This photo was taken at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial months before its official opening to the public, but its tribute to a man committed to social justice and leading a movement focused on "saving black men's bodies and white men's souls" is particularly appropriate on this day of Thanksgiving.
Yes, of course, from a Biblical and spiritual perspective I am so very thankful for all of my personal blessings; from my family and deep friendships, to the founding of Operation HOPE nearly 20 years ago, and the ability I have to use my time and talents to advance our world and the people in it. I am thankful of course, for my health and wellbeing, and the level of prosperity, at my own hands, that God has afforded and allowed me.
Yes, I am very thankful. We all should be on some level. Life itself is a gift from God.
This said, this is not where 'Thanksgiving' originates in our nation's history.
Thanksgiving was first officially recognized in the states in 1619, in Virginia, and was a celebration of a successful harvest, a good crop, and as a result, a good year. Coincidentally, it was 1619, in Jamestown, Virginia that the first enslaved blacks reached the American shores. 20 blacks and 90 white women were transported to the shores of America by a Dutch shipper, and gradually blacks replaced Native Americans as slaves in early agricultural America. The runaway success of the tobacco industry, and the use of free slave labor to harvest it, meant that African slavery was to become an institution, hard to kill or abolish. Hard, because its roots were economic-advantaged (for some) in nature.
And so, yes, we should all be "thankful" on this day, but we should also understand that unless leaders and men and women of integrity continue to lead, and to stand up for what is right, mankind will often slip back against the wrong side of history. Today, we have a world in conflict with itself, and once again, economic-advantage has tens of millions in the richest country in the world, and countless hundreds of millions around the world, locked in a sort of modern day economic slavery today.
Financial dignity, and teaching an entire generation the tool of financial literacy, is the new civil rights issue of this generation, or what we at Operation HOPE call 'silver rights,' and a new 'silver rights movement.'
If you don't have a deposit, credit union or bank account today, and if you don't understand the universal language of money today, you are a modern day economic slave. But unlike Native American, and thereafter Black African slaves of 1619 in Jamestown, Virginia, the difference today is — it no longer matters whether you are black, white, red, brown or yellow (in America). Today, the average person simply wants to see some more currency green.
The issue today is not so much race, as it is class, and issues of class effects and impacts us all.
As far as I am concerned, America is the greatest country in the world, and I am proud to be a citizen, but citizenship is something we earn daily; by earning, sharing, learning, teaching, building, and giving too. We none of us achieved any level of real success on our own.
We cannot simply celebrate our vaulted past (and then conveniently forgetting all other unfortunate history) and then rest on our laurels of successes. We have to re-imagine and recreate our America, the America we want to live in, everyday. We must do it, even on this day. This day of Thanksgiving.
Okay, let's go…
John Hope Bryant is a thought leader, founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE and Bryant Group Companies, Inc. Magazine/CEO READ bestselling business author of LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass) the only African-American bestselling business author in America, and a Member of the U.S. President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for President Barack Obama. Mr. Bryant is the co-founder of the Gallup-HOPE Index, the only national research poll on youth financial dignity and youth economic energy in the U.S. He is also a co-founder of Global Dignity with HRH Crown Prince Haakon of Norway and Professor Pekka Himanen of Finland. Global Dignity is affiliated with the Forum of Young Global Leaders and the World Economic Forum.