Catching Up With… John Hope Bryant
Founder, CEO and Chair, Operation Hope
Bryant founded Operation Hope, a nonprofit focused on increasing the financial literacy and economic clout of underserved people, in 1992. Since then, the organization has served more than 4 million people and directed more than $3.2 billion in economic activity into disenfranchised communities. These are edited highlights from an interview.
Tell us about Operation Hope.
Our work is about unleashing untapped potential through financial coaching, through financial literacy, through access to capital, access to credit, access to small business creation, wealth creation. We do that through a very practical set of tools and work in Operation Hope. We have 250 offices now in over 30 states.
Why the focus on financial literacy?
It’s work that no one’s ever tried. Understanding financial literacy and how capital formation and wealth creation works. Getting the right role models in the right environment, having the right self-esteem and the right confidence. When you have those things on your side, the chances of you succeeding are overwhelming even when the odds are against you.
I understand there was an “aha!” moment in your childhood, too.
I grew up in South Central LA. My mom and dad were hustlers in the positive sense of the word. We owned a gas station, owned a home, we owned businesses. And we managed to lose it all.
[About that same time,] I went to school one day, and this banker had been sent to teach us financial literacy from Bank of America. He said, “I’m a banker, and I finance entrepreneurs.” I [had] never heard the word entrepreneur in my life. “Well, that’s somebody who makes something from nothing, creates value,” [he said].
I said, “I’m gonna become an entrepreneur.” I set up a candy shop in my den. Pretty quickly I made $300 a week. That was 47 years ago.
What did you learn from that first business?
I learned a lot. I could do anything, I’m self-reliant. I became an entrepreneur that day. I also learned that you’ve got to stay focused. Those lessons are still with me today. And Operation Hope really is taking those lessons and scaling them up for a generation or generations.
Tell us about the 1865 Project.
My goal now is 1,000 Hope Inside locations across the country, to become America’s financial coach, the private banker to the working class and the struggling middle class. The Starbucks of financial inclusion, if you will. Whenever you get off a plane, a bus or get off work or go to work, you’ll see an Operation Hope location. It’s a dream with a business plan attached to it.
What’s your economic impact?
We have $3.5 billion of cumulative capital that we have directed into underserved neighborhoods. We have a billion dollars in homeownership for Black Americans, just in one bank last year, Fulton Bank, out of Pennsylvania.
How about your impact in Georgia?
We’re the financial coach inside the workplace for all 90,000 Delta employees. We also are the financial coach for all the UPS headquarters employees in Atlanta. We have a contract to go into half of all bank branches for Truist.
What are you hopeful about in the U.S. economy?
The bones of the economy are actually strong. We just have to make sure that we reset the economy and include all of God’s children. If we can find a way to rehabilitate the bottom half of this economy at scale, and make them financially and economically viable, I think it’ll pop GDP 2% to 3% sustainably over time. If people of color are contributing 2% to 3% to gross domestic product for this country every year, not only will they not be treated as a threat, but they will be viewed as an asset. And we can stop fighting with each other over the silly stuff, stupid stuff, and get on with America.