In my dual role as founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE for the past 16 years, and vice chairman of the U.S. President’s Advisory Council on Financial Literacy, I have had a unique opportunity to gain an on-the-ground, national policy, and even global view of our economy. More and more it becomes apparent to me how important and relevant financial literacy, or what we at Operation HOPE call "silver rights," in the lives of people and community.
From the subprime mortgage crisis to the credit crisis, to even the high school drop out rate, the lack of financial literacy and an understanding of how money works is increasingly apparent to me. It’s becoming apparent to America too. If you live in New York City and you make less than $50,000 a year, you are struggling to make ends meet. I don’t care whether you are black, white, red or brown, you just want some more green.
The new civil rights issue is not principally race and the color line, but a silver rights issue called class and poverty. Poverty is no respecter of race. It is an equal opportunity discriminator. The only difference is, when white America has a headache, black America has pneumonia. But here is what I know; education is the ultimate poverty eradication tool, because when you know better, you tend to do better. It can also smash ignorance and help to increase self-esteem.
Individuals, from the poor to America’s vaulted middle class, are simply ashamed to admit they don’t understand money. I don’t know of a woman who calls her girlfriend and says, "girl, my credit score is 500, what’s yours?" From the time you wake up in the morning until the time you go to bed at night, your life is principally about two things — love and money. And if your day is not about love, it’s about (decisions about) money, yet no one is teaching our children financial literacy, language of money, the rules of free enterprise and capitalism, the benefits of ownership, the option of entrepreneurship, and what we at Operation HOPE call "silver rights."
I remember being in Harlem in October, 2007, for the grand opening of our Harlem HOPE Banking Center there. A young man from the neighborhood walked up to me and said, "Mr. Bryant, thank you for doing this, but do you see what’s going on in Harlem today (around "other people" purchasing Harlem property)? That’s racism." I responded, "brother, racism is alive in America, unfortunately, but this is not an example of racism, but capitalism, and you need to go and get you some." I went on to say that "the only problem with capitalism and free enterprise, is that black folks didn’t have access to the first, nor an understanding of the second." He agreed, and he and I agreed to work together to change that in Harlem through the empowering work of Operation HOPE.
Rainbows, after storms. You cannot have a rainbow without a storm first.
Onward with HOPE
John Hope Bryant