I was honored to speak this week at Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina, at the request of my friend Dr. Julianne Malveaux, and before the "Life Every Voice" Speaker Series. Bennett College is made up of some 600 of the most amazing women you would ever want to meet. Standing for and before these women made me reflect upon not just their future promise, but the struggle and the opportunity of an entire race of people, dating back to the days of this college's origin in the late 1800's.
In the backdrop of the end of the Civil War in the late 1800s, a man named Mr. Bennet, a white man, invested $10,000 of his own money to start Bennett College, then a college for freed black slaves looking to move into the mainstream of life.
In the early 1920s Bennett College was converted from a college for all blacks (as an HBCU) to a college for women only. As I think back on the origins of Bennett College in the late 1870's, I have to also think about what else was going on at that time. How the Confederacy met as a group for the last time, in Greensboro, North Carolina. How the Confederate soldiers surrendered and received their parole, Greensboro, North Carolina.
I also have to think about, around the same time in 1874, in Washington, D.C., Frederick Douglass, a black man, invested $10,000 of his own money in the growth of the Freedman's Bank. The same bank chartered by the federal government to help freed black slaves to understand the language of money, financial literacy, and to help empower them to move forward with their lives post slavery. So, in the same breath and at the same time, you have a black man in Washington D.C. and an enlightened white man in Greensboro North Carolina, both investing $10,000 of their own money, probably more than $1 million today, to empower the lives and visions and stories of freed black slaves.
From this point, in my remarks, I looked forward and through the lives of several 20 century icons in the black community for economic empowerment; people like Rev. Leon H. Sullivan, Mrs. Marian Wright Edelman, who whispered into of ears Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to tell him that the next movement was about money, a conversation which sparked the Poor People's Campaign and the phase of the civil rights movement. And there were others key players, such as Malcolm X, my personal hero and mentor (and HOPE Global Spokesman) Ambassador Andrew Young, the National Urban League and the NAACP and their efforts around economic empowerment, and later on, organizations emerged included, yes, Operation HOPE, the organization I founded, and many others.
As we look at this new march towards 21st century economic freedom, and as I looked out across the audience of these beautiful young black women, in the midst of this global economic crisis, you have to say that there really are "no accidents."
And so, my message to these amazing young women on this great day, was "rainbows after storms," and that rainbows only follow storms. My message to these young ladies was to never give up, to redouble their efforts, and to understand the no movement in America or around the world has ever succeeded without the help, support and encouragement of brilliant women; and black women in particular.
I reminded them that 70% of all black households are led by women. And while this has typically been thought to be a negative statistic, I see the positive as well. Where would we be without black women? One thing is for sure; there would be a lot less men.
And so this is their time. A time to rise up and to see the vision and the opportunity that's ahead of them. To understand that we stand in a moment in history, in the midst of a global economic crisis.
This is not so much a reset as it is a recession. It is as much a crisis of virtues and values as it is an economic crisis, and this said, we truly need the soft, gentle, loving, strong and supportive hand of women leadership today more than ever.
In closing, I reminded the women that they should never be discouraged by the fear-filled acts of others, and specifically the intimidation of chauvinistic man. To understand that often times a man simply wants to push a woman down because they're afraid she will ever stand up. To remember that rainbows only follow storms, and you cannot have a rainbow without a storm first.
As I say in LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass), chapter one, Lost Creates Leaders. Bennett College and the women who make up its current class and alumni, were made for these times.
Onward with HOPE,
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.