"How the Poor Can Save Capitalism — Rebuilding the Path to the Middle Class" by John Hope Bryant (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, $24.95).

Bryant, one of Time magazine's "50 for the Future" leaders, grew up in South Central Los Angeles and Compton; he grew up poor. He believes that efforts to help the poor with philanthropy, government assistance and microfinance have proven to be inadequate solutions. Bryant also sees poverty as a cultural state of accepting "It is what it is." This acceptance places self-imposed limits on self-confidence and aspirations.

What will help? Financial literacy coupled with education in free enterprise and entrepreneurship. These provide the foundation for understanding how using money (i.e. sound saving and spending habits and business savvy) creates hope, which drives self-determination and opportunity.

While that education starts with banking and budgeting basics, it also deals with the importance of credit scores — most of which hover around 500 in poor neighborhoods. At Bryant's Operation HOPE, a nationwide initiative, clients are also taught the basics of credit and receive help in reading and understanding their credit scores, and disputing errors in them. He encourages banks to provide such services because it will lead to increasing the number of depositors and eventually their loan portfolios.

He also advises that kids need to learn about money, too. Operation HOPE's Banking on Our Future program provides financial literacy to youth.

Operation HOPE also teaches entrepreneurship. Why? Many businesses (particularly payday lenders and check cashers) see the financial illiterate as those whose pockets can be easily picked. Bryant sees them as people who, once they acquire the financial knowledge, can become the business owners and job creators who rebuild neighborhoods — and keep money within their community. He knows first-hand that meeting the needs of neighbors will unlock their buying power. They'll not only become taxpayers; they'll become stakeholders in their future and that of others.

Bryant's message: "To be poor is not to not have anything. To be poor is not to do anything."

Read the original book review here from Jim Pawlak.


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