Sometimes something happens in your life, something well …simple, that changes your life. For me it was a letter.

Not a letter from the President of the United States (although those are cool too!), or the CEO of a partner company, or a community leader, but a letter from a working single mother in Chicago, IL, written following a speech I gave there in November, 2004.

A letter which, in an instance, snapped me out of my daily routine, and more importantly for me, answered a question I had just asked myself about the work of Operation HOPE — "are we making a difference in the hearts of people, and not just the lives of people?"

Well, hear it is (names and identities protected of course)… I HOPE that it touches you 1% as much as it did with me when I first read it. To this day, it humbles me, and keeps me FOCUSED on building HOPE in America’s most challenged corners;

Dear Mr Bryant,

My name is Ms. Jones (fictitious name replaced here) and I had the pleasure of attending your speech on Thursday November 11th in Chicago.

…I was the one sitting behind you who thanked you after the speech. I’m sure its probably hard for you to remember who I am but that’s not important to me. Whats important to me is this, you asked me what about your speech moved me the most and I was left speechless and simply answered "everything". I wanted to say more but I was just blown away………and left speechless. I would like to answer that question in my letter below. SO PLEASE READ ON.

For so long I have been searching for a way to reach out and improve our communities and ultimately our country by spreading the concept of equality for everyone, but I never really knew where to begin. I knew I didn’t want to be part of some radical movement that basically just "preached"equal rights to everyone, I wanted to actually "do" something about it. Your concept, your vision, has given me the, as you would say, "chutzpah" to do something about it . You have moved me in ways I cant ever begin to express through words. PLEASE READ ON.

While what I just said may sound like your every day letter you probably receive, I would like to tell you a little bit about myself in order for you to understand "why" it meant so much to me. I know right about now you are ready to put this letter down and not read further because you probably receive thousands of these, but I really hope that you do listen. I REALLY would like for you to know how much you have enhanced my direction in life. SO PLEASE READ ON

I was raised in an all white community in a middle class neighborhood on the North West Side of Chicago. I was raised by an older single father , who was raised in Arkansas in the 30’s. He wasn’t preaching equal rights in my home in the least. As a matter of fact the opposite. Growing up I always feared the black man, and the ghetto, partly because of my environment — and partly because of my father. I always knew there was something wrong with that concept. I attended a private Lutheran School and there wasn’t a hint of ethnic diversity in this school. At the age of fifteen I was told my father couldn’t afford to send me to a private high school and I was sent to a predominantly black and Hispanic Chicago Public High School. The ratio was probably somewhere near 50/ 30/ 20 not in the white mans favor either.

While all my friends were going to a all white private Lutheran high school, I was going to a public school where kids were bussed in from inner city neighborhoods, I WAS SCARED TO DEATH, but I thank my father for that movement to this day. He didn’t know what it had in store for me and neither did I, but it taught me to challenge everything I was ever taught about race. I learned that if you treat people as your equal and give them the respect they deserve you will get it back.

I was very confused, I saw so many of my friends who were just as smart, just as driven and just as in need of respect and empathy as I was, being "stuck" in their life. Using excuses about prejudice and using excuses like they didn’t have the opportunities white people had. I knew that wasn’t the case but I didn’t want to seem like a white girl preaching equality to people who claimed I knew nothing about it. I felt so torn but I knew for myself in my world no person would ever end up feeling like they were less than me. They WERE my equal.

I ended up having a child at the age of seventeen and I have since struggled with my own financial issues. Went to college and learned that credit card companies LOVE college students. Was on welfare for a short period of time and I basically struggled every day just to keep a roof over our head and food in my sons stomach and eventually had to claim bankruptcy to get ahead I did not have the opportunity like you to be raised in a family where independence and financial stability was taught.

My father had strong work ethic and even worked on Christmas every year. He never took a day off, what he didn’t know was how to use his money. He made enough to support my sister and I, but not enough to be financially secure. I was never taught the skills needed to save, invest and use money wisely. I would like to clarify that I respect and love my father a great deal. He gave me unconditional love and he did everything "he knew how" to raise me up right. I just don’t agree with his views. Like you said, its what you don’t know that you don’t know that’s killing you.

I have since worked very hard to improve my financial situation and am now proud to say I will be closing on my new home in January. I am no longer a single mother and I have a good stable job and a savings and 401K account. I worked very hard to get where I’m at and had to learn the hard way about economic sense and budgeting but I’m here , I made it ………..and yet, I still felt incomplete. UNTIL I HEARD YOU SPEAK.

This following story about my son is what really made a light bulb go off in my head; I always preached equality to my son. To see people as what they are on the inside. Everyone is human beings and everyone deserves the same amount of respect .I always placed my son in schools that were ethnically diverse and I never wanted to put him in a situation where he would not be able to experience all difference kinds of races.

I never really knew if it was working, then one day he brought his best friend home. He had been speaking about this best friend for months now and I finally got to meet him. I was shocked to see a black boy walk in my door. I don’t know why I was shocked, but I was. I was at the same time so proud of my son. After his best friend left I asked my son, Jake (fictitious name replacement here), why didn’t you tell me Troy was black?  His response, Mom , I didn’t think it mattered, why should it?

At that moment I was humbled, and so proud of my son. He made me look ridiculous and proud all at the same time. It was at that moment I knew that little old me COULD make a difference. Ever since I have been searching for a way to make a difference in the lives of other children other than my son . I have been searching for an outlet to do so. You, Mr John Bryant have finally given me that outlet.

Your concept is amazing to me. Instead of preaching to everyone NOT to be prejudice you are turning the tables. Starting from the inside out and teaching people how to be more financially secure, respectable, independent people. Like you said about the umbrella, Racism is like rain, its either falling someplace or gathering, you might as well get out an umbrella in a color you like and just start walking through it. Instead of trying to battle the issue of racism and poverty by asking other people to change the way they think you are teaching the people who are impoverished and disadvantaged to change their own lives. Good begets more good. You are giving a "hand up" instead of a "hand out," you are fighting this battle from the inside out.

You mentioned something in your speech that moved me as well, it was something to the effect of there is no better definition of a fool than one who is arguing with a fool. God is that right on the money. You cant change someone else’ opinion, instead try to help the ones who need it. That is where the change will come.

Something I have always believed is, Ignorance is something that is taught and then it becomes a choice. I was taught ignorance but I "chose" not to practice it. I choose to fight it. I could go on about so many more things you said that moved me but I will close this now by saying once again, THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart.

And to finally answer your question, THESE things above are what moved me – your total vision is what moved me. Now maybe you can see why I was speechless. I look forward to giving my time and whatever little financial support I can to this cause. I look forward to "SHOWING UP" like you say.

This is a cause I strongly believe in and even if I only make a difference in the lives of a few people, it will all be worth it.

With great thanks and love,

(End letter)

Enough said. I will work hard to make this special young lady continually proud of our work and movement!

Onward, with HOPE

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