Right after the civil war, President Abraham Lincoln promised free slaves "40 acres and a mule." That would have been good, and would have done a great deal to prepare the then freed slave for a nation steeped in capitalism, free enterprise, ownership and self-reliance. Unfortunately, Lincoln was assassinated, and that promise was not kept by America. As an indirect result of this, African Americans today are basically the only race of people in this country, who have not grasped onto the capitalist and free enterprise system as the principal means of improving and advancing ourselves. Spiritually, we are at the top of the apex. Emotionally and intellectually, we are some of this nation's greatest thinkers and artists, literally defining culture and style and music in many arenas. In sport we are the mold others model. In science we helped to literally build the America that we now know. In the area of social justice and public policy, we are as close to a conscience as a nation has, I believe. But financially and economically, this is where we have fallen down. And financially and economically, this is how America is ultimately defined. A democracy, rooted in capitalism.
And so, the promise of "40 acres and a mule" was not kept, but today I am trying to forge an entirely new promise, and that is one around "40 books and a bank account."
In an information age and a knowledge economy, education is the ultimate poverty eradication tool. Because when you know better, you tend to do better.
In the silver rights movement and in the era defined by the free enterprise system, a bank account is your Visa into dignity and justice in the New World of ownership, just like the right to vote was your Visa into dignity and justice in the era of the civil rights movement.
Just like then Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said, "education is an irreversible asset. Once you have it, no one can take it from you." And that means that in the end, the promise fulfilled of "40 books and a bank account" is in fact more powerful, and possibly even more meaningful, than the promise, fulfilled or not, of "40 acres and a mule."
At Operation HOPE we seek to achieve this goal through our "silver rights" campaign on financial literacy, entitled Banking on Our Future.
Our goal: educate 5 million low-wealth children in checking, savings, credit and investment in their young lives, before 2010. This we can do.
To volunteer as a HOPE Corps member, teaching financial literacy in a Banking on Our Future "silver rights" classroom, log onto www.operationhope.org and make a commitment to help someone, help themselves.
Onward with HOPE
John Hope Bryant