“If the 20th century was about race and the color line, or civil rights, and the first civil right was the right to vote, then the 21st century will principally be about issues of class and poverty, or what I call silver rights, ….and the first silver right will be financial literacy. If you do not know better, you cannot do better.”

John Bryant, founder of Operation HOPE

Opening Remarks

Thank you and I appreciate you having me here today to testify before the U.S. Financial Literacy and Education Commission.

I would specifically like to acknowledge the leadership in this regard of Treasury Secretary John Snow, here today, whom I have taken into a New York City area classroom at PS 50 to co-teach a Banking on Our Future financial literacy course, along with our friends and partners at Citigroup and the ABA Education Foundation, as part of their annual Teach Children to Save Day activities. 

I would also like to acknowledge Deputy Assistant Secretary for Financial Education, Dan Iannicola, Jr., who is presiding over today’s Commission meeting. 

Finally, I would like to commend my friends on the Commission and otherwise providing key support here today, NCUA Chairwoman JoAnn Johnson, Acting Comptroller of the Currency Julie L. Williams, Sandy Braunstein, Director of the Division of Consumer and Community Affairs for the Federal Reserve System, Marcie Brown from the U.S. Department of Education, Donna Gambrell, Deputy Director of Compliance and Consumer Protection for the FDIC, and Susan Mason of the Intuit Foundation, another of our HOPE Partners.

"Best Practices"


In 21st century America education – the ultimate poverty eradication tool – is a silver right, homeownership is a silver right, health and wellness is a silver right, small business ownership should be a silver right, personal spiritual wealth (self esteem and self love) is a silver right, and the first silver right is financial literacy; if you do not know better you cannot do better.

In the 20th century Dr. King said “you cannot legislate goodness, and you cannot pass a law to force someone to respect you,” and “the only way to social justice in a capitalist society, is through economic parity.” Ownership.  And King continued, that “America could not survive with islands of poverty surrounded by a sea of material wealth.” In the 21st century, an economic era, financial literacy is not an option, but a national priority. When you know better, you tend to do better.

In the 20th century Dr. King said “you cannot legislate goodness, and you cannot pass a law to force someone to respect you,” and “the only way to social justice in a capitalist society, is through economic parity.” Ownership.

And King continued, that “America could not survive with islands of poverty surrounded by a sea of material wealth.”

In the 21st century, an economic era, financial literacy is not an option, but a national priority. When you know better, you tend to do better.

And there is of course also a necessity for financial literacy in an “Ownership Society.” As you well know, the President has recently called for “an Ownership Society,” — and basically I agree with him.

I agree with the President because even when good people hit bad times, the government should be — at most — a springboard, and not a mattress. Able bodied individuals need the dignity that comes from achieving something through their own efforts.

At Operation HOPE we have learned that, given an informed choice, people really do want a hand up, and not a hand out.

We have learned through our work in more than a 15 U.S. cities and right here in the District of Columbia, that there isn’t a welfare mother in America in her right mind, that doesn’t want her child to grow up to be intelligent, successful, hard working and tax paying, if for no other reason than to feel proud of them. But you cannot give what you do not have; if you don’t know better you cannot do better; and that it is “what you don’t know, that you don’t know, that is killing you.”

There is an old southern saying; “no matter how much I love you my son and my daughter, if I don’t have wisdom, …I can only give you my own ignorance.” I can only give you what I have. If I don’t know better, …I cannot do better. Education is the ultimate poverty eradication tool.

I generally agree with the President around an Ownership Society because black America is the only modern race of people in the world today that created a political powerbase, before we created an economic one. This done in a democracy, rooted in capitalism.

But this “choice” by black America, if you choose to call it that, was literally due to a lack of financial literacy.

Black America is not dumb, nor stupid.

The fact of the matter is that black America has survived, and in some respects even thrived (i
n this country), against significant odds. — again, it is what you don’t know that you don’t know, that’s killing you.

And example of this is following the civil war, when blacks were promised “40 acres and a mule.” An excellent new beginning for black America, but after Lincoln’s assassination, this promise was revoked.

The legacy here is this — with respect to government; black America today tends to respond to government proposals not with a dose of some skepticism, which is actually healthy, but cynicism, …which never is.

Again, In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the leader of the civil rights movement, said, “you cannot legislate goodness, nor pass a law to force someone to respect me.” He continued, “the only way to social justice, in a capitalist society, is through economic parity.” Was this not a call for ownership, in an ownership society?

Dr. King was assassination three weeks before his march on Washington for what he called, the Poor People’s Campaign. A campaign made up NOT of exclusively the black community, as was the early civil rights movement; but poor whites (there are more poor whites in America today than poor anybody else), poor blacks, poor Latinos, poor Asians, and poor Indians. Moving them all up the economic ladder in America.

Or November 16, 2005, when I sat down with Ambassador Andrew Young, the former chief aide to the late, great Dr. King, who said, and I quote, “Dr. King, I and many others succeeded in integrating the lunch counter, the public building, and even the public school house – but never the dollar.” And “capitalism in a capitalist society, with no true access to capital and the knowledge to utilize it, is nothing more than a sophisticated form of slavery.” He closed by saying, “if Dr. King was alive today, THIS is the work that he would be doing…”

If you don’t know better, you cannot do better.

That is why Ambassador Young, our new national spokesman, and I co-host A Day of HOPE with Andrew Young on April 12th, 2005, in Atlanta, Georgia, inclusive of a Banking on Our Future financial literacy teaching session at Jean Child Young Middle School in Atlanta, a press conference announcing our commitment to partner with Atlanta Public Schools and Dr. Beverly Hall, its superintendent, to educate every low wealth child in Atlanta in financial literacy, before 8th grade, over 5-years, using a network of professional HOPE Corps volunteers. Volunteers from institutions such as Citigroup, ING and Bank of America.

That is why we thereafter hosted a bi-partisan forum, with leaders from government, community – including the civil rights community, and the private sector, entitled “from civil rights to silver rights; the dawning of a new movement in America.”

We believe that if the civil rights movement was about race and the color line, all over the world, and the first civil right was the right to vote, then the silver rights movement of the 21st century, an economic era, will be about issues of class and poverty, and the first silver right – will be financial literacy!

And so, we must DO SOMETHING — now.

Ph.D’s are good. Ph.Do’s – are better!

And so yes, I support the tenants of the President’s Ownership Society, …because it seems to be a first cousin of what we at Operation HOPE call the silver rights movement. But with every opportunity there are challenges.

You can put someone into a new home, as the President has proposed increasing minority homeownership by more than 5 million; a noble goal indeed. But you cannot keep them in a home, unless they are financially literate; particularly in light of rising interest rates and the risks associated with adjustable rate mortgages.

And then you have health management accounts; another name for a self-managed wealth account of sorts.

Or Social Security reform.

As I told the President when I met with him, along with 20 black leaders at the White House on January 23, 2005, private accounts could be a real boon for black and brown America, offering all an unprecedented opportunity to build a private wealth account AND PASS IT ON TO THEIR HEIRS.

But here’s the rub; “how can we ask someone to manage their own Social Security account, when we are fairly sure they cannot manage their own checking accounts.”

As I said in March 1st edition of USA Today on the issue, in order to be successful “Social Security reform will require a massive injection of mandatory, employer supported financial literacy education.”

If I don’t know better, I cannot much do better.

Like the President, at Operation HOPE we believe in the power of conversion.

CONVERSION. Our work at Operation HOPE is about fundamental change; moving individuals up the economic ladder through the concept of conversion: Converting check-cashing customers into bank depository customers. Converting renters into homeowners. Converting small business dreamers into small business owners. Converting the economically illiterate or unlearned, into the economically literate and proficient. Converting minimum wage workers into living wage workers with new economy job skills.

Operation HOPE, founded immediately following the civil unrest of April 29th, 1992 in urban Los Angeles, is America’s first nonprofit social investment banking organization, and is wholly committed to revitalizing America’s urban, inner city and under served communities with a menu of economic education, financial literacy, banking and financial services, capital access, economic empowerment and digital empowerment programs, services and solutions.

Today, Operation HOPE operates seven fully functioning Operation HOPE Centers, five of which include Inner City Cyber Cafes, program offices in the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, Atlanta, Anaheim, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Portland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Washington DC/Northern VA, Chicago and of course, our corporate office located at Wilshire Boulevard and Hope Street in Downtown Los Angeles, and of course our new HOPE Center serving Greater Anacostia-Washington, D.C.

THREE LEGGED STOOL of PARTNERSHIP. Partners in our work include members of government, community and the private sector, or what Operation HOPE, Inc. refers to as the three legged stool of HOPE. OHI’s four point plan of HOPE building includes economic literacy, economic education, economic empowerment, and digital empowerment. Operation HOPE has partnered with local, super-regional and national banks, credit unions, insurance companies and major, publicly traded financial service companies all across America in the creation of 16 Banking on Our Future (youth financial literacy) educational program offices in 15 under-served cities across the country, and right here in the District of Columbia.

To date, Operation HOPE and over 250 HOPE Partners with more than $4 trillion in assets between them have helped to provide free economic education counseling to more than 37,000 adults, financial literacy education through our award-winning Banking on our Future program, the only national urban-delivery platform for financial literacy in America today, to more than 154,000 low wealth, inner city youth, provided lending commitments totaling more than $220 million, which in turn has created approximately 700 inner city homeowners and 150 inner city small business owners, and is currently working with approximately 800 individuals and families who have decided to “take their futures back,” and are currently enrolled in our credit counseling and case management programs.

CIVIL RIGHTS TO SILVER RIGHTS. Communities and community leaders, living in what I call this new 4th Paradigm, have a responsibility. Our mission must not be simply the continued assurance of our civil rights, which is critically important, but the promise of our new found "silver rights” as well.

We must be as equally focused on build
ing a future legacy of private property, retirement and savings, as we are on building a legacy around traditional public policy.

We must be committed to a hand up aspiration, and not simply a hand out philosophy.

We must be more focused on financial literacy and economic empowerment than we are on ‘financial illiteracy and the economic divide.’

We must be more focused on digital empowerment, than we are on ‘the digital divide.’

In short, we must continue to do what we are all now doing, just more of it.

Making a real difference, in real people’s lives. A focus on solutions, and action too.

What I call the “Get it Done Party.”

Supporting what we call at Operation HOPE, Inc. "the Silver Rights Movement."

Supporting an "Ownership Society" that promotes financial literacy as a major component.

Supporting financial literacy and economic empowerment initiatives like Banking on Our Future, HOPE Centers, Banking Centers/Cyber Cafes; Financial Services Centers, and HOPE Coalition America.

Making a real difference, in real people’s lives.

Support Operation HOPE in our call for a silver rights movement in America, and our bold 5-year goals, namely;

* Educating 5 million urban and rural, low-wealth youth in financial literacy education;

* Recruit more than 25,000 professionals as HOPE Corps volunteers;

* Fund $1 billion in low-wealth homeownership, because financial literacy empowerment should lead to something;

* Enlisting 1,000 of America’s leading publicly traded companies and leading brands to join us as partners in HOPE;

* Become a household name and the nation’s leading brand around financial literacy, economic education and economic empowerment affecting urban, low-wealth communities;

* And finally, sparking a movement – a silver rights movement in 21st century America.

Finally, I would like to commend our more than 250 private-sector HOPE Partners, 60 government partners, more than 350 community partners (non-profit organizations) and more than 500 education and school partners.

I would to specifically commend the leadership provided to our movement of key national partners such as Citigroup, E Trade Financial, ING, First American Corporation and the Weinberg Foundation, and key regional and local lead partners, including the likes of the JP Morgan Chase, Bank of the West, Union Bank of California, Wells Fargo, SBC Communications, California National Bank, the Private Bank & Trust in Chicago, Harbor Bank in Baltimore, Cedars Bank in Los Angeles, Alliant Federal Credit Union and a host of others (see a complete list of partners at

Together, we can make a difference.  Let’s live Dr. King’s dream, but quoting my mentor, Reverend Dr. Cecil "Chip" Murray, pastor-emeritus for First AME Church, Los Angeles, the oldest black church in Los Angeles,"let’s start by waking up."

Thank you for inviting my testimony here today, before the U.S. Financial Literacy and Education Commission.

Onward, with HOPE

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