Bryant Reflects on Alabama Tornadoes: It Killed More Than Lives
I am so very pleased that Operation HOPE will soon be able to move its 'silver rights' empowerment agenda, and specifically our HOPE Office of Small Business & Entrepreneurship work focused on nurturing and bringing up growing small business, minority small business and entrepreneurship in the state. I am particularly thankful to leaders in and out of the state that encouraged our engagement on the ground there in the weeks and months following these devastating tornadoes. Finally, I want to thank the U.S. Economic Development Administration and its leadership for the federal support here, which will be amplified by and further supported with private sector support. More on our plans in and for the state and her people to come.
That said, I was so distressed that in the period immediately following the worst tornadoes recorded in the southern states, and Alabama in particular, Operation HOPE and I were not in a position to help. Ultimately, I was actually a little disappointed in myself. We followed all the rules. I and we waited to make sure we had covered all the appropriate bases, paid respect to all leaders at the state, county, city and local level, and we covered all the appropriate protocols as a national partner for FEMA around emergency financial disaster preparedness, response and recovery. We even opened up our national call center for HOPE Coalition America based in Poway, California, a donation made available through our partner CoreLogic. And yes, of course we helped each and everyone of those that called us. But what we should have done is different.
We should have -- no I should have -- simply placed HOPE staff on the ground, immediately and at our own expense if need be. But we did as we were counseled, and on that point I am glad we paid our proper respect to leadership.
What breaks my heart are the countless thousands of poor and struggling low-wealth individuals and families, be they white, black or brown, who never had an opportunity to access the immense federal resources that were available to those impacted by the disaster; from enhanced FEMA support, to low-interest SBA loans for rebuilding, to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Furthermore, there was the that work I believe we could have done between survivors of disaster, along with the banks, credit unions, insurance companies and other private companies with which we have strong working relationships, and that had substantial investment in the state. Work such as that we completed successfully for more than 200,000 survivors of Hurricane Katrina.
One example I remember well during my tour of the disaster zone was that of 90 year old man, who no one questioned was due $170,000 or more, tied to damages to his then destroyed home of decades. Unfortunately, the man could not prove he owned his home (it is an unfortunate reality with many low-wealth and poor families in mostly southern states, where homes that have been in families for decades lack proper legal documentation; maintaining only an oral tradition of legal rights, etc). And while everyone agreed that he was owed the funds, no one actually had the authority to give him what was owed, given the situation. It was 'no ones job' to document the man's ownership of his home. But it is what we do.
That man not only walked away fro his own home of years, but an asset and family heirloom which could and should have been passed down from generation to generation, as a family asset.
This is precisely the way wealth is built in America, but because of the 'oral tradition,' and financial illiteracy in some households and communities, and yes a lack of hope too, an entire segment of America has been left out on this country's prosperity story. From a full and true economic recovery to storms, too. But I believe in rainbows after storms. You cannot have a rainbow, without a storm first.
I made the mistake of not moving with action before, on behalf of the poor and under-served in Alabama. I will not make the same mistake twice.
Hope is on the way, and me and my team are soon on the move. Thanks this time to support and assistance first from the US. EDA, aiding small business and commerce, and thereafter with a broadened network of support, helping consumers, homeowners and community too.
Onward and with HOPE
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 is chairman of the Subcommittee for the Under-Served and Community Empowerment for 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. Mr. Bryant is a thought leader represented by the Bright Sight Group for public speaking. Mr. Bryant serves on the board of directors of Ares Commercial Real Estate Corporation (NYSE: ACRE), a specialty finance company that is managed by an affiliate of Ares Management LLC, a global alternative asset manager with approximately $59 billion in committed capital under management as of December 31, 2012.