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Thought Leader Financial Inclusion

In The New Atlanta – The Color is Increasingly Green

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By John Hope Bryant, Founder, Chairman & CEO | Operation HOPE, Inc.
I keep saying Atlanta is a magical city. Magical for many reasons — including its rich civil rights and social justice history for one — but ‘opportunity (available) for all’ is a strong second reason.
In the midst of an emerging 20th century America, the city of Birmingham, Alabama, could have been what Atlanta ultimately became — home to the world’s busiest airport, a robust and growing economy, a growing population, and a fast growing city for all. But the fact is, respectfully, Birmingham just could not get it together.  They also could not stop getting in their own way.  They could not stop stepping on their own message (of aspirational success).
Basically, Birmingham leaders argued over race and the color of one’s skin, and Atlanta’s leaders argued over the money.  As in who would get what.  Or how much of what.  This was the right approach for Atlanta, and basically, ever since — Atlanta has found richness and aspirational success embedded within its message of diversity and racial inclusion.  For the longest time, this also translated into a good measure of continuing financial, economic, business, and entrepreneurial inclusion too.  This translated for many people of color — into real wealth.
Atlanta is today the only international city in the south, and growth — and the traffic that often accompanies it — is one of our challenges to manage.
But today Atlanta sits on a bubble called change, and which way it pivots forward, or falls off of this bubble matters.  Today, Atlanta is in a very real way the tale of two cities.  One wealthy or at least well-to-do — of all races— and the other is the story of sustained poverty.  Not sustenance poverty (a roof over your head, food on the table, reasonable health care — though these are problems too), but sustained poverty (a mindset of a continuing group who never got The Memo, the title of my most recently book).
On the westside of Atlanta you have good people and initiatives like John Ahmann and his Westside Future Fund working to make a difference, but you also have — in the backdrop of a $1B+ stadium development — a broader community where more than 90% of the residents rent (versus owning their own home), and where credit scores are 500 and BELOW.
And while we focus important and needed attention on the westside community, the reality is that we have this same problem in pockets throughout greater Atlanta (the city and inter-connected counties too).  Take a ride south of I-20, for example. And the problem there — today — is not racism, bias, and discrimination based on someone being white, black, red, brown or yellow — but people not having enough green (as in U.S. currency green).
And what little money and financial resources residents do have, gets ‘negatively-negotiated’ out of their pockets through a combination of high concentrations of financial predators, and low concentrations of financial literacy and financial know-how. Or, said another way, in these communities — in 500 credit score communities — it’s ‘what we don’t know that we don’t know that is killing us, but we THINK we know.’
The result is a concentration of what does not work, and what should not be (role) modeled. Here are a few things I know:
  • If you hang around 9 broke people, you will be the 10th.
  • There is a difference between being broke and being poor. Being broke is a temporary economic situation, but being poor is a disabling frame of mind, and a depressed condition of your spirit, and you must vow to never, ever be poor again.
  • That folks are not dumb and they are not stupid. It’s what they don’t know that they don’t know that’s killing them — but they THINK they know.
  • That nothing changes your life more, other than God or love, than moving your credit score 120 points.
  • That 700 credit score communities don’t riot, and are not aspirationally depressed. Only 500 credit score commiunities riot, like the Rodney King Riots that triggered Operation HOPE’s founding in 1992, in South Central Los Angeles.
Operation HOPE is today moving credit scores 120 points in 24 months, through our HOPE Inside network of offices, in underserved communities throughout greater Atlanta, and across the southeast and the nation as well.
Our goal is the finish what President Abraham Lincoln started with the Freedman’s Bank, in 1865, which was chartered to ‘teach freed slaves about money.’  President Lincoln was killed the next month.
Or what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had a vision for in 1968, with the Poor People’s Campaign, which was about lifting all races of people out of poverty.  Dr. King was killed the month of it’s launch.
So it is not like black folks and brown folks, and other folks in The Invisible Class got The Memo on free enterprise and capitalism, and screwed it up.  They just never got The Memo in the first place.  And this is the missing piece, as you drive through vast tracts and whole areas of our great city —- you see countless example, after countless example, of good, loving, God fearing people, who just never got The Memo.
This is the goal of Operation HOPE and its planned network of more than 1,000 HOPE Inside locations by year 2020, across the nation. To become the private banker to the poor, the working class and the struggling middle class.  To become the Starbucks of Financial Inclusion for the masses. To give a generation — The Memo.
Financial Literacy and Financial Inclusion is the Civil Rights Issue of our generation. At Operation HOPE we call this Silver Rights.  Come join this movement too. Lend a hand.
They new color that matters most today — is actually green.
Let’s go.
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