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Today was like coming home for me; home to the King legacy that is. Operation HOPE began just about 19 years ago (founded May 5th, 1992, immediately following the Rodney King riots in South Central Los Angeles), in the midst of crisis, but focused on doing its modest part to pick up the mantle of Dr. King's Poor People's Campaign, focused on empowering all poor people and not just poor people, and advancing it forward in our own way.  A decade and a half later, I had no idea that we would literally be called back to Dr. King's historic home church where he co-pastored with his father, Ebenezer Baptist Church, by Reverend Dr. Raphael G. Warnock (the 5th pastor in Ebenezer's 125 year history) to build a HOPE Financial Literacy Empowerment Center at Ebenezer.  A special thank you to my friend Andrea Young, director of the Andrew Young Foundation, for encouraging me to go and meet with the Ebenezer family soon after I arrived in Atlanta, Georgia as a new resident of the city.  "If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plan."  You simply cannot make this stuff up.

Within a couple months, I was behind the storied pulpit at Ebenezer Church, speaking during their Men's Day Service.  A short time later, Reverend Dr. Warnock was meeting with members of my board of directors, and Operation HOPE had made a commitment to build a first ever faith-based HOPE Center. Even more so, this would become the new "moral center" of Operation HOPE's evolving global work and reach, and the anchor tenant for the Martin Luther King, Sr. Community Resource Complex, built in honor of "Daddy King," immediately next to the new Ebenezer Church.  This 30,000 square foot facility is under construction on this day, and the official ribbon cutting is scheduled for early, 2012.  But none of this "dreaming made real" work would have been possible had Steve Bartlett never took my call.

Steve Bartlett is the Chief Executive Officer of the FINANCIAL SERVICES ROUNDTABLE, which represents the 100 largest financial service companies in the world today, and when Steve calls, individuals of influence and substance listen.  Steve is also the former mayor of Dallas and a two-term congressman to the U.S. House of Representatives.  Steve Bartlett "got it" immediately, and within a short period of time we received word that SunTrust would commit $1 million towards this new vision made real.  Then came $500,000 from Wells Fargo, and a commitment of $1 million from State F
arm Insurance, $1 million from LPL Financial, a $500,000 commitment from MasterCard, a $100,000 from Coca-Cola Company and the Coca-Cola Foundation, and most recently a $600,000 commitment from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.  

In an effort to serve Greater Atlanta, then the state of Georgia, and ultimately the south, Operation HOPE has embarked upon a campaign to raise $10 million for the HOPE Financial Literacy Empowerment Center at Ebenezer and our effort to serve the southern region of the United States.  Who is leading this effort?  None other than Jim Wells, presently the chairman and CEO of SunTrust, and a member of the FINANCIAL SERVICES ROUNDTABLE.  We expect additional commitments to the HOPE Center at Ebenezer in coming weeks and months.

On April 7th, 2010, Operation HOPE joined with the leadership of Ebenezer Baptist Church for a historic Shovel Ceremony to mark the launch of this bold project, and we were honored to be joined by FDIC Chair Sheila Bair, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Martin Luther King, III, Dr. Bernice King, Christine King-Farris and members of the King family, amongst others.  Immediately following this event, on the same day, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta President Dennis Lockhart and his team hosted the HOPE Financial Forum, Atlanta, Georgia at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.  

HOPE Express is our model for nimble and low-cost expansion of the HOPE Center at Ebenezer mission, and I was proud and pleased to stand with some of Atlanta's greatest leaders and leadership this morning as we publicly announced HOPE Express at Ebenezer, which will serve the members of Ebenezer and surrounding community residents and small business owners, while the formal HOPE Center at Ebenezer is under construction.  Speakers at the event included HOPE Global Spokesperson Ambassador Andrew Young; Ebenezer Baptist Church Senior Pastor Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock; Daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Be A King Enterprises, LLC Founder Dr. Bernice A. King; Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed; City Council President Ceasar Mitchell; Atlanta District 2 City Councilman Kwanza Hall; and Financial Services Roundtable President and CEO Steve Bartlett. Fulton County Board Commissioners Chairman John Eaves was on hand to present HOPE with a proclamation recognizing HOPE’s work around financial literacy, and announcing that the County has proclaimed April, 2011 as FINANCIAL LITERACY MONTH in Fulton County.

With the help of our founding partners, HOPE Center at Ebenezer Phase I has already achieved the following local results for local residents:

• Serving 28,275 clients
• Recruiting 1,495 HOPE Corps volunteers.
• Providing youth financial literacy through Banking on Our Future (BOOF) to 26,405 students
• Educating 1,134 college students in financial literacy through BOOF, College Edition
• Creating 143 new partnerships for BOOF, Classroom and College Edition.
• Helping 736 individuals through foreclosure prevention counseling
• Aiding 732 residents with loan modification submissions
• Supporting 114 families with loan modification approvals, of which 58 have been modified to date representing a total of $9,506,611 in funded modifications

The HOPE Financial Literacy Empowerment Center, Ebenezer is scheduled to open in spring 2012.  Read the complete press release on our work and historic partnership here.

HOPE is on the move.  If you know of someone who needs or could benefit from our full suite of financial and economic empowerment services, all rooted in financial literacy empowerment, contact the Operation HOPE, Atlanta Regional Office or the new HOPE Express at Ebenezer Office at 404 941 2914.

This is my vision, from civil rights to silver rights empowerment.  Let's go.

 

John Hope Bryant is founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE, bestselling author of LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass), and a member of the U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability for President Barack Obama

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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