The Sacramento Black Chamber of Commerce gave local business owners a shot of ‘HOPE’ hosting its 22nd Annual Awards Dinner recently in the Radisson Hotel’s Edgewater Ballroom.

The dinner featured a keynote speech delivered by Operation HOPE Founder and CEO John H. Bryant. Operation HOPE, started in Los Angeles after the 1992 riots, is a non-profit social investment banking organization focused on connecting the minority community with mainstream, private sector resources and empowering under-served communities.

Bryant’s speech was part humor, part “real talk,” designed to motivate listeners to action.

“No one’s going to save us but us,” he said.

Bryant said he had an affinity for business owners as his parents were entrepreneurs all his life, as was he before starting Operation HOPE. Bryant started his first venture before he was in junior high. It began when he tried to give the neighborhood candy store guy tips about what kind of candy kids preferred.

“He said, ‘go away little boy, I’ve got a college degree,’ I said, ‘well, I’ve got cavities.’”

Precocious yes, dumb, no. After that conversation, Bryant borrowed $40 from his mother, bought candy from an area wholesaler, and was soon making $300 a week.

“That told me at a very young age that I could do anything I wanted to do in this world if I willed it. Ten years of age and I put the liquor store out of the candy business,” he said.

Bryant says he is constantly asked why he is so passionate about financial literacy.

“It’s personal for me,” he said, sharing a story of how his father owned businesses for 53 years and has very little money wise to show for it.

Much of Bryant’s talk was focused on the chamber dinner’s theme of “Striving To Reach Economic Parity.”

“Martin Luther King said in 1968, the year he was assassinated, at the Poor People’s Campaign that you cannot legislate goodness and you cannot pass a law to force someone to respect you, but the only way to social justice in a capitalist country was through economic parity, ownership. That was Dr. King in 1968,” Bryant said.

“People say Dr. King was assassinated because of his position on the war, his position on civil rights, he’d been talking about those positions for quite some time. Andrew Young is my mentor and my hero, he confirmed with me that he wasn’t assassinated for either of those things; you get a Nobel Peace Prize winner who can mobilize 90 percent of the U.S. population around the theory of redistribution of wealth, 97 percent of redistribution of wealth from the top three percent, now I suggest you don’t live very long," he said.

“He understood the power of economics in 1968 and I just think that when you know better, you do better. It’s what you don’t know that you don’t know that’s killing you," Bryant continued.

The “movement” toward doing better, he says, must start with today’s youth.

“I’m not talking about something complicated. I’m talking about checking, savings, credit, investments and investment banking.

“We (Operation HOPE, Wells Fargo, Washington Mutual and Bank of America California) have 5,000 volunteers in 700 schools teaching our children, not just history of 40 acres and a mule but what I call 40 books and a bank account.

Bryant said his mission is to recruit 25,000 volunteers with the goal of educating five million children from minority communities in financial literacy. It’s all part of what he calls “silver rights.”

“I’m at the table with the head of the NAACP here, I’m fully respectful of civil rights, without that we’d be nowhere, but you can’t keep holding on to where we’ve been. My pastor Rev. Dr. Cecil “Chip” Murray would say ‘the best way to start living your dream is to wake up.’”

Richard Nelson, president and CEO of the Sacramento Black Chamber of Commerce, says waking up on a local level included setting real goals.

“Our focus for 2007 will be on creating wealth within the African American community. We will see the chamber launch an entrepreneurial training program designed to connect members of the community with outstanding learning opportunities with distinguished companies.”

Among those attending the dinner to show their support for the Chamber’s efforts was former president Aubry Stone, the president and CEO of the California Black Chamber of Commerce.

“This is a movement and this is a movement that’s not going to go away,” Stone said.
Community Awards were given out to those, organizers say support the chamber’s mission.

The 2007 awards were as follows:

  • 2006 Business to Watch: Deryl Garmon of Sight and Sound Audio Visual Services
  • 2006 Small Business of the Year Award: Ramona Atkinson of Inteligit, Inc.
  • 2006 Community Service of the Year Award: Ray Upchurch, First Federal Mortgage Bankers, Inc.
  • 2006 Corporate of the Year Award: Wells Fargo Bank
  • 2006 President’s Award: The OBSERVER Newspapers
  • 2006 Chairman’s Award: Sacramento Regional Transit

“This year’s award winners are a great testament to what we have (achieved) and are continuing to achieve within the business community,” shared Chamber Executive Director Velma Sykes.

“We made a commitment to wealth building within the African American business community last year and with the help of our partners, sponsors and friends we have been able to witness the progress our efforts are making in achieving our goals,” Ms. Sykes continued.

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