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Hope is the Flame That Still Burns

Page 38

By John Hope Bryant

The importance of empowering underserved communities

We have seen that in the half century since the civil rights movement and Dr. King’s dream, one problem, racism, has been replaced, or at least matched by, another: class and poverty. This is a problem that cuts across the color line and affects urban and rural communities alike. Even now, examples like the riots in Los Angeles, Ferguson and Baltimore spring to mind.

After growing up as part of the teetering class in South Central Los Angeles and Compton, Calif., after being homeless at the age of 18, and after working over the past 23 years with everyone from the working poor to the working class to the struggling middle class in the offices of Operation HOPE, I feel as though I understand modern poverty.

If you don’t have the opportunity, the chance or the shot at operationalizing your smarts, your talents or your education, then life has a concrete ceiling rather than a glass one. You lose hope, and the most dangerous person in the world is a person without hope. And so, if this is the new definition of poverty, then what is wealth? It is precisely the opposite of this. Wealth begins with confidence and belief in oneself.

1. Self-confidence, self-esteem and belief in oneself. In this country, if you wake up in the morning and you don’t know who you are, by dinner time someone will tell you who you are. If you don’t have self-confidence, you are in serious trouble in America – and maybe anywhere.

2. Role models and environment. Think about your family and your immediate community. If your role models are negative, the only aspiration you see around you is illegal, and if your immediate environment stinks, then your well-being is going to take a real hit.

3. Finally, life is about aspiration and opportunity.

In today’s world, a person’s credit score impacts their ability to access gainful employment, safe housing, affordable insurance premiums, banking opportunities and other makings of affluence and wealth.

After more than 22 years in the business of financial dignity, we understand that by helping an individual raise their credit score above 700 or nurturing the entrepreneurial skills in students, or understanding the importance of preparing for disaster or emergency can change lives. Through our work, we turn check-cashing customers into banking customers, renters into homeowners, small business dreamers into small business owners and minimum wage workers into living wage consumers.

Answering the call of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s vision for a revitalized and renewed city, Operation HOPE is planting a seed in the Motor City with Project 5117, which will spark a community of stakeholders and change the way people see themselves.

Project 5117 is our multiyear initiative to provide financial dignity-based programs tailored to empower disenfranchised youth and adults. Its goal is to reach 5 million students, inspire 1 million budding entrepreneurs, open 1,000 HOPE Inside locations, and raise credit scores above 700.

Our first Detroit HOPE Inside launched this year on April 28 at the Northwest Activities Center. It is supported by Fifth Third Bank, Bank on Detroit and Sandy Baruah, CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber.

Our desire is to see 20 HOPE Inside locations that will help raise credit scores and inspire small business and homeownership. Additionally, to address the dropout crisis, we offer our youth empowerment programs – HOPE Business in a Box Academies and HOPE B-Minus Business Compact – to schools throughout metro Detroit.

While the embers of Los Angeles, Ferguson and now Baltimore still glow in our hearts, we cannot give up. Remember: rainbows after storms. You cannot have a rainbow without a storm first.

Okay, let’s go.