Kevin: Did you know that 67% of Americans do not have enough money set aside for emergencies? And 42% of full-time workers find it difficult to pay their monthly expenses? A lack of financial literacy costs Americans $415 billion each year. How can we empower people with the knowledge they need to secure their financial futures? What skills do they need to successfully manage their personal finances? And what is the role of our schools in ensuring that those skills are developed? This is "What I Want To Know."
Kevin: And today, I'm joined by John Hope Bryant, to find out. John Hope Bryant is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and prominent thought leader on financial inclusion, economic empowerment, and financial dignity. From humble beginnings in South Central Los Angeles, he became the founder, chairman, and CEO of Operation HOPE, which is now America's leading provider of financial literacy services. John has helped jumpstart countless enterprises, and written numerous books. He is with us today to discuss what we need to do to help young people and adults in underserved communities lead healthier financial lives. John, welcome to the show.
John: First of all, honored to be with you, and we have a long history. And I remember when you gave your life to public service, no good deed shall go unpunished, by the way, you weren't appreciated for all the great stuff you did. But in part, because of you, one of our first HOPE Inside, or HOPE Banking centers, it was called back then, was installed in Anacostia, teaching and coaching people there, to give them a hand up, and not just a handout, to teach them how to fish and not just give them a fish, at scale. And there's now 183 of those locations across the country in 30 states. But when we worked with you, it was just two.
Kevin: You were talking about financial literacy before it got cool. Talk a little bit about, on your journey, how you came to view financial literacy as such an important issue to help change the dynamic and lives of a lot of people in need.
John: So, by the time I was nine years old, I'd had it. I mean, I was done with all the games. I wanted to figure out what's the business plan for the rest of my life? And why are all these brilliant people around me in my neighborhood not thriving sustainably? Because the drug dealing led to prison, probation, parole, and death, every time. So, I'm in my classroom. Being taught home economics, in Compton, California. A banker comes in my classroom. I'm nine years old. Teaching financial literacy. Happened to be a White banker. He had on a white shirt, a red tie, and a blue suit. Six-two. I remember. I was like, it's like meeting a Martian. Like, nobody in my neighborhood wears suits unless he's a detective, right?
And it's a bad suit, right? Nobody in your neighborhood shows up at the middle of the day, because they got an hourly job, with a lunch break and two 15-minute breaks during the day. You can't show up in the middle of the day. Who are you? Nobody has a business card. Nobody was on a salary. No one works in an office building. Unless it's the courthouse. Like, who are you? And I raised my hand. I said, "Excuse me, sir, what do you do for a living?" He said, "Young man. I'm a banker, and I finance entrepreneurs." Kevin. I said, "Sir, I don't know what an entrepreneur is. I've never heard that word in my entire life. But whatever it is, if you're financing them, and it's legal, I'm gonna be one." And that triggered everything.
So I went home and opened up the dictionary. For those young teachers watching this, that's on a Google search today. I open up the dictionary to the word "entrepreneur." French word. Make, build something, create something out of nothing, value. That's it. That's what I wanna do. So, I noticed the guy who sold [inaudible 00:04:16] at the corner also sold candy. I went and told him he was selling the wrong kind of candy. So, the confidence of my mother, self-esteem, and now the insight of this banker in this financial literacy course about markets, selling the wrong kind of candy. "Go away, little boy. I've got a college degree." "That's nice. I've got cavities. I'm nine."
So, finally, he offered me a job being a salesman. And, you know, in the short form... My friends who wanted a quick hit, to make money quick, would have taken that salesman job. They're still taking that salesman job, and just in different careers. I didn't want the salesman job. I didn't wanna be the performer, the entertainer, the guy on the front. I wanted to learn how the markets work. So I said, "Make me the box boy. I want to do inventory in the back," which is the worst job he had. And the end of the story is I quit. And three weeks later, went to the place he bought his inventory, for the same price he bought his inventory, but I bought the inventory. I thought my friends would want to start the neighborhood candy house in the den of my home and put him out of business.
Kevin: And you've taken that same philosophy throughout your life. Don't you feel that that influential you had, with your mother, your father's experience, that banker, that many young people just don't get that level of exposure that will jolt them to where they need to be? And part of your mission, as I have seen firsthand, is to provide that jolt.
John: I got lucky. And I want other people to get lucky at scale. That's why it's Operation HOPE. It's hope as a business plan, and I plan on creating the nation's first national infrastructure for the uplift of all of us, people that make $60,000 a year or less, [inaudible 00:06:11] into their money, our future GDP creators, future entrepreneurs, future small business owners, future homeowners. I think there's 2% to 3% of lost GDP, gross domestic product, locked at the bottom of the pyramid in America's story. And if we're gonna... If America's gonna reload for the next 100 years of prosperity and growth, we gotta figure this out. Because this is a new civil rights issue. Financial literacy, yes, I'm saying that here, is the new civil rights issue for our generation.
Kevin: Or as you have coined, "silver rights."
John: Yep, silver rights. Civil rights in the streets, about race and the color line. Silver rights in the suites. It's about class, poverty, economics, and prosperity for all. Absolutely.
Kevin: So, why was Operation HOPE, that concept, and you talked about the centers that, you know, I helped you get in D.C., but there are 183 of them. Why is that the vehicle that will help launch this?
John: Because people choose to go into Starbucks because it's convenient, it's trusted, it's everywhere, they know the product, and they prefer to that than doing Folgers at home, I guess, right? There's a cool factor. There's a trust factor. They know what they're gonna get. It's plug-and-play. It's easy. It's a community. So, we wanted to be the Starbucks of financial inclusion. We wanted to be the [inaudible 00:07:38] banker to the working poor, the struggling class, the struggling middle class, and the middle class who wants more aspiration. Because no one's giving them love and attention, and we wanna do that. We will do that at scale. Zoom is, we found in the pandemic, Zoom is super efficient. I close more deals in Zoom than I've ever done in person. I did, closed $250 million in one-year deals on Zoom. But it's less effective. So, it's more efficient technology. But in and of itself, it's less effective. You can't build culture that way. Can't build relationships that way.
Kevin: The beauty of your work, different from others, is that you understand top-down, bottom-up. You understand, I mean, part of the Operation HOPE mindset, in terms of going into these communities, and not sending an email talking about "you need to be financially literate." But by the same token, you work with the CEOs of Walmart and other Fortune 500 companies to get them invested in the concept, so that you're actually bridging gaps that otherwise wouldn't be bridged. There's another gap, though, that has taken on different dimensions, and you've run into it firsthand, and you know I have, and that's the politics of America today, where people are cast in either/or buckets, and if you align yourself with certain folks, then you're castigated by folks on the other side of the political spectrum. How do you bridge those gaps around your message?
John: I just ignore noise. I mean, I go through life consciously oblivious to most things around me. I just ignore it and keep it moving. I'm more Ph do than PhD anyway. Let my work and my results speak for me. We are an emotional people because we were maligned and disrespected, talking about African Americans now, and disrespected, so we put a high premium on how we feel. We don't trust. We believe none of what we hear, and half of what we see. We're prime targets. Ambassador Andrew Young, Dr. King's right arm, said this, "To live in a system of free enterprise, and not to understand the rules of free enterprise, must be the very definition of slavery." So, you have folks who are isolated, who don't trust, who are not financially literate, who are then besieged upon by folks who prey on them as easy targets. So, we come at that community in a more grassroots way, with that relationship capital.
Kevin: Don't you see, John, that so few of our leadership make that connection? In fact, many of our leaders purposely keep that division in place, which I think hinders progress.
John: Isn't that because their mission is not progress? Their mission is to stay on mission. Look, I believe there's enough poverty to go around. I believe that nonprofit competition is an oxymoron. It's ridiculous. If somebody does... I mean, I make it my business to fund the nonprofits. Help them out. I'm not intimidated or insecure about... I'd love somebody... I want somebody to put me out of business. I mean, why would I wanna do this one day longer than I have to? But you have some folks who, for whom they've made this a cottage industry, they mean well, but they don't know what else to do. Maybe they don't have another skill. And so maybe they need to keep this...this is their power base. I can't get into people's heads. I don't know why they do what they do.
But I will tell you that Washington makes no sense. And it makes no sense in part because it's, unlike math... You know, I like math because it does not have an opinion. All Washington's concerned about is somebody's opinion. And I just choose not to trade in that kind of riff-raff...riff-raff conversation, not riff-raff people. So, let me ask you a question. How did I deal with it? I've served three U.S. presidents from both parties. I've been honored by five U.S. presidents, Operation HOPE, me as a catalyst. And I've known eight. I chose not to deal with the last president, because I think that was gonna be...it was just a big game. And I don't wanna be a part of that. But I've noticed Republican and Democratic administrations, this game gets played about credit. That's essentially what it comes down to, is who gets... I dealt with it today. I can't say what it is, because it's, like, in real time, but, like, something I created or helped to create, I get, you know, now, I'm being approached as if I'm just some observer of it. Okay, fine. That doesn't bother me. Over [inaudible 00:11:59] not in it. You know, I have no problem with somebody wanting to take credit for it. I take it as a compliment.
But for the first 18 months of every administration, they don't trust me, because they think I'm the last guy's guy, right? And hopefully, there'll be a lady at some point. But every new administration thinks, well, that's whoever, you know, Bush's guy, or Clinton's guy, or Obama's guy. And so they don't wanna trust me. They respect me, but they don't necessarily like me. I'd rather you respect me and learn to like me than like me and never respect me. My job is to be so omnipresent, to have such great ideas, have such great execution, that you just have to, even if you roll your eyes, you go, "Jeez, okay. Just call him. You know, we need John Bryant. Yeah, we need Operation HOPE. Yeah, okay. Just call him."
And it's worked. And if it ain't broke, don't fix it. I want the politicians to get the credit. I have no interest in politics, right? I want them to get the credit. I want them to take the bow. I just wanna do the work. And those who believe that get the benefit of it. And I have a long list of elected officials who are better off because they've known our work. And hopefully, many people in this new administration also get the memo, because I wanna help them too. I wanna help America be better.
Kevin: Well, and it also helps the people who need it the most understand how to deal with, on a gut-check level, their own personal finances. So, this is what I really wanna know as it relates to schools. So, John, tell me, what should we be doing in terms of introducing school-aged children to financial literacy in schools?
John: The city of Atlanta, city council, recently passed a unanimous bill to endow Operation HOPE with $2 million to create children's accounts for every kindergarten kid in Atlanta public schools, under the leadership of Dr. Herring, who's the superintendent. I then committed to wrap financial literacy around those bank accounts. And a program of aspiration and uplift. We're gonna then wrap a lot around that the HOPE business in a box, where kids get to pitch their business idea for two to five minutes on stage. And if they win the pitch, we give them a bank account, we give them a business role model, we help them with a business plan. And they can only access that money through the bank, and through the business role model.
So, really, sort of artificially creating the environment that I had when I grew up. We've already created a few thousand of those businesses. Then One Million Black Business Initiative, which brings the technology piece into it. So, it's laddering kids up, starting with kindergarten, which Atlanta put up 2 million bucks. Call that venture capital. We're gonna match that with another $2 million over a decade. Get banks and other corporations, they're putting up a bank account. We're gonna create an investment account right alongside of it, so kids can witness the magic of the stock market. I'm gonna try to get major companies like Coca-Cola and Home Depot and others here to give the kids a share of stock. I think it'll be transformational, but I think that that... The answer to your question is connecting education with aspiration is what every school needs to be doing in this country.
Kevin: I love it. Learn by doing, but learn how to do it the right way.
Kevin: John Hope Bryant, you're an American hero. Thank you for joining us on "What I Want To Know."
Thanks for joining "What I Want To Know." Be sure to follow and subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app. And don't forget to write a review, too. Explore other episodes, and dive into our discussions on the future of education. Also encourage you to join the conversation, and let me know what you want to know, using #WIWTK on social media. That's #WIWTK on social media. For more information on Stride, visit stridelearning.com. I'm your host, Kevin P. Chavous. Thank you for joining "What I Want To Know."
John Hope Bryant is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and prominent thought leader on financial inclusion, economic empowerment, and financial dignity. From humble beginnings in South Central Los Angeles, he became the founder, chairman, and CEO of Operation Hope, which is now America’s leading provider of financial literacy services. John has helped jumpstart countless enterprises and written numerous books.
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What I Want to Know
In this podcast, you will hear from leaders in education as we talk through learning solutions for homeschool, online school, education pathways, and topics tailored specifically to online students and parents.