Last week I was honored to be the keynote speaker for the annual conference of the Virginia Bankers Association, held at the Greenbrier Hotel in West Virginia. My message to this special group of America’s community and corporate bankers was “Rethinking Everything: Financial Literacy, Silver Rights Empowerment and an Economy on Reset.”

What I was initially most impressed with was how very open they all were to this fairly disruptive leadership approach. In other words, even though my message was wholly positive, most people, and certainly most people in positions of power and authority, just like to keep things the way they are. But not this group. They were focused, on the future, and genuinely open to new doors to get them there.

At the end of the day I was the most impressed with what Virginia Bankers Association, and their VBA Foundation, are “doing” around the financial literacy space; on-the-ground and at their state capitol (Virginia is the oldest legislative body in the nation).

2-years ago VBA and its leadership helped to push through legislation which would require every young person in K-12 to go through a mandatory course in financial and economic education. This year they are doing even more to make sure that this progressive silver rights legislation also has funding behind it (not an “unfunded mandate” to schools). Fully two-thirds of letters in support of this legislation I am told has come from VBA members. That’s very impressive. More so, the VBA Foundation is on the verge of funding teacher training for financial and economic education.

During my remarks I challenged them to do even more, becoming heroes and sheroes in their local communities; flooding area schools, nonprofit organizations and houses of faith with their employees as financial literacy volunteers; doubling as local role models.

I reminded them that they didn’t just wake up as professionals, leaders and CEOs. Someone had to believe in them, and someone had to “see” them. But also, they also “saw” professionals in their life and local community that they wanted to immolate later in life. I shared how this was a luxury where I grew up, in South Central Los Angeles in the under-served communities that Operation HOPE does much of its work in.

Author Malcolm Gladwell makes the point in the Tipping Point that at 5% role models, every community stabilizes. I gave this 5% mission as a positive challenge for them.

Finally, I left them with at least three things they could do in the days, weeks and months following my remarks:

1. Make a 5 MILLION KIDS (5MK) Pledge at www.5mk.org, fashioned around their local needs, interests and opportunities to make a difference.
2. Work with me in my role on the U.S. President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability to craft a series of local Financial Literacy Councils, working with their local mayors and town leaders.
3. Work to get the Gallup-HOPE Index, which measures the levels of financial literacy, hope, wellbeing and engagement (economic energy) of our youth, in each and everyone of their local communities.

I left them with an example of bold financial literacy vision in action, inasmuch as my host for the day, SunTrust, had committed $1 million to help Operation HOPE and other corporate leaders to build a historic HOPE Financial Literacy Empowerment Center at Ebenezer Church, on the King Center complex property in Atlanta, Georgia. I encouraged them to think outside the box, throughout the great state of Virginia.

I want to thank Virginia Bankers Association leadership for having me, and for “doing something,” including but not limited to Chairman Charles Majors, Chairman-Elect Bill Couper, Board Member Gail Letts, CEO Bruce Whitehurst, and last but certainly not least, my friend and the man responsibility for me being at the conference, C.T. Hill of SunTrust, who also introduced me. Life is about relationships, and I am deeply honored to now be in the process of building a strong and durable relationship with the Virginia Bankers Association family. The best is yet to come.

John Hope Bryant is a thought leader, the founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE and Bryant Group Companies, Inc., author of Inc. Magazine/CEO READ bestselling business book 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.

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