It was an honor and a privilege to be invited to speak at Gettysburg College this week, as part of their Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation Initiative, as well as the Economics and Public Policy Departments of the College. It was also one of the most draining, and inspirational experiences of my life. It was as if I could feel, everything.
Gettysburg College is unique in America, and I believe, unique in the world. It is a college surrounded by, and indeed actively engulfed within one of the most historic battles for freedom ever recorded by history and traced by scholars.
The Gettysburg ad Gettysburg College story is also intensely personal to me, as the Civil War was in part the freedom story for African-American slaves, and also part of my passion for the Freedman’s Bank, which President Abraham Lincoln signed into law on March 3rd, 1865. The Freedman’s Bank was chartered to ‘teach freed slaves about money.’ A story that most people don’t know about.
Operation HOPE and I are working to complete the unfinished mandate of President Lincoln, and his Freedman’s Bank, first by negotiating the successful name change of the U.S. Treasury Annex Building to the Freedman’s Bank Building on the White House Complex in Washington, DC.
With more than 35 Freedman’s Bank branches across the nation, this was the headquarters for the Freedman’s Bank in our nation’s capitol, located where Mr. Lincoln could observe ‘the candle lights burning’ of one of his most important social experiments. Unfortunately, President Lincoln was assassinated the following month, in April, 1865, and while Frederick Douglass attempted to keep the bank going, it ultimately failed without Lincoln’s sponsorship, in 1874.
Operation HOPE and its partners have now moved on to literally completing the mandate of the Freedman’s Bank, by putting in place a network of HOPE Inside locations in underserved communities nationwide — all committed to financial literacy coaching, financial resiliency, and overall economic uplift. We call it the Silver Rights Movement, and to date Operation HOPE and its partners have opened more than 130 HOPE Inside locations, serving 24 states, 4 million clients, and having directed more than $3 billion in capital and education for small business, entrepreneurship and home ownership. Partners such as SunTrust Banks, Regions Bank, First Tennessee Bank, Bank of the West, Mutual of Omaha Bank, Delta Airlines, UPS, Atlanta Police Department, Atlanta Public Schools and a growing list of others that have adopted our model for uplift.
More so, our HOPE Financial Coaches and HOPE Inside locations are moving credit scores an average of 120 points over a 24 month period — which literally changes lives. As but one example, 44% of all African-Americans have a credit score of 620 or below — and no matter how brilliant or kind or amazing a person is, you cannot get a loan for a small business idea at a 620 credit score or below. You also cannot gets a decent home mortgage loan, or decent consumer credit. Just proving that the need for what President Abraham Lincoln signed into law in 1865, with the Freedman’s Bank, persists and exists today.
Everyone who has a chance, should go and take a tour Gettysburg and Gettysburg College. It will change your life. It changed mine.