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Silver Rights and Generation Entrepreneurship: What a President With Vision Can Do

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With the launch today of the first ever White House Urban Entrepreneurship Summit in Newark, New Jersey, President Barack Obama is showing us a powerful, yet practical and achievable, new vision for all of America, and not just urban America. After all, we are all in this together.

What's cooking in Newark today is not just the ingredients for success for, say, a future entrepreneur and future employer, but a fundamental, 21st century empowerment-based business plan for America, too.

And it plays to our strength, as this stuff is really what America, and Americans of every race, color and creed, are absolutely best-in-class at: re-inventing ourselves, in the midst of challenge and crisis, giving birth to literally transformational ideas, and then doing something about them.

When things get tougher, we tend to become stronger. The Great Depression not only didn't break our nation, it ultimately made us much stronger.

An entrepreneur's creed: "Rainbows only follow storms. You cannot have a rainbow, without a storm first."

Whether you are an entrepreneur with an idea, or an intrapreneur working inside of a small or large company looking to grow, or maybe just a mother of two children, desperately trying to figure out how to balance a family budget with too much month left, at the end of your money, then this vision is for you.

An entrepreneur's creed: "I have been doing so much, with so little, for so long, I can almost do anything with nothing."

It's called re-imagining our future, re-framing our success, seeing opportunity even in the midst of adversity, and never, ever giving up. Ever.

An entrepreneur's creed: "Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm."

To quote my friends and partners at the Gallup Organization, America needs now to "focus on our strengths."

But our strengths are easy to forget, when fear and bad news seem to want to overtake your sense of hope, in the midst of this continuing global economic crisis.

The good news is, even in tough times, our strengths are easy to see.

The U.S. has produced more than two-thirds of the more than 4.5 million patents in the world today. It is then no coincidence that America remains today the largest economy in the world, and we can remain so still, if we can return now to our entrepreneurial roots.

The next largest patent-originating countries are also the countries with the largest GDP. Ideas seem to not only track, but map, a nation's future economic prosperity, and stability too.

Now, what about idea and innovation-starved countries such as, say, North Korea and Iran, you ask? They have one patent each -- for the entire country?

And that's the power of an idea, my friend. It can feed a nation and set people free, or literally lay the seeds of a country's future stagnation, and failure.

An entrepreneur's creed: "An entrepreneur works 18 hours a day to keep from getting a job."

Getting down to the level of people and jobs, of the approximately 27 million companies in America, only 6 million of them employ people, and of that 6 million, 5.9 million have between 1-100 employees; approximately 100,000 businesses have between 100-500 employees; 10,000 businesses have between 500-10,000 employees; and less than 1,000 businesses employ more than 10,000 people.

America, the largest economy in the world, with 300 million people, only has 900 some odd businesses that employ 10,000 employees or more.

That means that the majority of jobs in America come from small business owners and entrepreneurs, and the majority of those jobs come from start-up and growing enterprises, in the first seven years of business growth.

The reality is that every big business was once a small one, and before that, a simple idea in someone's head.

What were Facebook, Twitter, CNN, AT&T or Ford Motor Company at their origins? Someone's idea. Now employing tens of thousands of people.

Or take UPS, which started out simply as a one-man messenger company, and today is one of the world's largest and most prosperous multi-national companies.

Operation HOPE was my idea in 1992, immediately following the Rodney King Riots, the worst urban riot in U.S. history. HOPE got its start from a modest $61,000, SBA 7J grant. Today, we have served more than 1.5 million people and 70 urban communities across America.

This is a particularly useful vision for those that see traditional jobs drying up all around them, and want to help America create some more jobs, and quick.

An entrepreneur's creed: "Whether you are white, black, red, brown or yellow, we simply want to see more green (as in U.S. currency)."

But responsible capitalism and fair enterprise are not just about making money. A drug dealer can make money. A financial predator, whether from Wall Street or your street, can make money. The new agenda is also about building something of value for society, and this is also what an entrepreneur does.

This is why Operation HOPE organized its first HOPE Bankers Bus Tours through inner city and under-served communities. We were not pointing the way to so-called poor neighborhoods, nor asking for charity or handouts for the poor. We were pointing the way forward, toward opportunity for all; as urban and inner-city communities in America are fundamentally under-served, and represent the last bastion of lost capitalism in America, and a future (responsible) market opportunity.

In the riots of 1992, of 3,000 structures burned, and more than $1 billion in economic damage, not one structure was a home. Message: you don't burn that which is your own.

What would happen if the people of a community had a business stake in that community? Their community. This is not rocket science. It is called enlightened self-interest, and it is the exact same business plan pursued by the original architects for America's best and most prosperous cities.

We selected financial literacy as the first silver rights issue, because in an economic era everyone needs to understand the universal language of money, or financial literacy empowerment. Soon, other silver rights would follow, from opening a bank account, to starting a business, becoming an entrepreneur or owning a home. Empowerment, we believed, would lead to more empowerment. And more empowerment would lead to individual economic freedom, which in turn leads to jobs for the community, a tax base for cities, resources for schools, safe streets and funded health care, too.

We selected financial literacy because we thought that this is what Dr. King would be doing now.

When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was gunned down in Memphis in April 1968, he and my mentor, now HOPE Global Spokesman Ambassador Andrew Young, were focused on the Poor People's Campaign, or what they viewed as the third and final chapter of the civil rights movement: ending poverty in America.

Dr. King understood that poverty was more about class than race, and that there were more poor whites in America than poor anyone else, and so this new phase of the civil rights movement was focused on lifting all boats, and not just black ones.

He also understood something particular about capitalism. Dr. King said in 1968, "You cannot legislate goodness, nor pass a law to force someone to like or respect you... (that) the only way to social justice in a capitalist country is economic parity."

Oddly enough, Dr. King's own father understood both civil rights and silver rights too, as he helped to found Citizen's Trust Bank in Atlanta, Georgia, and served on its board of directors for 40 years. When members came to church, he encouraged them to get an education, of course to vote, but also, to become homeowners and stakeholders in their community too.

Today, Operation HOPE is trying to grow a silver rights movement from civil rights soil, for a new generation of young people who may not know the pains of racial segregation, but know all too well the economic depravity that comes from not understanding the language of money, not having a good education, not attending the so-called "right schools," or belonging to the so-called "right" social or business clubs, not knowing what to do when the social network of high level business relationships, access and opportunity, somehow doesn't include you.

That is why we are now building a HOPE Financial Literacy Empowerment Center at Ebenezer Church, in partnership with the Financial Services Roundtable and several of its members, within the King Center complex in Atlanta, in honor of Daddy King. And that is why we stand shoulder to shoulder with President Barack Obama and his administration, as he strives to inspire Generation Entrepreneurship in urban America today.

The White House Urban Entrepreneurship Summit, the brainchild of the Obama Administration, with the Rutgers University Business School, Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Russell Simmons as lead partners, and Operation HOPE, also as a supporting co-host, is a bold, public/private partnership attempt to frame out a new and progressive community.

A community called Generation Entrepreneurship.

John Hope Bryant is founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE, bestselling author of LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass), and a member of the U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability for President Barack Obama