As we reflect this year on the 84th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the 50th anniversary of the "I Have A Dream" speech, I think about the vast unfinished agenda of Dr. King, launched as the third phase of his vision for a world better. Dr. King had focused first on social justice, then on ending war, and his last and final work was focused on poverty.
His Poor People's Campaign, originally inspired by Mrs. Marian Wright Edelman, now founder of the Children's Defense Fund, focused on eradicating poverty through a radical movement of a government sponsored living wage for all, and on some level the redistribution of the wealth by the top 3 percent. And given his background as a liberal, lettered man of the cloth, Dr. King's approach to poverty eradication made total and complete sense to him, and at that time.
The government had much to say and do with respect to the issues of justice and freedom for blacks, the poor and the underserved in 20th-century America. Further, Dr. King was not a banker or an investor, nor businessman, as his dad was. Dr. King was a man of the cloth, total and complete, and he executed on his vision from God as he saw it, almost perfectly. He did what he was supposed to do, and expected us to do the rest.
Sadly, Dr. King's life and life mission was cut short and he did not get the chance to participate in even the first march of the Poor People's Campaign. He gave his last speech, and led his last march in support of garbage workers in Memphis, Tennessee, fighting for a living wage, and dignity, for them. Looking forward, it could be said that Black America along with the rest of us have had our Biblical "lost in the wilderness period," over the last 40-plus years since his death, all was not lost.
Today, Mrs. Marian Wright Edelman's niece, Ms. Deborah Wright, is CEO of Carver Federal Bank, the largest black bank in America today, with close to $1 billion in assets.
Today, Operation HOPE advances what we call the silver rights movement, and at the invitation of Dr. King's church, Ebenezer, is now operational on the broader King Center campus, having built and stood up the new HOPE Financial Dignity Center Atlanta at Ebenezer, the anchor tenant for the new Martin Luther King, Sr. Community Complex at Ebenezer Church.
The National Urban League and the NAACP with them have launched a national campaign to advance issues of economic justice in the 21st century.
The vision indeed lives today, from civil rights to (include) silver rights.
More than simply living in the backdrop of the memories from the civil rights movement and Dr. King's global impact work, I actually believe that if he was alive today, he would be focused on advancing issues of financial literacy and financial dignity for all. To quote Ambassador Andrew Young, "to make free enterprise and capitalism work for the poor."
Financial literacy is the new global civil rights issue of and for this generation, and financial dignity for all is the goal. "If you don't understand the global language of money (financial literacy), and if you don't have a bank account, you're an economic slave."
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. Mr. Bryant is a though leader represented by the Bright Sight Group for public speaking. Mr. Bryant serves on the board of directors of Ares Commercial Real Estate Corporation, an NYSE Euronext publicly traded company, and a division of $54 billion Ares Capital.