Our nation can and should feel proud of what we did to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. earlier this year, with the formal unveiling of the monument in his name in our nation's capital. That said, honoring the man is different from honoring his life's work, his commitments when he was with us, or more so, what he was working on when he left here.
As I am often reminded by my personal hero and mentor, Ambassador Andrew Young, who was then the senior aide and strategist to Dr. King in the civil rights movement, his friend Dr. King was squarely focused on the little known Poor People's Campaign, or addressing the issue of poverty at the time of his untimely death.
Dr. King, supported by a host of others, had achieved great victories in the fight for voting rights and basic social justice, and later he brought important attention to the errors of our war in Vietnam. In addressing the Poor People's Campaign though, Dr. King was turning his attention towards what he termed the third of the three evils of racism, war and poverty.
Some believe that it was this last, final focus, his focus on poverty -- in the unique way that he approached the issue of economic parity for all -- that actually got him killed. Sure enough, his death on that balcony in Memphis did indeed thwart a growing national movement addressing poverty in this country, even before it found its legs.
Dr. King never made it to the first Poor People's Campaign march and encampment in Washington, D.C., and 40 years later there is a broad, deep and growing economic underclass in America. One that particularly impacts the Black and minority communities yes, but now seems to impact most all of us on some level. Even if you are middle class today, you often "feel" poor. Today, if you are wise, you realize that we are all in this together.
Dr. King sought in the Poor People's Campaign to bring together all races -- recognizing that there are more poor whites in America than poor anyone else. And even today -- whether you are white, black, red, brown or yellow -- you simply want to see some more green (U.S. currency that is). We are in this together.
Today the movement that began in civil rights must find new footing in an environment of silver rights. Today, we must focus our attention on creating more pie, versus simply cutting up the pie we have. Or as a young man told me just this weekend, as he explained why he wanted to be a HOPE Fellow in my organization, "Economic justice is at the root of all social justice."
Today, we must make Dr. King's dream real by actually making free enterprise and capitalism work for the poor and the under-served.
From civil rights to silver rights
Operation HOPE plans to honor Dr. King's legacy not with another sermon series, statue, monument or street named after him, but by creating what we call HOPE 700 Credit Score Communities.
Our first act of service and servant leadership will takes place on the hollowed ground of the King Center complex in Atlanta, Georgia, and specifically at Ebenezer Baptist Church. Ebenezer was co-pastored by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Martin Luther King, Sr., more lovingly known as Daddy King. Much is known about Dr. King, but what few know is that Daddy King was a pastor and a businessman. He was a leader for social justice, while serving on the board of a bank for 40 years. Daddy King was on the board of directors of a bank. Citizens Trust Bank.
Today, this same bank finances the construction of the new Martin Luther King, Sr. Community Resource Complex, which opens later this year and will house the first-ever HOPE Financial Dignity Center, Ebenezer. The HOPE Center, Ebenezer is our vision for "capitalism through a moral lens." From civil rights, to silver rights.
Financed by commitments from... wait for it... the Financial Services Roundtable, and specifically SunTrust Bank, State Farm Insurance, LPL Financial, Wells Fargo and MasterCard among others, we are finding a new way to bring government, community, faith and the responsible private sector together to do good.
Our mission is nothing short of community transformation. At our HOPE Center, Ebenezer, as well as our other HOPE Centers across the nation, our goal will be HOPE 700 Credit Score Communities. We are already raising credit scores by more than 100 points in our HOPE credit counseling programs in our HOPE Centers, but now we will work within and outside the walls of our HOPE Centers to raise the bar and change the culture. Think about a four-square block area surrounding each center where credit scores rise consistently over a five-year period. Imagine what could happen in and to a community if we move that local neighborhood from say a 500 or 550 credit score, to a 650 or 670 credit score neighborhood. I will tell you what happens. Transformation happens.
Check cashers, payday lenders, rent-to-own stores and title lenders become credit unions and mainstream banks.
Liquor stores become convenient stores.
Individuals who previously required consumer protection and needed the services of my friends at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, increasingly relate to consumer empowerment instead, and need only the opportunity that an ethical and moral market offers, and their own dreams demand.
The way I honor Dr. King over the next five years is simple. I want to convert so-called poor communities into emerging markets and communities of promise.
I want to give Dr. King's dream both legacy and legs, by giving birth to 700 Credit Score Communities across America.
Okay, let's go.
John Hope Bryant is a thought leader, founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE and Bryant Group Companies, 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. He is also a co-founder of Global Dignity with HRH Crown Prince Haakon of Norway and Professor Pekka Himanen of Finland. Global Dignity is affiliated with the Forum of Young Global Leaders and the World Economic Forum.