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John Hope Bryant Headshot

When Being Normal Is the New Sexy (For a Generation)

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I am so tired of folks passing off abnormal and absolutely crazy behavior, as some strange, weirded-out strand of 'normal' in today's society.

Trading wives shows, baby's mamma shows, mistress shows, teenage mamma shows, teenage grandmama shows, and the most ignorant hip-hop variant of 'show-your-most-ignorant-self' themed shows. What's next, a 'candid-celebrities-in-their-own-personal-toilet' show? Okay, let me stop. I don't want to actually give one of these new-age producers an idea here.

And you know we have been here before, right? It was the Roman era, back when Rome was at their all time high as a global leader, and stadium-based gladiator shows, showing people getting killed, was the hottest ticket in town. The shows died, right before the dream called the Roman Empire did.

It's not a good sign for a society when their most fundamental virtues and values get negotiated away, daily and little by little, based on whose paying, and how much. When the feel good trumps the doing good. Or worse, when our integrity as individuals, community and a society, increasingly get rationalized away.

"To rationalize, is to tell rational-lies."

Not so long ago, I was losing my mind because Diesel Jeans, a major global brand with prime real estate and a flagship store in downtown Manhattan, promoted a hugely successful campaign entitled Be Stupid.

That's right, the campaign was called Be Stupid, and it was beyond successful, beyond any mainstream measure. The company even won prestigious advertising awards. What the...?

BE STUPID, was even permanently plastered on both walls of their flagship Manhattan store -- and countless tens of thousands of people simply walked right on by. Countless thousand also walked right into the stores and made a purchase.

Can you imagine Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mrs. Coretta Scott King, Ambassador Andrew Young or Congressman John Lewis, walking into such a store, handing them their hard earned money (on behalf of their children)? I don't think so.

They would have done the same thing they did with Southern merchants who didn't respect their dollar, their brain, or them....with their offensive WHITES ONLY signs of that time. They would have voted with their feet. And their pocketbooks too. After all, 80% of all the customers in those small southern towns were Black. It wasn't a symbolic move. It was an economic tsunami for those merchants who turned their back on (and insulted) their own customers.

But not this generation of ours...

No one seemed to even see what Diesel Jeans was doing as anything remotely strange, yet alone wrong. What they (the company) were doing was simply branded as 'cool marketing,' a simple 'play on words,' and most everyone just decided to 'keep it moving.'

Their advertising campaign 'didn't matter,' the rationalization continued. "They didn't mean to insult the intelligence of a generation of young people. No one should take their words serious, etc, etc, etc.'"

This rationalization, my friends, is the beginning of the end of real values in a society. When what we say and what we do, don't really matter. As long as we feel good, and we 'get ours.' Whatever that means.

Can you imagine a BE STUPID advertising campaign, targeted at aspirational young people, working in say China, or India, or Africa, where parents and families risk their last dollar to give their kids the educational attainment that marks their ticket out of poverty? I don't think so.

When I heard about the BE STUPID campaign I was outraged. And when I brought it to the attention of friends, they could not believe it either. And while some encouraged me to make my voice known, to launch a counter campaign, most just said 'oh my Lord,' ....and kept it moving too. On to the next topic, like what's for dinner, or who has seen movie X, Y and Z... In other words, 'that's just too heavy John.'

Well, I did think it was heavy, and I did decide to also do something about it. I now actually credit Diesel Jeans, indirectly, for inspiring me to start the 5 MILLION KIDS movement, co-chaired by the entertainment icon Quincy Jones and civil rights icon Ambassador Andrew Young. Others engaged in this work, as 5MK ambassadors include the likes of Russell Simmons, and other supporters such as Chris Tucker.

Our mission is simple. Make smart cool (again), so kids want to stay in school. And all of this ties into our larger vision for America 2020, soon coming to a city and school near you.

It is time to take back our kids, our schools, and our communities from a generation of so called 'thug culture,' and juice our kids on aspiration, hope, well-being, engagement and real success. And real role models too.

"It takes 20 years to change a culture," says Quincy Jones. "Well, in the last 20 years we have made dumb sexy. We have dumbed down and celebrated it. And now we must make smart sexy again."

Making smart sexy, became my new cause-celeb, and the broader, on-the-ground campaign launches in earnest later this year. But already, there is a financial literacy to financial dignity curriculum (for kids in 4th-12th grade school) which is modeled after the life story and likeness of Quincy Jones. 100 other celebrity role models, for "making smart cool, so kids want to stay in school" will follow.

Rainbows after storms. You cannot have a rainbow, without a storm first.

I use to think that the problem was those who wanted to dumb down our society. And then I thought we had to make smart sexy again. Or for kids, to make smart cool (again). But now ~ now I simply believe that (being) normal, is the new sexy.

Saluting the new standard. BE NORMAL.

Let's go.

John Hope Bryant is an entrepreneur, author, advisor, and one of the nation's most recognized empowerment leader. He is the founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE and Bryant Group Companies, The Inc. Magazine/CEO READ bestselling business author of LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass), the only African-American bestselling business author in America, and is chairman of the Subcommittee for the Under-Served and Community Empowerment for the U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability, for President Barack Obama. Mr. Bryant is the co-founder of the Gallup-HOPE Index, the only national research poll on youth financial dignity and youth economic energy in the U.S.