PrepTalks: John Hope Bryant ““Financial Literacy and Overcoming Liquid Asset Poverty”


Your world has just changed. In fact the
world has changed, but I’m gonna go one step further. The world is changing and
history is being made right now, but history changing never feels historic
when you’re sitting in it. It just feels like another day. I’ll give you a context
for that when Dr. Martin King, Jr. was involved in the civil rights movement that
was thirteen years of his work. He lived in a city I live in now, Atlanta, Georgia.
He went to parent-teacher night. He went to the grocery store.
He went to boring staff meetings. He listened to uninspiring speakers as
you’re listening to me now. Not every day was I have a dream. In fact most days
were not. In fact, he gave that speech a hundred times before the march on
Washington. That same speech, and it could be argued, this would be another
presentation to another time but it’s an interesting mind twister, what would have
happened just on tenacity and persistence sake of knowledge, what would
have happened if he had given up the 88th time or the 99th time? The world
would be fundamentally different, but is that my core argument to you today?
Nope, it’s not. My core argument today is the world has changed, and your world has
changed, and it has changed radically and fundamentally. At the end of my presentation if I haven’t
convinced you of that then it was a waste of my time to be here and it was a waste
of your time to listen to me. I talked to the administrator, who I think is a very
good man, last week and Alex Amparo of FEMA earlier today, and I’m proud to
say, and Karen who is here I believe some where, they get it, but I’m not sure most
people do and let me speak to this personally about how I didn’t get it and then
I’m going to speak to how things have fundamentally changed for you. So I run
the largest financial inclusion organization in the country. You heard
that. Operation Hope founded it after the Rodney King riots in 1992 in Los Angeles.
Three and a half billion dollars, sorry, three and a half, three million clients
and two and a half billion dollars invested in underserved neighborhoods.
Not bad numbers, but it’s all a shame and it’s underwhelming and I’ll get to that
in a moment but I’m not anywhere close to the need.
30,000 volunteers, etc. I thought I was doing something until about five years
ago when Janae Rosco took me to a museum for theater where there’s a
museum inside of the theater where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. And
with regard to black poverty, I’ve been trying to figure this out for a long
time. All poverty is the same but when white folks have a headaches black folks
have pneumonia. By the way it’s okay to laugh. You won’t get
sued. Take life seriously, don’t take yourself too seriously, so there will
be some humor dispersed in my comments. It’s okay to laugh. I’ll
tell you when to laugh if you missed the mark.
And I’ve been trying to figure this out and I did figure it out, but I
figured it out because of Janae Rosco and this museum, and basically what I
discovered was that all of our problems are tied to one thing. Just one thing.
1865 March 3rd President Abraham Lincoln after the Civil War, after the
Emancipation Proclamation, arguably the most progressive most amazing president
we’ve ever had in the history of this country, two months after he sent the
Secretary of War Stanton and General Sherman out to Savannah, Georgia, to meet
with 20 ministers, former slaves, and said what do you want after slavery? I don’t
have a lot of time so I’m going to give you the short version of a lot of this ,so we can
cover a lot of ground. Is that okay? I trust you guys are all smart, so you’ll
keep up with me and what I miss you’ll do some research on, so I’m gonna give
you some the topical stuff and then I’m gonna get into the weeds on things that
are I think are really important to you. So this is really fast, Secretary of War
Stanton General Sherman January 1865 Savannah, Georgia, what do you want Do we
want a welfare program? No. Do you want an apology? That’d be nice but no. This is
for slavery. What do you want? We want land. We want to do for our [crowd answers self]
That wasn’t a black answer, that wasn’t a latino answer, that wasn’t an
Asian answer, wasn’t an Indian answer, it’s an American answer. It’s a human
answer. It’s the answer of people who long for aspiration all over the world.
He was ready for this question, so he had set aside 400,000 acres, given our time
to go into this, but from North Carolina all the way down the coast to
what you call Florida now. All along the coast 30 miles in, which is today
beautiful land, it’s called the beach. And everybody would love to have beachfront
property today, but back in 1865 this was pretty crappy land. Because how did you
make your money in 1865? It was as in the agricultural pursuit. It was a farmer.
Well you put your crops in the sand and tomorrow morning your crops in Jamaica.
So that was funny, okay, I’m gonna help you out here. But did they
complain about it? No, no Snapchat, no Facebook, no Twitter, no
cellphones, no nothing somehow they got the memo and a month later a thousand
former slaves took to the land and tilled the soil and impressed General
Sherman, so much he said, “My god they’re so industrious give them a mule.”
Some of you know your history that’s 40 acres and a mule that was January and
February. In March, March 3, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln sat at his
desk and signed a piece of legislation called the Freedmen’s Bureau Act. The
Freedmen’s Bureau Act created the Freedman’s Bank. Freedman’s Banks mission
quote”Teach freed slaves about money.” Let that sit in for a moment. Arguably the
most progressive president we ever had thought the most important thing he do
after the worst land war of Americans against Americans, brother against
brother on American soil was basically to teach
former slaves financial literacy. The bank was created 52,000 former slaves
put, I’m sorry, 52 million dollars of 73,000 former slaves deposited in this
bank. That’s a 100 billion dollars today, making it one of the top 100 banks in America
today. Top 50 banks actually. Frederick Douglass, who you know as an abolitionist,
I know the businessman he owned property in Baltimore and property here in
Washington, D.C. which was why he had the freedom to go to pursue his civil rights agenda.
He ran the bank after Lincoln was assassinated, who was assassinated the
next month. Lincoln started the bank in March was killed in April, and by the way,
he put on the U.S. currency the same day “In God We Trust,” the same day.
Lincoln gets killed Frederick Douglas runs the bank, the bank is gamed
because Lincoln was not around to protect it, and it was said the failure
of this bank did more to set free slaves back in America than 10 more
years of slavery. Now am I going to go through 150 years of slavery and
history, and all that stuff, and you saying what does that to do with you? The
answer’s no to all that. We don’t even have the time for it. Unfortunately I
don’t. I can fast forward like that, and bring you up to 1968, which is the
first time anybody ever talked to black people about money again. And it wasn’t a
banker or a capitalist, it was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and he said in 68 you
cannot legislate goodness, you cannot pass a lot to force anyone to respect
you the only way to social justice in a capitalist country is economics and
ownership. That’s a quote you don’t hear about Dr. King. By the way he was
mobilizing all poor people around poverty and there are more poor whites
in America than poor anybody else then and now. Here’s my premise as we go up to
this day, this day today, thirty-five million black people never got a class
in capitalism. Let that sit in for a moment.
Neither did my white friends in the rural white America. Neither did most
middle class people today of any race, so whether you’re white, black, red, brown, or
yellow today, you want to see some more green. Or are you just financially
independent, you’re independently wealthy. I’m not talking to you obviously. How many of you folks here have too much month at the end of their money.
Oh just me. See I’m from the black church I’m used to seeking responses. I’m actually
talking to you. Let’s have an honest conversation now. I’m not saying you’re
broke. I’m not giving you I’m not putting some, some target on your back I’m
saying that 70% of all Americans are living from paycheck to paycheck, today.
70%. 64% of all Americans don’t have $500 saved. 64% don’t have $500 for an
emergency. I’m going to say this, I’m going to ask this once again, I don’t care how much
you make you can spend it. You can make $100,000 a year and still spend $100,0001a year. Can I get an amen? So how much of you, aspirationally now, not
literally, have too much month at the end of your money? I mean I can wait here all day until
you’re honest with yourself. So you’re telling, the folks not raising their hands,
you just have cash coming out of your ears.
You just are cool. You got two Rolls Royce’s, three homes, and it’s more
money you can imagine, okay. You have that conversation with yourself and your
CPA later. As for me I never have enough for all the things I want to do. My point
here is that it’s not that poor and struggling families got the memo on
money and screwed it up. They never got the memo. And what I’m going to show you
very quickly now, i want to do this real quickly is that, so this was
my AH-HA that poverty has nothing to do with money, with the exception of
sustenance poverty which is a roof over your head and food on your table, every
other poverty is mental. So let’s go through this very quickly. Half of poverty in the
world in the world, irrespective of race, low self-esteem, and low confidence in
yourself, if you don’t know who you are by 9:00 in the morning by dinnertime
somebody’s going to tell you who you are. Try driving your car without confidence,
try raising your children without confidence. They will run over you. Can I
get a parent to say amen. Are you guys alive? Are you awake down here? Try going
and running your department, your division without confidence. I’m not even
talking about self-esteem, which is how you feel about yourself. I’m talking about the
ability to execute with confidence in the external world. Try doing that without confidence. I’m going to get back to why that’s important in a second. Low self-esteem
and low confidence that’s half of all failure and poverty in the world. The
second part of poverty is role models and environment, so if all you see
in your neighborhood is symbols of success are rap stars, athletes, and drug
dealers, why is anybody surprised the kids in
that neighborhood want to grow up to be a rap star, an athlete or a drug dealer?
Actually it’s good common sense your modeling what you see. Environment we
don’t have a lot of time, so if I’m going to do this quick. Environment basically means if you
hang around nine broke people, you’ll be the tenth. I’m giving you guys my best
stuff, and it’s just it’s unbelievable. then you have aspiration. aspiration is a
code word for hope. The most dangerous person in the world, listen now, is a
person with no hope. That leads to opportunity, but if you have low
self-esteem and low confidence, crappy role models in a crappy environment, you
don’t have a lot of aspiration, no hope, you see the glass is half empty,
not half full, you never leave your porch. Normally have somebody doing this thing
for me so hold on a minute. So let me now talk to you about what
wealth is. wealth is exactly the opposite; has nothing to do with money.
High self-esteem and high confidence. Sir, have we met before? All right, you saw
somebody growing up who was a man who wore a suit said I can be a professional
or a businessman just like him, yes or no? Okay, sir, have we ever met, okay. He says why
pick on me, because you’re there. You growing up you
saw a man wearing a suit, who is a professional businessman, something that
had to do with a shirt with a collar on it, and you said I can do that? yes or no.
Young lady have we ever met before? We have. I’m not talking to you then. [laughter] Have we ever met before? Okay, growing
up you saw a lady she was had a different vision for herself. She was
going to be a professional and maybe raise a household, too. She wanted to do
it all she was going to do it all and she decided she was going to make it way
out of no way she became a professional you looked at her and said I can do that,
too. yes or no. Have we ever met before is that story basically that your story as
well? Y ou see this is not a black story or a brown story or Latino story or an
Asian story or an Indian story or an American story. It’s just a story.
It’s just how people evolve. Its role model. You model what you see. So this is
very important, and it relates to what the gentleman said before me about how
that community in Japan revitalized more than others did and basically about to
give you a quote, I love quotes. I’d say this, you have idiots and fools running
countries and companies and brilliant people who are homeless precisely
because it’s not about how smart you are. There’s only one reason to go to Harvard
Harvard is a great school. I have a degree from Harvard. Harvard is a great school;
I’m not digging on Harvard, but you don’t pay five times more to go to Harvard
than a state university because you’re gonna end up five times smarter. You do not. You
only pay five times more to go to Harvard for one reason. The class of 2018
is gonna hook each other up for the next 40 years that’s the only reason. This is
the memo people. It’s what people never talk to you about wealth, power
success, how it works in the world. And here is your memo, you are the new
economic development czars in every community you operate in. You
are you are putting a pop of unscheduled economic activity after every disaster, because rainbows only follow storms. That’s not just nice theory, it’s
actually scientific fact that you literally cannot have a rainbow without
a storm first. But if all you are is an unscheduled water hose of money,
and all you have is ready, fire, aim, you can do nothing about changing this and
this is the whole ballgame because now everything is economic. We don’t have
time for this conversation, but let me try to make it in summary. Let’s say you push back on what I’m saying, and you don’t think the
economical red cross is central to what you do. I’m gonna say to you that we’re
central to everything you do. You cannot go through your day; you cannot get
through your morning; you cannot go to sleep at night without having a
financial transaction. Help me out here. We’ll do this quickly. This morning
you’ve brushed your teeth. Was that a government-issued toothbrush?
Okay somebody paid for it, right. Okay the alarm clock went off, today it would
be a cell phone, right, that’s not a government-issued cellphone, might be
in some cases here, but somebody bought a a cell phone, okay all right,
help me out here. You slept in on a pillow and a mattress that you bought
you’re in a house that you paid for, whether it’s a mortgage or whether it’s
rent. You got in your car and you drove to the office in a [car] that probably has a car note
on it that you’re paying for. You stopped and got community socialism
gas. No? You didn’t get communism gas, you got you had to pay for the gas right. I mean you love your children, and unless you have a grandmother at
home, you have to pay somebody to take care of those interestingly behaved
children. From the time you get up in the morning to the time you go to bed at
night, it’s a series of financial transactions. Even that parking meter
outside of this building and an inanimate object understands capitalism better than we do.
But no one’s teaching it. What’s the number one reason why communities don’t
recover – economics and poverty. What happened in Hurricane Katrina we sent
all those those debit cards, I don’t know if you remember this.
We sent all those cards to a state that was financially unbanked, and then when
they got a hold of money, because they were financially illiterate, no matter
how nice they were they went did interesting things with the money. We
don’t have time to get in these stories, but it will break your heart.
But it’s not just about poor people. Right now in Santa Barbara there are million
dollar properties that cannot be rebuilt, because the people thought my mortgage
is paid off, I don’t need insurance anymore.
I’m a senior citizen. I’m in this wonderful neighborhood. What’s gonna ever
happen to me? This is a crisis right now, all up and
down the California coast. Houston where 10% of the homes that were devastated
had flood insurance. I can go on and on and on. This is primarily an economic
crisis. You have people in Alabama that are still trying to recover from those
that not that natural disaster what five or six years ago where very few of those
communities were rebuilt and I went in there personally and tried to talk to
some residents and try to give them the SBA emergency disaster documentation and
many of you said, “Oh I’m not signing that. I don’t have a small business loan.” Some
of you know what I’m talking about. You can not even get access to anything unless
you fill out this paperwork. I can go on and on. This is not an issue,
ladies and gentleman, this is THE ISSUE. But we’re doing nothing about it. We have
no strategy. We’ve got no plan. You know I learned financial literacy when I was
ten years old, nine years old. A banker came in my classroom and is also a race
relations opportunity for me. I grew up in Compton, California, in South
Central, and in Compton there was no body with a white shirt on. There was no body
with a suit on, nobody with a business car and no business people. So this white
banker came in my classroom and talked about financial literacy in something
called Home Economics. Remember that? Doesn’t exist anymore, and I looked at
this banker by the second session of the class as I felt a little confidence, I
raised my hand. I’m out of time by the way so I’m going to wrap this up we’ll do some Q&A. But I raised my hand I said excuse me sir what do you do for a
living and how’d you get rich legally? And he said young man I’m a banker, and I
finance entrepreneurs. I said, sir, I don’t know what an entrepreneur is, but if
you’re financing him I’m gonna be one. And I was joking, but I was serious. You
see the endorphins kicked on the right side of my brain. Remember that graph I
showed you where self-esteem and confidence was dead. Now you think your
life is tough, try this. This is not, this is not a racial thing now,
just walk with me, try this: You were enslaved for 350 years, you were
told you aren’t anything, you have no value, your mama was told she doesn’t have
any value, your daddy were told they didn’t have any value, somebody was raped in
front of you who was related to you could do nothing about it. A hundred
years under that you had Jim Crow until 1970, not 1870, 1970. How’s your confidence
and your self-esteem. I think that 70% of black people are clinically undiagnosed
depressed, and that’s the only stat I don’t have a fact for. Everything else is
fact base. This is my gut, because you’d be depressed, too. I tell my conservative,
white friends the same example, and I asked them if you went through half of
that, half of the time wouldn’t you be crazy to? And every one of them says absolutely
yes It’s not a racial thing. This is just
simply two plus two equals four. So if you think you are having a bad day try going
through life with the opposite of this in your pocket, in your soul and you got
to go out in this world and operationalize yourself, and then you
don’t have financial literacy. So look the communities that I’m concerned about
have a check casher next to a payday loan lender next to a rent to own store
next to a title lender next to a liquor store, and before you say that’s a black
neighborhood I’ll tell you that’s also a white rural neighborhood. Same
neighborhoods you serve. They were in a crisis before your disaster ever hit. You
hear that. They were in a crisis before your
disaster ever hit, and their problem is a number. It’s a five hundred credit score
neighborhood. Not a racial issue, not a political issue, not an urban reversal
rule, it’s five hundred credit scores. Every problem in our in our country is a 500
credit score neighborhood. I can, I can get it down to a zip code. By the way 700
credit score neighborhoods don’t riot – that was funny. it was funny and it’s
factual. Literally there’s never been a riot in a 700 credit score neighborhood
in all of America’s history of any race, because 700 credit score neighbors don’t want
to don’t want to riot, they want to go shopping. So my mission now is to move
credit scores 120 points in 24 months. We’re doing that at Operation Hope in
normalize environments getting that GDP up, that economic energy up,
getting that confidence up, that self-esteem up, that competency up,
changing their role models, changing everything in the endorphins on the
right side of their brain, so that kid or that adult can decide that I can do
anything. I don’t just go get a job; I can create a job. It’s also how you create
communities. And what would happen if your economic development, I’m sorry, your
emergency disaster recovery dollars had a dual purpose. I’m done. [Applause] you

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