Name: John Hope Bryant
Career: In 1992, he founded Operation HOPE Inc. after the 1992 riots in Los Angeles to promote financial literacy and economic empowerment. He has served as a member of the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability, co-founder of Global Dignity, vice chair on the U.S. President’s Advisory Council on Financial Literacy and chairman of the Committee on the Underserved.
Books: He is author of “Love Leadership,” “How the Poor Can Save Capitalism,” and “The Memo, Five Rules for Your Economic Liberation,” which was released earlier this month.
The ashes of the Los Angeles riots had barely cooled when John Hope Bryant, at age 26, founded Operation HOPE to promote capitalism and counter the frustration of those in underserved communities.
Twenty-five years later, Bryant is still preaching his message of financial literacy, entrepreneurship and independence through his best-selling books and his nonprofit counseling service, which has helped more than 3 million persons improve their credit and financial well-being and pumped more than $2.5 billion into underserved neighborhoods.
Bryant will bring his message of economic empowerment to Chattanooga next month as the keynote speaker at the 35th annual Equal Opportunity Day for the Chattanooga Area Urban League.
"The 21st century is really about free enterprise, capital and money — and the battle is not so much in the city streets as in the business suites," Bryant said in an interview with the Times Free Press. "It's not about the color line; it's about class and poverty. Whether you are black, white, yellow or brown, you want to see more green, as in U.S. currency."
The biggest annual fundraiser for the Chattanooga Area Urban League, the 35th annual Equal Opportunity Day breakfast, will from 7:30-9 a.m. on Oct. 18 at the Chattanooga Convention Center. Tickets are available at ulchatt.net or by calling 756-1762.
Bryant has worked to improve the financial standing and well being of low-income families by improving people's financial literacy and credit scores. Operation HOPE works on the ground as the nonprofit private banker for the working poor, providing financial literacy empowerment for youth and credit counseling within bank offices through its 700 Credit Scores Initiative.
The program works with individuals to raise credit scores on average 120 points with two years of active counseling.
Bank officers are usually reluctant under current regulations to counsel or advocate for individuals to upgrade their credit scores with rating agencies, so Operation HOPE counselors provide such help within the bank branch to make more persons capable of borrowing money at more attractive interest rates.
"Better credit scores allow people to improve their financial standing, invest more in their homes and communities and help the bank and the local community," Bryant said. "
Bryant said the civil rights movement aided African Americans to move from the fields to the factories in the 20th century. But he said the "silver rights" movement today is to move more people "from the streets to the suites," helping more people of color and other historically disadvantaged people to move toward more ownership of their own homes, businesses and economic lifestyle.
Bryant said 44 percent of African Americans have credit scores below 620, which limit credit opportunities for buying a home or starting a business. Only 15 percent of white Americans have a credit score below 620, Bryant said.
"There has never been a riot in American history of any race a 700 credit score neighborhood," Bryant said.
Already, Operation HOPE has opened 15 offices in Tennessee, including locations in the Eastgate and East 23rd Street branches of First Tennessee Bank in Chattanooga.
Jeff Jackson, the Chattanooga market president for First Tennessee Bank and the chairman of this year's Equal Opportunity Day breakfast, said in in the first six months the HOPE Inside locations in Chattanooga have worked with 245 people and raised the average credit score of participants by 20 points.
"A lot of people through the recession had some troubles, got down on themselves and need some help to regain their financial dignity," Jackson said. "We've got two branches here and will probably look at another down the road because I think it's been a very successful partnership."
Warren Logan, president of the Chattanooga Urban League, said Bryant's message and success in improving financial literacy and well being reflects what the Urban League has been working to do across the country for more than a century.
"The Urban League desires to enable African Americans and those who are disadvantaged to find empowerment and financial freedom and that's why we're so excited to have John Hope Bryant in Chattanooga as our speaker," Logan said.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 423-757-6340.
• 76 percent of Americans are living from paycheck to paycheck
• 1 in 4 of the Americans who qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit never ask for it, more than $9 billion in unclaimed funds that could be put towards mortgages, car payments and education
• 47 percent of U.S. employers require a credit report as part of the hiring process
Source: The Memo, Five Rules for Your Economic Liberation, John Hope Bryant