As part of a national Operation Hope tour commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Freedman's Bank, Ambassador Andrew Young was invited to Detroit, Michigan to assist his mentee John Hope Bryant and the Operation Hope team in delivering a powerful message about the importance of inclusive economics.
The Freedman's Bank, was incorporated on March 3rd, 1865 when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Freedman's Bureau Act. It was important for President Lincoln, who had recently signed the Emancipation Proclamation to give a pathway for freed slaves to learn about free economic enterprise as well as participate in capital markets. At its height, the Freedman's Bank had almost half a million depositors and 19 branches, mostly in the South. Unfortunately for a number of reasons (one of which being the untimely death of President Lincoln), the Freedman's Bank was a short lived initiative and today's history books often fail to mention it.
This message of inclusive economics, delivered through the Freedman's Bank Tour, is crucial to be received by cities across the country, especially Detroit. Once one of the richest cities in the country, Detroit has continued to make headlines for high crime rates, high poverty rates and recently became the largest municipality in this nation's history to declare bankruptcy. However, under the leadership of Mayor Mike Duggan along with a splurge of investments/developments from individuals such as investor Dan Gilbert and a growing number of professionals such as myself who refuse to believe that Detroit's brighter days are behind it, the city seems to be on the road to a rapid recovery. Operation HOPE viewed this as a great opportunity to bring this important message and ensuing financial literacy efforts into the city to assist in the inevitable recovery of Detroit.
Hosted by the Charles H. Wright Museum, the evening delivered a packed house of Detroit residents who had every reason to feel excited about the future of Detroit at the conclusion of the program.
John Hope Bryant, who founded Operation HOPE in 1992 and whose vision has resulted in over $1.8 billion distributed to underserved communities throughout the US and around the world, opened the evening with an inspirational message centered on the history of the Freedman's Bank and how its principles were crucial to be delivered and implemented in Detroit. "The citizens of Detroit are not dumb...they are not stupid...they simply haven't received the memo. They simply haven't learned the language of money."
Sponsors of the evening, The Private Bank and Talmer Bank, both expressed their concern about the economic well being of those in the Detroit community. With a high percentage of Detroiters making up the un- and under-banked community, it is vital to individuals to utilize traditional banking services and open bank accounts with institutions such as Talmer and The Private Bank; not doing so means that these very same citizens are forced to use alternative financial institutions such as check cashing and payday loan facilities seen on every corner and in every strip mall of Detroit. These financial predator institutions, while legal, have a vested interest in perpetuating a more permanent underclass of society by charging exorbitant fees and providing little or no money management guidance. Traditional banks, on the other hand, have a vested interest in seeing their customers' accumulation of money grow. The more money their customers are worth, the more they deposit and the more money traditional banks earn. Operation HOPE will continue to work with Talmer Bank, The Private Bank, Fifth Third Bank and other who have a strong passion for empowering their communities to promote inclusive economics for all Detroiters.
The panel discussion of the evening was an exciting mix of public and private individuals from the Greater Detroit area including the following:
• Gail Perry-Mason, Senior Director of Investments at Oppenheimer Funds, moderated the event, pushed for solutions and accountability as she stated, "You must be your own CLO...Chief Life Officer."
• Tonya Allen, President and CEO of the Skillman Foundation stated, "Poverty is not just a mindset for people, it's a mindset for a city and we need to stop acting like we're poor."
• David Carroll, Vice President of Quicken Loans, made it clear that Quicken Loans placed a high priority in investing in the people of Detroit as he stated, "We place a priority on hiring from within city limits and partner with many foundations throughout the city to be sure the people of Detroit can participate in the revitalization of this great city."
• Richard Mack Jr., Chief Attorney of the Coalition of Detroit Unions, demanded accountability of our elected officials by, "Demanding fair and equitable treatment of all citizens of Detroit, rich and poor, and making sure we are investing our tax revenues to incubate small businesses to help our people help themselves."
• Former City Council Member and creator of "Detroit Bank On" JoAnn Watson lit a fire under the panel discussion by stating, "I had to bring Detroit Bank On to Detroit if we are ever going to get from beneath the boot of these financial predators that continue to take advantage of our people."
Then came the highlight of the evening when Andrew Young came out to address the audience. With humility and wisdom he recanted stories of his life as he worked beside Dr. Martin Luther King. As the former Mayor of Atlanta, he provided his insight on how Detroit can once again be the beacon of light for this country. All ears were perked and eyes open wide as the packed audience didn't want to miss a moment of his wisdom.
He talked about the dangers of corruption as he stated, "You can make more money in a growing economy than you can steal in a dying one."
He talked about where wealth comes from and the promise of the city of Detroit as he stated, "Wealth doesn't come from the state or nations. Wealth is generated in cities."
It was an evening of much needed encouragement as well as solutions. John Hope Bryant stated his goal of opening 50 Operation HOPE offices by 2020 and the community applauded with approval. It was clear the people didn't come to hear the tired "blame game" of old but were hungry for solutions. It was clear that people had grown tired of waiting on their ship to come in...they have now decided it was time to learn how to created their own ship and sail to the destination of their choice. It was clear there was an aura of that special feeling in the air that Detroiters actually believe that their history will not be the highlight of their lives, but their best days are ahead...that special feeling of HOPE.