What an interesting, fascinating and beautiful country France is. I am probably the only visitor who comes repeatedly, making his first stop the suburbs of France; a place where the country’s migrant poor blacks from Africa, as well as others from the Middle East, Asian and other parts of the world live.
In 1998, I came to Lyon, France as the first ever UNCTAD goodwill ambassador for partners for development to the United States of America (UNCTAD is based in Geneva, Switzerland), where I spoke on many issues, one of them my belief – then and now – that France and Europe in general would have problems and challenges, similar to our civil rights movement in the United States in the 1960’s, should it continue to not deal with its issue of poverty in the suburbs (in America our black and minority poor tend to live in the inner cities. In France, their inner cities are places like Paris. Interesting fact of real estate to consider here, but that is a story for another time). And while my overall remarks were well received, many French in the audience booed me in 1998, as I began to express my opinion of their pending crisis with the poor and sidelined in the suburbs of this great country.
And so, it was with more than a hint of irony that I viewed, along with the world, the outbreak of the Paris riots two years ago on television, and heard reports of fresh youth-launched rioting earlier this week — right here in France. But this time was different. This time I was invited here, by the country’s business elite, to share my views gained through 15 years of service with and through Operation HOPE, now a legitimate global movement, on this and other topics. This time, my remarks seemed to resonate as authentic; albeit a different perspective and approach than that of the majority of French leaders, be they from government or the private sector.
While I will address my views directly and with hoped for substance in the days and weeks to come, essentially I made the case on this trip that these rioting youth, while in no way excusing their behavior, are really dealing with lost hope, at home and in downtown Paris, and low self esteem too. They are dropping out of high school, just like I have found is the case in the United States, and South Africa, partly because "they don’t see education as relevant to their future;" be this contention right or wrong. Many feel that they are only French when they pay their taxes, inasmuch as they do not see positive and successful images of themselves in high society, government or the business executive suites of France.
And at the end of the day, the youth of France want the exact same thing as the young people who launched the civil rights movement here in America, as led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Andrew Young and John Lewis, amongst others; and it was not the right for a black man to sit next to a white man at a lunch counter in a southern state in America, but respect and dignity. Real wealth.
Hope, quantified, through genuine opportunity, and a real shot at success, or failure, by their own hands and hard work.
Give them this, and I am willing to wager that the vast majority will play by the rules of society, attend school in record numbers, obey the most arcane laws of the land, pay their taxes with the rest of us, and become real leaders and contributors for a revitalized vision of and for 21st century France. A vision where everyone has a fair and equal shot. A vision where all boats rise. A vision focused on providing individuals with a hand up, and not a hand out. A vision as equally focused on providing opportunity for the ambitious and hard working, irrespective of their French pedigree or perceived social class, as it is on insuring jail time for youthful law breakers.
In short, just as I advised my friends focused on rebuilding the Gulf States following Hurricane Katrina, where they also are dealing with a rash of youth violence amongst minorities, "you must find a way to effectively buy these kids off with opportunity," to coin a phrase. Give them something better to do, than to simply be made at you.
We can all learn the valuable lessons taught to the world by Rwanda, led by my friend President Paul Kagame, and South Africa, where Operation HOPE will soon be opening its first Africa office, teaching financial literacy, dignity and entrepreneurship; "prosperity is the best partner to peace."
These are two nations that could have devolved into chaos and civil war, that instead took a path of justice, yes, but more so reconciliation, and now opportunity (for all). Both Rwanda and South Africa have economy’s growing at more than 5% annually. Not perfect by any measure, and plenty of problems yet to solve (such as not enough jobs for youth, which may need to be addressed through a massive focus on promoting countrywide entrepreneurship), country’s on the move with a positive vision that lifts all boats.
Give me your feedback on this piece. Share it with others. Let me know what you think. Together we can make a difference in this world….
More to come on this topic of global silver rights, or quoting my hero, mentor and HOPE global spokesman Ambassador Andrew Young, "making capitalism and the free enterprise system relevant to the poor, and ultimately, to make it work for the poor."
Onward with HOPE
John Hope Bryant