one has a lock on truth except God. Not Democrats, not Republicans. The best I can tell, we are all born broken. Whether you believe Jesus Christ was the Son of God, as I do, or not, does not matter. There is a universal lesson in his saying, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” None of us is without sin.
If we truly want to eradicate poverty, if we truly want to create social change, if we truly want to make a difference in our community, we cannot do it on a partisan political basis. This may be bad news for some. But if we look at the social movers of our times — Gandhi, King, Cesar Chavez, Mother Teresa — respectfully, none were politicians. They were moral leaders who had the vision and a passion to make a difference.
This of course is not to say that political leadership is not important, but frankly, just the opposite. Not JUST political leadership, and surely more than just partisan political leadership, is needed for our true emergence as a people. Having strong spirit-centered leadership throughout the black community, starting in our homes and in our individual lives, helps and strengthens our political leadership in Washington, D.C.
So if we want to make a change, we have to do something really difficult. We have to work together; Democrats and Republicans, blacks and whites, conservatives and liberals. We have to find a common ground.
I owe a lot to the Civil Rights movement, not the least of which is my right to vote and my civil liberties. But it is the “Silver Rights” movement which provides the framework of what I want to discuss today.
Rule number one of the Silver Rights movement is that you have to have an inspired perspective. Translation: be positive. The Bible says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
The road ahead is not easy. Nobody promised that life would be anything but difficult. You cannot have a rainbow without a storm first. To have hope is the first step in having opportunity, because life is how you see it, and what you can make of it. Life is ten percent what circumstances do to you and ninety percent how you choose to respond to them. What is your response going to be?
I can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or I can celebrate because thorn bushes have roses.
Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm, until hope brings you the opportunity you were looking for.
A shoe salesman went to Africa, came back and said, “No one in Africa wears shoes. I’m coming home. This is crazy.” A lady went to Africa, came back home and said, “Send three boatloads of shoes.” “Are you crazy? Why would you ask for three boatloads of shoes?” She said, “No one in Africa has shoes.” Where there is no vision, the people perish.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has said, “If you get the short end of the stick, sharpen it and use it as a tool.”
My friend Tom Hoenig, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, points out that “there’s a difference between being skeptical and being cynical.” Being skeptical is good.
Question everything. But have hope.
Is racism real? Yes, it is. But racism is like rain. It is always falling someplace or it is gathering. So you might as well get out an umbrella in a color you like and start strolling through it because that is not going to change. So we must.
And finally, ‘There is a difference between being broke and being poor. To be broke is an economic condition. To be poor is a disabling frame of mind, a depressed condition of your spirit. We must vow never, ever, ever to be poor again.’
The second rule of the Silver Rights movement is: believe in people; believe in yourself. We do not do business with companies, governments, or organizations; we do business with people. Six billion people in the world, and no one is just like you. It is amazing how we want to handle the ball like Michael Jordan. We want to dance like Michael Jackson. God forbid if somebody wants to look like Dennis Rodman. The point is that everybody is trying to be somebody else, when the only thing that you truly can be (and no one can compete with you in this) is you.
We are interdependent. Or, as my friend, the former Dallas Mayor, Ron Kirk said, “You can take no pleasure from the fact that there is a hole in my end of our boat.”
Rule three: Make the connection. The 20th century was about race and the color line. The 21st century is going to be about class and poverty. According to CNN, half of all Americans — I did not say half of black folks — are living paycheck to paycheck. This is a 2001 report. By 2004, this figure was 70% living from paycheck to paycheck. There are more poor whites in America than poor anybody else. Do not let anybody tell you anything different.
There is no unselfishness in the world. There is only good selfishness and bad selfishness.
Good selfishness is where I benefit and everybody else benefits more. Bad selfishness is where I benefit and everybody else pays a price for it. When you take care of your child, that is not being unselfish; that is being very selfish lovingly so, because you get to see yourself imprinted in this child.
You feel good about how this child, most of the time, is being raised and coming into this world. You feel pride about this child. Part of you is in this child. When you give a gift, the gift is to the giver.
At the end of his life, Martin Luther King said that you could not legislate goodness and you could not pass a law to force someone to respect you. That the only way to get social justice in a capitalist country was through economic parity. This is the leader of the Civil Rights movement in 1968, flipping the script, trying to lead poor blacks, poor Latinos, and poor whites into the 21st Century.
We need to stop talking about low to moderate income and start talking about the “wealthless. ” There is a difference between income and wealth.
We have to focus on spiritual wealth, emotional wealth, economic wealth, and especially educational wealth. Education is the ultimate poverty eradication tool. When you know better, you tend to do better!
It is not about making more money; it is about making better decisions with the money you make. You can make three million dollars and still spend five million. It does not matter.
Rule four: support an institution of change that helps to create a nation of stakeholders. For me, it is Operation HOPE, America’s first non-profit social investment bank, a partnership between the government, the community, and the private sector.
Operation HOPE focuses on conversion: We convert check-cashing customers into banking customers; renters into homeowners; small business dreamers into small business owners; minimum wage workers into living wage workers with new job skills; we convert the economically uneducated to the economically empowered.
I hate the check cashing business. I think it is morally exploitative. Operation HOPE bought a check casher. If you cannot beat them, buy them and undercut them. We partnered with Union Bank of California, and we joined together to acquire a 45-percent ownership interest in the largest check casher in South Central Los Angeles, Nick’s Check Cashing, with 600,000 customers in 47 locations, right across the street from a bank.
So what did we do? We moved them out of the check-cashing business and into the conversion business, converting check-cashing customers into banking customers. Out of 30,000 deposit accounts opened at Union Bank of California in the year 2002, 3,000 accounts were opened by us, or 10 percent of the entire bank volume, converting check-cashing customers into banking customers, moving people up and out of poverty. It was practical, it was commonsense, it was compassionate, and it moved people to a better reality. It was good for everybody. Everybody won.
During the 1992, Los Angeles riots there was one billion dollars of property damage and 3,000 structures were damaged. Guess how many were homes? Zero. Why? It is very simple. You do not burn that which is your own. That is not a black principle. That is not a white principle. That is not a Latino principle. That is a green principle. That is enlightened self-interest.
The problem with every inner-city community can be summarized in a couple short sentences: “If I don’t like me, I can’t like you. If I don’t feel good about me, I’m not going to feel good about you. If I don’t respect me, I’m not going to respect you.” And here’s the big one: “If I don’t have a purpose in my life, I’ll make your life a living hell.”
In 1992, thirty-five percent of the residents of South Central L.A. owned their own homes. Sixty-five percent rented for the same cost as a mortgage payment. Would you not do better if you knew better?
Why would you want to rent if you could afford to own? The problem was a combination of low self-esteem, lack of access, and lack of tools.
If the home ownership rate in South Central L.A. was 35 percent, what do you think the voter turnout rate was? It was thirty-eight percent. You do not need a voter turnout drive. You need more homeowners. When you have a homeowner, you have enlightened self-interest. They care because they have invested.
When you have a homeowner, you have got a policeman on the block. My mother used to say, “You better get off of my porch with that mess.” Underline my. My mom and dad would rather mortgage me than miss the mortgage payment on their home.
When you have a homeowner, you have a taxpayer. I do not care about tax policy unless I have a job. I do not care about a bond issue for infrastructure repairs unless I own a home or a business. It is not a miracle; it is common sense. It is enlightened self-interest.
When you have a homeowner, you have a potential venture capitalist. Why? Because when you have a home, you build equity. If you want to start a business, and the bank turns you down, you approve yourself and get a home equity loan, and invest in your own business. You become your own scholarship and send your own child to whatever four-year college you want. You have options in your life, and you take those options because you have empowered yourself with the pride and substance of ownership.
When you have a homeowner, you have a stakeholder.
At Operation HOPE we have funded $130 million in loans since we began, creating 850 homeowners and small business owners. Not one home loan has gone bad in 10 years.
We have $180 million in loan commitments. These are black folks. These are brown folks. When they came to us, some of their credit reports looked like bus accidents. But we did not turn them down. We said, “It’s what you didn’t know that you didn’t know that was killing you.” They were poor rather than broke. When they walked in our front door, the sign said, “No loans denied.” We approved them day one — subject to the resolution of their primary denial factors. Ours is not a handout program; it is a hand-up program. In other words, on day one we give them their hope back. No loan denied. They know they are approved.
Now, we pull their credit report. Ooh, baby, that is bad! Okay, you need a Band-Aid, a tourniquet, then you need a credit counselor, case manager, financial planning, dollar-for-dollar matching grants, a little CPR. Give us three months to three years and we will turn that client’s credit picture around. There is no miracle here. There is credit counseling, and financial planning. You do not have a down payment? Fine, we will open a savings account for you. For every dollar you put up, we will grant you a dollar up to $5,000. As long as you buy a home in the lower-income communities, the money is yours.
Who puts up the money? A bank. Why? Because a bank will spend three to five thousand dollars in promotion to acquire a new long-term customer. We say, “Give us the $5,000. We’ll give you a charitable credit. You will get a Community Reinvestment Act credit from the government. You will become a hero in the local community. You are also going to get a first right of refusal on this home loan when they are prepared to get a mortgage. A $175,000 mortgage is going to return you well over $5,000 from reasonable fees and interest. Everybody wins.
My goal is a billion dollars in new home ownership wealth in the lower-income communities in America. We have three HOPE Centers in Southern California. These centers are a cross between a bank branch and a Kinko’s for empowerment, a one-stop shopping center for changing your life.
We are building a HOPE Center in Oakland, California, in partnership with Bank of the West, United Commercial Bank, SBC Communications, Charles Schwab Bank, the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the City of Oakland and others. Bi-partisan, private-public and inclusive.
We are building a HOPE center in Washington, D.C. in that third-world country called Greater Anacostia, with no sidewalks, which is four miles from the White House.
We are building the Anacostia HOPE Center in partnership with E* Trade Bank, Microsoft, the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the District of Columbia and others. Bi-partisan, inclusive of the private sector and the community, and on Good Hope Road no less. Doesn’t get much better than this.
In 2002, we became the first nonprofit in history to build a bank branch and sell it to a bank. We sold two of our three HOPE Centers in Maywood and East L.A. to the former Hawthorne Savings Bank and California National Bank for seven figures. And it wasn’t a handout; it was just good business.
We had 16,000 customers a month coming from three locations. We funded more than a $100 million in loans. Not one loan went bad. We created 700 homeowners, 150 small business owners, and we did a better job of banking for the community than they could. What we sold them was access to a new market.
This new market is not black or brown. It is underserved communities. Our communities are fundamentally underserved. I am talking about basic stuff — groceries, gas stations, entertainment, basic things that are hard to find in lower-income communities. Serving them will make them community stakeholders.
People ask why do people leave inner city communities? Why did Moses leave Egypt? This isn’t complicated. Why did people leave Ethiopia? They cannot eat. Why do people leave Mexico? They can’t get a job. This is practical stuff. “Why did you move from South Central L.A.?” “Because my wife can’t go to the grocery store without getting jacked, because I can’t find someplace to shop, because I can’t find a Nordstrom, because I can’t find a bank.” The rationale is really always the same: If you do not have a quality life in that place, you are going to leave.
Rule five: See America’s inner-cities as opportunities, as communities of promise. South Central L.A. is 15 minutes from every major place you want to be — the ports, the ocean, and the freeway. It is five minutes from the three busiest freeways in the world, the mountains, downtown, ideally situated real estate. And guess what? It wasn’t always black. It was once white, then converted to black, and is now Latino. Compton was once white, it was black, and is now Latino. These are marketplaces.
Let me remind you what happened in Pittsburgh. It was a smokestack city. The worst land was on the hill next to the lake. Why? Because the factories were putting pollutants into the air and dumping them into the lake. That was in Pittsburgh’s industrial age.
Now Pittsburgh has entered the information age. It is a clean economy. Where is the best land? Is it on the hill next to the lake. So what are Pittsburgh’s developers doing? They are moving the poor people out and building quarter-million-dollar condos where the slums once stood.
Were the poor people evicted? No. The developers came and said, “Here’s $2,000 and a moving stipend.” Because the people who lived there did not know better and could not do better, they thought, this is a good deal. There is not a welfare mother in this country in her right mind that does not want her child to grow up to be successful, intelligent, hardworking, and taxpaying if for no other reason than to feel proud. But you cannot give what you do not have. If you do not know better, you cannot do better. There is an old Southern saying, “No matter how much I love you, my son or my daughter, if I do not have wisdom, I can only give you my own ignorance.”
So out of love, we pass down bad habits from generation to generation. When will we stop blaming poverty on the poor? When will we stop blaming people with good intentions? In my experience, most people have good intentions. Of course, the path to hell is paved with good intentions,… But to suggest that Democrats are devils or Republicans are devils, might be winning the battle, but it is losing the war.
I have had occasion to advise certain Democratic legislators who are my friends that calling President Bush names is probably not the best way to get him to sign your legislation. Better to assume that people have the best intentions, but may not know the right way to go about achieving the desired outcome. That is the most practical way to get somebody to work with you.
To return to my point: The inner cities of America are tomorrow’s new markets. The new frontiers of American capitalism are America’s underserved communities.
Where you and I live in middle class communities, the neighbors do not care whether I am black, white or red —
just do not barbecue on my front lawn, or park your car sideways on the sidewalk. Then we are cool.
Where we live, there is a gas station on every corner, and there are three banks and a grocery store a block away. You have 16 credit card companies trying to get you to trade your balance. Everybody is chasing the same customer. Where do you have unmet needs? In underserved communities, in low-wealth areas. The people who live here are not dumb, and they are not stupid. They are uninformed or misinformed. It’s what they don’t’ know, that they don’t know, that is killing them.
New York is an island, folks. Central Park, Upper West Side of Manhattan, Upper East Side of Manhattan, Lower Manhattan, Harlem. Didn’t something sound a little odd to you? White folks, white folks, white folks, black folks. But with increasing wealth, increasing population, finite land. After a while, white folks say black folks ain’t so bad.
Ten years ago, you could’ve given away land in Harlem. Five years ago, they would’ve paid you to take it. Today, a teardown is $500,000, and a town home on 125th Street sells today for $1m. Eighty-five percent of the small black owned businesses in Harlem 10 years ago were on a month-to-month lease and didn’t want a long-term lease.
Ten years later today, 85 percent of the businesses in Harlem, mostly African American, are on a month-to-month lease, and now the landlord doesn’t want you to be on a long-term lease.
There was a paradigm shift, and if we don’t do something drastic and quick, in seven years, Harlem will be a historical district with four homes that say, “Black folks once lived here.”
Did people take that away from us, or did we allow the opportunity to slip? This is not a socialist country, or a communist country. It is a capitalist country. No one can take it unless you sell it. Where there is no vision, the people perish.
South Central Los Angeles — 15 minutes from the beach, 15 minutes from downtown, 15 minutes from the mountains, 15 minutes from the ports, 15 minute from the business center, five minutes from every major freeway, within 10 minutes of the three busiest freeways in the world — of which, if you live in this city, you have experienced our moving parking lots – is invaluable real estate, and they aren’t growing any more land.
These communities are today’s slums and tomorrow’s gold mines. Right below our feet is the next frontier of new markets. They’re not black communities. They’re not brown communities. They are green communities – underserved communities that a people with vision can make their own.
Rule six: Understanding the global connection. Ethnic diversity is not a goody-two-shoes issue. Diversity is a business issue. I do not want you to put blacks and Latinos and women on your board and your management group because it looks good. Do it because it is good — good for your bottom line. The largest economy in the world is the United States of America. The only nation in the world with every race of people within its borders is the United States of America. The two largest economies in the United States of America are California and New York. The two most ethnically diverse places in the United States of America are California and New York. The fifth-largest economy in the world is California. The 10th-largest economy in the entire world is Los Angeles County, which has 180 different ethnic groups. For twenty-six of these ethnic groups, L.A. is home to the largest group of their population living outside of their home country.
You do not do business with people you do not reflect, respect, or understand. You do not do business with governments or corporations. You do business with people.
Race and ethnicity, racial and ethnic prejudice, still divide us and limit us. We do not live in a merit-based society. We live in a relationship-trust-comfort-plus-merit-based society. When I have a relationship with you, maybe, you trust me. If you trust me, then, maybe, you are comfortable. If you are comfortable, then, maybe, you will put me in a position to show my merit. Nobody got any high-profile job filling out a formal application. You got a job at the 7-Eleven filling out an application. You got a job at Taco Bell filling out an application. But you did not become a high-paid executive filling out a job application. Nobody became president of a bank filling out a job application. You became president of a bank because somebody had a relationship with you, was comfortable with you, had a sense of respect for you and your capabilities and said, “Hey, you know, I think Joe is qualified for this job, what do you think?” “Yeah, I think he could do it.” It was a discussion, and at some point, somebody said, “You need to go by Human Resources and fill out a few documents.” That is the way the world works.
Why is the boardroom all white and 55 years old? It’s not racism; it’s comfort. Racism is real, but nobody wakes up in the morning –- excuse me — very few people wake up in the morning and say, “I hate black people. I’m going to try to do everything I can to hurt you today.” We are not that important. Even a Klansman wakes up in the morning, goes to his raggedy job from nine to five, drinks a beer, comes home, kicks his dog, beats his wife, and then says, “I’m going to go hate some black people.” We are an afterthought to a Klansman. And, you know what? It is time to stop sending out invitations to our pity party because nobody is coming.
I am just trying to deal with the reality of the situation as it is, not as I would like it to be. The only thing constant in life is change.
Rule seven: Have a vision for yourself. If we are not going to do it, who is going to do it? We cannot blame anybody else. We are the ones who have to make the difference. Look at what I did with a G.E.D. degree. Chris Rock calls it a “Good Enough Diploma.” In 1992 when I started Operation HOPE everybody wrote me off. Politicians said, “John Bryant, he won’t amount to anything.”
Now Operation HOPE has a $7 million annual budget. We are in 11 states, 15 cities and the District of Columbia. We have educated 140,000 kids in financial literacy, teaching them about checking accounts and savings accounts and the importance of credit and investment. We funded more than $100 million in loans. We have HOPE Centers around this country. We are making a difference with 250 bank, insurance, credit union and financial services partners with more than $3 trillion in assets between then, and we have only just begun.
My five-year goal: fund $1 billion in new home ownership stock; educate five million kids in financial literacy; educate and recruit 25,000 volunteer banker-teacher HOPE Corps members. Now, if I can do that with a G.E.D. degree, guess what you can do with a master’s?
We have to do something when we leave here. I do not really care what you do. Just move forward. As my friend Rob McGrew would say, “If you’re looking for the North Pole and you end up South, just keep driving.”
If you want to embrace this work of eradicating poverty, you have to be a little crazy. In the words of a favorite passage of mine: “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. They have no respect for the status qu o. You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them, disbelieve them, glorify them, or vilify them. About the only thing you cannot do is to ignore them because they change things.” Hmm. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. And they inspire. They push the human race forward.
Maybe they have to be crazy. How else can someone stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art? Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written? Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels? Or sit in a garage and see Microsoft? Or sit in a vacant building and see a job-creating initiative? Or come into a church with 500 members and low self-esteem and apathy, like my mentor and past Reverend Dr. Cecil “Chip” Murray of First A.M.E. Church did, and walk out that door after 25 plus years of selfless service with 25,000 members and a worldwide reputation?
Martin Luther King was crazy. Mother Teresa was crazy. Cesar Chavez was crazy. Nelson Mandela was out of his cotton pickin’ mind. What do you mean you are going to go to prison at 40 years of age, an angry man, stay there 27 long years, come out and hug your jailer, decide that you are going to become the first black president of an apartheid state, become president and turn around and make your jailer your vice president?
Where there is no vision, the people perish. People may say I am a little crazy. Well, they are probably right. To accomplish anything, you have to be a little crazy. If not, fear will tie you down, fear will debilitate you and paralyze you. But with God by your side, anything is possible.
Let’s be the change we want to see in the world friends.