Yd2h95952_2A Commentary By John Hope Bryant, Chairman and founder, Operation HOPE

Last month in Los Angeles, my home town, there was an unfortunate dust up, so to speak, between The Greenlining Institute and the National Black Business Council (NBBC).

Specifically, the issue surrounded accusations, by the NBBC, that Greenlining’s general counsel Robert Gnaizda, Esq. had unfairly attacked an individual’s character at a corporation (Southern California Edison), as well as attacking the corporation itself (allegedly, unfairly), and furthermore that Mr. Gnaizda had lined his own pockets in the process.  Unethical, and potentially even illegal if true, given that Greenlining is a non-profit organization governed by the laws, rules and regulations attuned to non-profit organizations. Greenlining is also a leader, which I believe holds them to an even higher standard, including Mr. Gnaizda.

Rather unfortunately here, in the attempt to frame out Mr. Gnaizda’s alleged abuses, his own integrity and character was also called into question in the process.

I must say in advance that I know little about the specifics surrounding the issues with Southern California Edison, as they are not a partner with HOPE and I have no history with them over the 16 years since I founded HOPE. As such I cannot comment on their commitment to the Southern California African-American and local community, which appears to be one of the issues here. Nor do I feel that I am in a position to intelligently comment on the company’s proposed rate increase, which is I believe at the core of Greenlining Institute and Mr. Gnaizda’s concerns here.

This said, I do know Mr. Robert Gnaizda, well. And I must say, after reading all of this about him, that I sort of feel cheated myself, in my friendship and relationship with Bob (Gnaizda). It appears he has been holding out on me too (smile).  Read on.

You see, I have been to Bob Gnaizda’s house, many times, for meetings and for dinner with my sweetie and his loving family.  It is a very nice, well appointed, comfortable, but respectfully, a modest pad, and I want to see the house he instead has purchased with all of the purported shared court proceeds that Bob is alleged to be pocketing at Greenlining. I mean, Bob has been doing this work for at least 30 years now, and he is brilliant. One of the best attorneys and negotiators I have ever witnessed in my life, so he should have much, much to show for his efforts, according to the proposed revenue splits I have read about.  Respectfully, I want to hang out with Beverly Hills mansion Bob, not Bay Area condo Bob.

On a serious note here, in all my years of knowing Bob Gnaidza, which dates back almost as long as I have been founder and chairman of Operation HOPE, I have never seen even one instance of Bob Gnaizda, or Greenlining for that matter, within 1,000 feet of inappropriate behavior; professional, personal or otherwise. I believe the facts, which are indeed public, bear witness to this assertion. 

Now, this said, I didn’t say that Bob Gnaizda and Greenlining fills everyone, particularly corporations, with love and warmth. Actually, the opposite is probably true. But frankly, that is their mission in life. And as uncomfortable as their style may be to some, and admittedly it is not my style or approach, the record shows their utter, unquestionable effectiveness over the years of public service, on behalf of the under-served communities they champion. 

Bob Gnaizda and Greenlining can probably be credited with negotiating a majority of the multi-year, bank CRA (Community Reinvest Act) commitments that exist today, resulting in literally hundreds of billions of dollars being committed publicly for responsible community development and economic empowerment for those less served. Now, this has not always come easy. I have never known billions that have. Yes, Greenlining, and Bob, have indeed made many uncomfortable.

I remember talking to one CEO of a major bank, who after dealing with Bob and Greenlining said to me, "John, I really don’t care for Bob Gnaizda and Greenlining. I felt bullied and at times unfairly characterized. But, looking back now several years later following our negotiated commitment with them, I must say they made our bank better." And that was printed in the Los Angeles Times.

I get calls, repeatedly, from CEOs and senior leaders in the corporate sector about one Robert Gnaizda. I feel like an uncompensated therapist and public affairs rep for Bob. They know I know him, and they want to know what makes him tick. What is his "real" agenda, they ask. Well, I always tell them the same thing. "Bob is a good man, and Greenlining a credible organization, that wants truth and justice, and even a growing capitalism and free enterprise system where individuals and corporations do well. Many of the same things that you want too. But his approach, and his constituency, is completely different than yours, and as a result you may end up on separate ends of the table when dealing with each other. That said, know that you are not in different rooms, and there will be no under the table requests.  For some he can be somewhat maddening at times, but he is honest (and very, very smart)." I usually continue to them, "..talk with Bob, and assume he means well, just like you do, and I guarantee you that things will work out."

It always does, for those who follow my counsel. For those that do not, usually some sort of messy high profile court and public battle follows. One mind you that generally leads to the exact same outcome. Talking with Bob and Greenlining.

I often tell folks that Bob Gnaizda and I work the same streets of hope and empowerment, just different sides. And with respect to corporate leaders, after speaking with Bob, you cannot wait to speak with me (smile).  There is also a side of both Bob and Greenlining that most do not see; the human side. I know of few organizations in the nation that do more to both execute on their mission of public good while simultaneously mentoring and raising up young leaders for the future. Hundreds of them. Greenlining has an impressive young Fellows program which I personally (positively) envy, and have committed to replicate at HOPE. 

In short, his bedside manner may be unconventional, and even highly frustrating for some, but his and Greenlining’s mission, I have seen for myself, is straight forward; empower and represent the poor. Period. That is a noble calling where I come from, and one where rainbows often only follow storms.

None of my early heroes, absent my present day mentor and hero and HOPE global spokesman Andrew Young, died of old age — from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr to Gandhi. Leadership is not easy, and often it is not a popularity content. 

I want the same thing that Bob Gnaizda wants. We both, I believe, want a day when neither Greenlining nor Operation HOPE are necessary, because leaders, and markets, and communities, simply do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.

We want to see a day when all boats rise, and not just yachts. Until that day, all, remember; "no good deed shall go unpunished."

Leadership is not a popularity contest, but history will serve you well.

And so, all I have to say is "go Bob Gnaizda (and Greenlining), go."  Make America, better.

Onward, with HOPE


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