This past Friday, Operation HOPE partnered with the U.S. Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting and his team for a Bankers Bus Tour through several neighborhoods in Atlanta. The main focus was on the proposed updating and revision of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). The act encourages banks to lend money to help revitalize neighborhoods through investments, lending, and other services.
Ambassador, former Atlanta Mayor, and civil rights icon (the chief lieutenant to Dr. King) Andrew Young joined us on the tour, which began at the Martin Luther King Sr. Community Resource Complex. Fittingly, the Martin Luther King Sr. Community Resource Complex was built with a substantial initial capital injection from Operation HOPE and its partners, through dedicated CRA funding, to stand up our then flagship HOPE Inside location in Atlanta. HOPE also became the founding anchor tenant at the Complex for more than 5 years, helping to root it financially.
Today, the Complex is flying and succeeding all on its own steam, under the signal leadership of my friend and brother Rev. Raphael Warnock. This would not have been possible without CRA funding allocations from banks. We are talking about a commitment from HOPE of north of $2M in capital and lease payments. And we are immensely proud to have done it, but pride and intent alone does not make dreams come true. Capital access, education and opportunity (and lots of prayer) does that. All of this came together, in the story above, which mirrored similar stories we saw unfold throughout the day on the Tour.
From the MLK Sr. Complex, which is part of the larger Ebenezer Church and King Center campus, the bus traveled to a new HOPE Inside office at SunTrust Banks, located at the MLK Shopping Center/Historic Westside Village, where everyone listened to an inspirational client success story. That young lady is now a homeowner, because of the power of our HOPE 700 Credit Score Community and HUD approved financial coaching programs, also made possible as a result of CRA funding. We also traveled to the Wheat Street Gardens Redevelopment, the Auburn Avenue Historic Redevelopment, the new and impressive Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and other economic development sites. All examples of what can happen, and what is possible, when responsible capital with a conscious comes into underserved communities.
After the tour, Ambassador Young and I convened a robust and engaged roundtable discussion with leaders from local government, community, banking and the private sector, where we talked with Comptroller Otting and the OCC team about how reforming the CRA can make an impact in Atlanta, and beyond. A number of impressive suggestions around possible additions and amendments to CRA came out of the meeting, including suggestions around place-based qualification around CRA, the possible inclusion of credit for properly structured internship and apprenticeship programs, additional support for small business equity investment and lending, and even connecting CRA reform with the emerging space of Qualified Opportunity Zones, which could have a significant impact in communities I and we care about.
We are pleased to work with the Comptroller and local leaders to ensure that our collaborative efforts result in the inclusion and empowerment of our underserved communities. Operation HOPE currently operates 135 HOPE Inside, HOPE Inside the Workplace, HOPE Inside Emergency Financial Disaster Response and Recovery, and Youth locations throughout Atlanta and across the country — and CRA funding has made a substantial difference in our efforts to work with banks to stand up these locations as well. Our plan is a commitment of 1,000 HOPE Inside locations by December, 2020, across the nation.
Our commitment is focused on finishing what President Lincoln started with his Freedman’s Bank of 1865, working with Frederick Douglass, and to advance what Dr. King and Young were immersed in, April 1968, with Dr. King and SCLC’s Poor People’s Campaign. Our vision is to become ‘the Starbucks of financial inclusion’ in America, and the moral conscious of the banking and corporate sectors as we go. CRA and planned CRA reform are critical pieces and tools in this toolbox of empowerment and hope in and for underserved communities.
This is the movement from civil rights justice to silver rights empowerment for all. Let’s go.