I remember meeting President George H.W. Bush first, when he recognized me and my efforts to advance 'community,' well before the founding of Operation HOPE, on the South Lawn of the White House. As a result of his recognition, I built relationships with amongst others, then U.S. HUD Secretary Jack Kemp, who went on to become a supporter and to serve on the Board of Directors for Operation HOPE for some time.
Later on, in the waning moments of his presidency, President George H.W. Bush was the first U.S. President to wrap his arms around me and my work, and to help me to operationalize my talents, within the federal government. He ultimately accomplished this in collaboration and partnership with the Democratic mayor of and for Los Angeles at that time, the late Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley. This Republican and this Democrat helped to back and give resource support to the early, unproven vision of and for what is today known to be Operation HOPE. This spirit of bi-partisan efforts for good, would be a welcome reality in today's political day and age.
I was not a Republican, but that did not matter to him. He saw a young man with talent, and who wanted to help others, and he helped me to do just that. His was my first federal grant, for my work..... A modest $61,000 SBA 7J grant from the Small Business Administration. It was not much, but it was enough to get me started, in the days and weeks following the devastating Rodney King Riots of 1992. I have always appreciated that.
Later on, in his post presidency period, President George H.W. Bush and former President Bill Clinton (once again, a Republican President and a Democratic President working together in partnership) came together to support countless nonprofit organizations responding to Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast. Helping poor people. Their active engagement and ultimately their very real funding support allowed us to help countless others.
Operation HOPE asked for $500,000, yet the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund approved a grant of $750,000. $250,000 more than what was formally requested.
'Why,' I later asked, 'did the Fund approve more than we requested?' The answer was simple and straight forward; 'because we knew that you and Operation HOPE would do meaningful things with additional resources. You would stretch every dollar John, and help the poor and struggling survivors of Katrina.'And help we did.
Operation HOPE and our HOPE Coalition America division ultimately reached, helped and served more than 300,000 survivors of Hurricane Katrina. More than any agency, other than the federal government, FEMA and the American Red Cross. This was possible, because former President Bush and former President Clinton 'leaned in.'
The world can all debate the President's record on this and on that, and all of it has relevancy and is important to his ultimate legacy But what I remember, through my personal experience and personal involvement and personal interactions, are some of the many good things that President Bush did, when no one was looking. And I recognize him for that.
Rest well, good man. Rest well....
John Hope Bryant, Founder, Operation HOPE