This is the reality for the organization I founded, Operation HOPE, today. While we have assisted in funding more than a few hundred million dollars worth of new homeownership through the HOPE Financial Literacy Empowerment Centers (HOPE Centers) run by my long-time friend and confidant Lance Triggs, over say a decade, the reality is that we have done much more in yet another portfolio. In less two years since the onset of the global economic crisis our Mortgage HOPE Crisis Hotline, run by Jason Yancey (also under Lance Triggs' broader adult portfolio), we have amended or restructured more than $360 million in bad subprime mortgages. This is just not right. We are glad and even honored to do it, but we should not be spending a tenth of the time we invested making good loans of our own, unwinding a series of bad bets crafted and created by others. But this is the reality today. And there is something else striking that is happening in our HOPE Centers.
It use to be that when someone walked into a HOPE Center and found their way into our HOPE Inner City Cyber Cafes (we have a network of them across the country) you could pretty much assume and presume their socio-economic profile (low-wealth, high-school educated with maybe a year or so of college, blue collar or working class, etc). No more. With the onset of the economic crisis and the sustained nature of its pain, people — middle class, well-educated people – of a different "profile" are now making their way into our HOPE Centers.
With somewhere between 12-18% unemployment impacting many communities across America, and in particular low-wealth and under-served communities, you find so-called middle-class families struggling from paycheck to paycheck just like everyone else and looking for ways to cut back. This means that when husband and wife meet around the dinner table for their weekly "financial summit," often the first to go are cable television and Internet service at the home. Well, we have a great television and 18 cutting-edge, Internet-ready computers in each of our HOPE Centers and Cyber Cafes, and there you are — a new marriage of convenience and need.
Even before the global economic crisis the Federal Reserve had reported that approximately 70% of Americans were living from paycheck to paycheck in America. That was not 70% of black folks, or 70% of Latinos, or 70% of Asians, Indians or other, but 70% of everyone. And so, if you were living in Manhattan and making less than $70,000 a year, you were struggling to make ends meet. If you lived in Washington, D.C. and were making less than $50,000 a year, you were struggling to make ends meet, and if you were living in one of America's small towns (most of America is made up of small towns) and making less than $30,000 a year, you were struggling to make ends meet. And this was before September, 2008, or the recognized beginning of the first global economic crisis to hammer the modern world.
As I keep saying, this is not so much a recession as a "reset," and we will all have to begin adjusting our behaviors, reframing our realities, and "resetting" our virtues and values, if we are going to succeed and lead again (both as individuals, and as a nation on the world stage).
I believe that in the backdrop of a global economic crisis, that financial literacy is the new civil rights issue. That if you don't understand financial literacy, or what we at Operation HOPE call "the language of money," and you don't have a bank account, you are an economic slave.
Sure, we can all have hope and confidence in the coming work of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, led by new friend Professor Elizabeth Warren, but at the end of the day there will be no mortgage police present at your home when you are making the most important decisions of your life, for your family. You will have to do that. As I say over and over agin in my book LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass), in this new era increasingly "you will need to learn to think for yourself."
I know one thing, I am tired of rewriting more bad loans, than writing new good ones.
For more information on the work of Operation HOPE and its HOPE Centers, as well as our Mortgage HOPE Crisis Hotline and other silver rights empowerment services, for adults and youth alike, connect with us online at www.operationhope.org, and then either call us or come in and see us. We are literally here to help.
John Hope Bryant
A Young Global Leader for the World Economic Forum, an Oprah's Angel Network award recipient, a TIME Magazine 50 (Leaders) for the Future (94'), John Hope Bryant is an entrepreneur, the founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Operation HOPE, the Inc. Magazine/CEO READ bestselling author of LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass), advisor to the last three sitting U.S. presidents, a thought leader, public speaker, and an innovator in the business of empowerment.
Mr. Bryant serves U.S. President Barack Obama on the President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability, and prior to that Mr. Bryant served U.S. President George W. Bush as vice chairman of the U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Council, and chairman of the council Committee on the Under-Served.
With the publishing of Love Leadership, Mr. Bryant became the first African-American business bestselling author published in mainstream business leadership in the country.