By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on May 6, 2016
An influential poverty-fighting organization – Operation HOPE – is consolidating its global headquarters in Atlanta.
A lunch meeting at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta on May 9 will be a time to “introduce Operation HOPE to Atlanta,” said Bill Rogers, CEO of SunTrust Banks Inc., which is hosting the event.
At the same time, Operation HOPE will be announcing a major local initiative called Atlanta Uplift 2020 that will become a model for how the organization plans to fight poverty on a national and even international basis.
“Obviously Atlanta wants to be the epicenter of everything, and we can be the epicenter of financial well-being,” Rogers said. “Operation HOPE is one of the largest voices in that conversation – leading by innovation, leading by being conveners, leading in execution. There’s no better place for that dialogue to happen than in the city of Atlanta.”
Operation HOPE was founded in Los Angeles in 1992 by John Hope Bryant after the Rodney King riots. Along the way, he got to know former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young and his son, Bo Young, who convinced him he needed a base in Atlanta.
Eventually, Bryant began calling Atlanta Operation HOPE’s “heart”-quarters while saying the creative headquarters remained in L.A., the financial center in New York and the political base in Washington, D.C.
Finally, Bryant decided Atlanta should become Operation HOPE’s global headquarters. It will be expanding its offices at the 191 Peachtree Tower as it moves more people to Atlanta. Because the nonprofit has a national footprint and a growing international presence, Atlanta made logistical sense.
But for Bryant, the major draw was Young and the city’s civil rights history. He is a big believer that the new incarnation of civil rights is “silver” rights, the ability for everybody to participate in the economic arena.
“If you want to have deep thought about moral and ethical values, about civil rights and silver rights or if you want to meet the real leaders, those conversations happen in Atlanta,” Bryant said. “Those conversations don’t happen in L.A.”
Atlanta also has a moral obligation – as the “city too busy to hate” – to live up to its claim.
“We’ve got this third-world country in the area called Vine City,” Bryant said. “It is the top city for black entrepreneurship. But it’s also the fifth most unbanked city in the country. There’s enormous prosperity and wealth alongside enormous poverty and despair. That’s not sustainable. Poverty is the cancer that can kill the dream. It’s not financial. It’s a lack of hope.”
Rogers said Operation HOPE is able to bring people together, “from royalty to business leaders to community leaders and the people who are impacted by poverty.” The are able to meet in a “no-risk environment” and find common ground to face the challenges of income disparities.
Operation HOPE’s annual Global Summit in Atlanta brings top government and business leaders from around the world to focus on the topic of combatting poverty through financial literacy.
SunTrust did a survey that revealed 40 percent of the population does not have $2,000 on hand in case of an emergency.
“That means the economic recovery in our country is fragile,” Rogers said. “Operation HOPE is working to create a better underpinning for our society.”
As Atlanta Federal Reserve President Dennis Lockhart said, the nonprofit has tangible, practical tools to help individuals improve their own financial status, such as ways to improve their own credit ratings.
“If Atlanta can be one of the world centers for financial literacy work, nothing can be bad about that.”