Operation HOPE 21: Telling The Story of Our Founding
"Rainbows, after storms. You cannot have a rainbow without a storm first."
After the Rodney King verdict came down, so many things just went dark in the community I loved so much. The community I still love. But not all things were negative, in the days and weeks and months that followed.
Congresswoman Maxine Waters and her local leadership group, led by Brenda Shockley as I recall, stood up their vision of and for Community Build. Today, Congresswoman Waters serves on the financial services committee for Congress, continuing to push her agenda for her people.
Then City Counciman Mark Ridkey-Thomas, who today is an esteemed and accomplished lead member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. I fondly remember Supervisor Ridley-Thomas for so many reasons, but a couple stand out for me. Mark (as I respectfully call him as a friend) served on our first board of directors for Operation HOPE. I remember our parting conversation. It was our first letterhead. We were committed to "eradicating poverty across America," and Mark (Ridley-Thomas) wanted to eradicate poverty and empower people IN THE 8TH DISTRICT! We were both right, but Councilman Ridley-Thomas was more right than me. He was 100% focused on empowering and serving the people in the district he was elected to serve. This impresses me now, as much as it impressed me then. I was sad to see Ridley-Thomas leave our board back then, by I so respected "why" he did it. I also got the phrase "With HOPE," which has become my global signature sign-off statement on all correspondence, from Mr. Ridley-Thomas. Finally, back then I would say that Ridley-Thomas was the only sitting elected official who really knew and understood community development, community empowerment, and the power of financial dignity in one's life.
Wells Fargo, who backed me before anyone else did, around what is now nationally, and internationally known as our award winning Banking on Our Future financial literacy program. This program alone has served close to one million youth in countless American and South African public schools, with scores of what we now call HOPE Corps volunteers. Wells Fargo continued to work together in this space, and Wells ultimately launched their own highly recognized effort, now known as Hands on Banking.
Union Bank of California, now known as Union Bank, who backed my original dream for the first Operation HOPE Home Loan Center, which later become known as the Operation HOPE Banking Center, the HOPE Financial Literacy Center, and most recently the HOPE Financial Dignity Centers across the nation. The HOPE Center...now flagship based at Dr. King's Ebenezer Church, across from the King Center in Atlanta, Georgia.
My spiritual father, Reverend Dr. Cecil "Chip" Murray, then pastor of 25,000 member First A.M.E. Church, one of the most influential black churches in the nation at that point in our history, worked with my emotional brother and friend, the now Reverend Mark Whitlock, to stand up and launch the hugely successful FAME Renaissance, a micro-loan fund and inner-city empowerment organization serving broad areas of the community.
My friend and now national partner in our work to build, rebuild and revitalize community, now Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake, who presides over the global Church of God in Christ deminiation. Bishop Blake was also pastor of West Angeles Church of God in Christ then, as he remains today. They made some incredible strides with their West Angeles Church Community Development Corporation (CDC), and are presently working on an office building in and for South Central Los Angeles! Amazing vision, made real through this man. We are proud to have a national Memorandum of Understanding with the Church of God in Christ, teaching financial literacy to youth throughout the church system, and soon, work around emergency disaster preparedness, response and recovery too.
My friends Peter Ueberroth, Barry Sanders, Linda Griego, Bernard Kinsey and others stood up the City of Los Angeles' and Mayor Tom Bradley's innovative answer to the crisis, with Rebuild Los Angeles, or RLA as it later become known as. In many ways, my vision for Operation HOPE took pages out of several of these books, but most notably that of RLA. I am one who believes that Peter Ueberroth is both brilliant, and a genuine community hero. How he was later treated, by the media and others, reminds me that "no good deed shall go unpunished," but to do good anyway. Peter is a good, good man, and I am sure history will treat him well.
Finally on this note, I have to say a word for then Mayor Tom Bradley. Mayor Bradley was an icon of Black elected leadership, havin
g been a successful and impactful mayor for 20 years, helping to make Los Angeles a truly international city. Mayor Tom Bradley, who I will write more about this week, was one of my early mentors in public office. He believed in me, when I didn't fully believe in myself. He was there for me, and helped to fund the first ever annual budget for my dream, Operation HOPE. His Administration called on the outgoing Bush Administration (the father, president), and secured a $61,000 U.S. SBA 7J technical assistance grant to support our work. This was the beginning of everything for me and us, giving us instant credibility, and some resources to build from.
And people wonder why I am bi-partisan today; our work was literally founded in the resource support of and from a leading Black Democratic Mayor, reaching out to the leader of the free world, which happened to be a White Republican President. It became instantly apparant to me, how America and the world worked, and what I would have to do to help advance the cause of my people. I have been at this business since that day, 21 years later. Thank you Tom Bradley. I will always remember you, love you, respect and admire you.
More to come this week, telling the story of HOPE's founding on the 21st birthday of our founding, but for all those who were there in the beginning, and with us still now -- I say, thank you.
John Hope Bryant is a thought leader, founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE and Bryant Group Companies, Inc. Magazine/CEO READ bestselling business author of LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass), the only African-American bestselling business author in America, and is chairman of the Subcommittee for the Under-Served and Community Empowerment for the U.S. President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability, for President Barack Obama. Mr. Bryant is the co-founder of the Gallup-HOPE Index, the only national research poll on youth financial dignity and youth economic energy in the U.S.