Early on in the Bush Presidency (second term) I attended a White House Black History Month event at the White House in Washington, D.C., where I crossed paths with an extremely focused, serious yet approachable new U.S. senator from Illinois, by the name of one Barack Obama. At that time there was no hint that he would run for president, but there was no doubt that he was extremely intelligent, thoughtful, well spoken, and no doubt “going places.” What I did not know, and could not know at the time, was that the place he was going was right upstairs (at the White House, I mean).
I remember shaking the senator’s hand, telling him briefly about my life’s work, and sharing with him my desire to better serve “his constituents” with financial literacy, silver rights and economic empowerment, HOPE style. Well, if you want to make God laugh tell Him your plan.
I thought I was talking about (serving) the great people of the City of Chicago, and the State of Illinois, where HOPE has a program office. Now it looks like we will indeed be serving all of his constituents, now (or soon) meaning the great people of the United States of America. I and we will of course be honored to do it. This is meaningful on several levels, from Operation HOPE on-the-ground and in communities across America, changing lives, to the U.S. President’s Council on Financial Literacy in Washington, D.C., helping the president-elect and our Congress create policy that in turn creates real change for real people nationwide. The U.S. President’s Council on Financial Literacy is bi-partisan and is chartered by Executive Order to serve two sitting U.S. presidents, until 2010.
Hello, Mr. Obama.
Hope is on the Way
I have had a few “moments” in my life when the power of the word hope has really been made real and tangible to me; from the day I founded Operation HOPE, on May 5th, 1992, immediately following the worst civil unrest in U.S. history, the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, to the day I received a call from the White House, inquiring whether I had a problem with them using the word “hope” as part of their mortgage response and recovery efforts in this economic crisis (now known across America as “HOPE Now”). They saw "hope" as part of our brand in and for under-served communities, and paid the respect of asking, when they really didn’t have to. And then there was that passionate and focused U.S. senator again, criss-crossing America, “talking up hope.”
I cannot tell you how many of my friends have emailed or called me in recent months, telling me about "this amazing man," and further suggesting that the “stars were aligning.” Yea right, was all I could think. You see, I could only think about how difficult it has been for me, working to make hope real, on-the-ground, through
Operation HOPE; 16 years on now and counting, and I am still “making the case.”
But a presidency, representing the most powerful nation in the world, and the largest economy on the planet, built on “a (business) case for hope?” Come on now. Well, we now all know the answer, and it does indeed appear that hope is on the way. Quoting another great presidential orator, “it is morning (again) in America.” Yes, it is.
This said, we now must all work to make hope real and material in the lives of people.
In his remaining time in office I am sure that President Bush will do what he can to help. I am also sure that President-Elect Obama will lead us forward, post January 20th, 2009, with a bold new plan for America, and the world. But what will you and I do? Yes, you and I.
We cannot simply turn to Mr. Obama now, dump all of our problems on his soon to be overwhelmed desk and say, “okay leader, you handle it.” America elected him, and America must help him, and that particular buck, so to speak, starts with you and me.
A friend (Bill George, author of best seller "True North") described Obama’s campaign as more of a movement, than a campaign. I agree with him. And I believe it was Rev. Al Sharpton who said “with the election of Barack Obama we have fulfilled the greatest promise of the civil rights movement, (and) now we must move forward with the next phase of the movement” (quote paraphrased).
I believe that the next chapter of movement work is a shift from civil rights to silver rights.
That does not in any way mean to suggest that we don’t need civil rights, nor key legacy organizations such as the NAACP. We surely do need it, and them. But the principle problem today, both at home and the world over, is not an issue of race and the color line, but issues of class and poverty.
With 70% of Americans living from paycheck to paycheck, and someone living in say New York City and making $50,000 a year, or Atlanta, Georgia and making $35,000 a year, struggling to make ends meet, the “issue is not so much whether you are white, black, red or yellow, but getting and keeping more green (US currency, I mean).”
“If the 20th century was about issues of race and the color line, or civil rights, then the 21st century will be about issues of class and poverty, or what I call silver rights, and the first silver right in a free enterprise democracy is financial literacy. When you don’t know better, you cannot do better.” John Hope Bryant
It is about the global economic crisis
At the heart of the current global economic crisis is a massive level of borrower and consumer financial illiteracy, or people, including middle class individuals, who asked “what’s the payment” and not “what’s the interest rate.” You cannot have a $14 trillion U.S. economy, 70% dependent upon consumers, and have consumers financially illiterate and as a result, lacking personal confidence to protect their family from financial predators and bad decisions, and somehow expect that the economic framework will not ultimately fold like a house of cards. Financial literacy is an American competitiveness issue.
Immediately after everyone’s economic houses stop burning, the very next question on everyone’s mind will be and should be, “how do we make sure a mess like this never happens again.” We should require that every young person in school receive a mandatory course in basic financial literacy before completion of the 8th grade (a recommendation included in the soon-to-be-released President’s Council on Financial Literacy report).
It is about human dignity, respect, personal responsibility, democracy in America, and basic access for all
More individuals today do not have a bank account than didn’t have the right to vote in the civil rights movement (40 million). Certainly, just like in the civil rights movement, when a woman standing on a street corner in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina could not even receive a federal payment from FEMA, because she did not have a basic bank account to wire it into, that was an issue of respect and dignity, and basic access to the levers of democracy and opportunity.
If our banking system is going to receive federal financial support (which I support, by the way), then respectfully, they should also have to do more. Guaranteeing a basic, electronic, debit card accessed, FDIC bank account as a legal human right for every American, and helping to make America financially literate too, is an easy lift, and we should do it. This recommendation will also be included in the annual report for the U.S. President’s Advisory Council on Financial Literacy, and HOPE spokesman, civil rights hero Andrew Young and I have jointly written to Congress calling for a “bank account for all.”
At Operation HOPE we believe that it is time for a global silver rights movement, starting right here at home, and we believe that the first silver right is financial literacy.
When you have a future president focused on and committed to the principles of "hope, dignity and empowerment," hope is indeed on the way. Operation HOPE will do our part to help him operationalize this dream.
John Hope Bryant