A native of Compton and South Central Los Angeles, John Hope Bryant was always a business-savvy kid who sold candy in his neighborhood. Even back then, he understood the value of a dollar and today is diligently trying to teach others the same values. Now, the CEO and Founder of Operation HOPE, a non-profit that brings financial literacy to low-wealth communities, Bryant just wrapped the organization’s 2016 HOPE Global Forums Annual Meeting on Friday.

Operation HOPE currently serves 4,000 inner city schools, 500 low-wealth communities, and conducts programs in South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates.  It’s all possible because of the $2 billion in private investments that Bryant has procured.

The non-profit also has projects that directly target underprivileged youth including Banking on Our Future and HOPE Business in a Box. These initiatives instill a strong entrepreneurial spirit early on by introducing kids to positive business role models and allowing them to start their own ventures. Bryant believes educational and entrepreneurial programs can pour dignity and freedom back into forgotten neighborhoods. For the Black community in particular, this means repairing generations of internalized hopelessness.

We spoke to Bryant on how transforming financial literacy into self-determination can uncover the possibility of free enterprise for all. 

EBONY.COM: How did HOPE Global Forums begin?            

BRYANT: It began out of my frustration over how to make the movement more visible.  Silver rights aren’t as dramatic and captivating as civil rights. The movement isn’t good TV and it’s boring or inaccessible to many people. The forums were created to spread awareness, dialogue, and community to forge new partnerships and ideas.

EBONY.COM:  Why is financial literacy so important for community advancement?

BRYANT: Without financial literacy, divorce rates soar, families rupture, and women stay with abusive men for financial security.  A lack of jobs contributes to riots and illegal activity. Name any situation and it goes back to money.  We need to focus on poverty eradication.

EBONY.COM: Can you elaborate on the connection between finances and dignity for the poor?

BRYANT: Poverty is about low, self-esteem and a lack of role models and opportunities. Without money, people resort to de-dignifying activities in order to support themselves. We free people through education and entrepreneurship. Freedom is self-determination, and you can’t self-determine without understanding money and capitalism.

EBONY.COM: You’ve said that the 1992 Rodney King riots prompted you to launch Operation HOPE? Can you explain how that event affected you?

BRYANT: I felt guilty. For many years, I believed racism in America was dead and that opportunity existed for all. My beliefs were shaken when the Rodney King officers were acquitted. My pastor urged me to use my business skills to put the community back to work for economic revitalization. Days later I launched a bus tour through South Central LA with a diverse group of 18 people. We offered a loan to the owner of a pharmacy that had been destroyed in the riots. That was the first loan Operation HOPE ever put together.

EBONY.COM: What should folks know about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s connection to fighting for financial literacy?

BRYANT: Dr. King organized the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968 to shut down Washington, D.C. and force legislators to tackle poverty.  His efforts to shift focus from civil to silver rights were interrupted by his untimely death. He fought ardently for Black rights, but he also recognized financial literacy as the key to an America that was truly free for all people. Dr. King once said, “You cannot legislate goodness, and you cannot pass a law to force someone to respect you. The only way to social justice, in a capitalist country, is through economic parity.”   

EBONY.COM: How does Operation HOPE bridge the gap between financial dignity and advancement at the local and global levels?

BRYANT: Both here at home and around the world, these issues are similar. It’s about instilling a new value of entrepreneurship and building for oneself.  We strive to teach people the language of money and show them their own potential.

EBONY.COM: What are the goals for this year’s HOPE Global Forum Annual Meeting?

BRYANT: We’re launching Atlanta Uplift 2020. We’ve got a good partnership with Coca-Cola. We have 280 locations that will be reporting out on their results.  The goal is to gain even more results.

EBONY.COM: What key issues or initiatives are you hoping to take from a macro discussion into micro action?

BRYANT: We’re creating new tactics to increase awareness, sharing stakeholders’ success stories, and creating actionable plans for the future. We will secure more partnerships and revitalize people’s excitement about financial literacy for all. 

EBONY.COM: What call to action would you suggest our community’s financial leaders/service providers should be asked to make?

BRYANT: Do more and understand that all wealth came from poor people either as the entrepreneurs or the consumers who buy the product that keeps the entrepreneurs in business. 

EBONY.COM: What’s next for Operation HOPE?             

BRYANT: Next is to do more; to execute. We’re going to move on things; not just talk about them.