*The Great Black HOPE, John Hope Bryant, has sought to rebut the question I asked a couple weeks ago about the failures of hope in South Los Angeles since the 20 years of the last riots that hit the city. Quite frankly, I’m glad he chose to come out of hiding on this as he’s been called out, for years, to defend “his work.” He even chose to attack me, and that’s fine. I can dish it and I can take it…and as grossly inaccurate as he is about it—I can stand up to it. So, let’s get the easy stuff out the way first. He claims he raises $20 million a year for Operation Hope, and an “independent compensation board” set’s his salary. However he was wants to frame it, it’s still $400,000 much more than most CBOs make. Of course he has a board of bankers that overpay themselves, if you read the news lately, so of course they see nothing wrong with that. Good for him to acknowledge it because it lays the basis for what comes next. And, I understand the work Bryant does VERY WELL. It’s kinda of insulting to suggest that we don’t understand.
I do have better things to do than to sit around and talk about John Bryant. I usually focus my attention on more relevant pursuits. He only became relevant by his continuing insistence on insulting our intelligence. Hell, somebody had to say something to this distortion of reality? What the article was about, was the disingenuousness of touring an area that hadn’t been rebuilt and selling false hope to poor areas, or “low income communities” (as John likes to call them), driving white folk through neighborhoods like the cavalry is on the way…and they never come. That’s what the article was about. We’re not talking about the 273 other cities HOPE claims to operate in. We’re talking about L.A. Something he ignored all together in his rebuttal.
HOPE claims they’re the “rainbow after the storm.” I simply called it what it is, profiting on people’s misery, to the tune of $1.4 billion dollars. That can buy a lot of rainbows but no substantive change of life for those who went through the storm. Last time I checked, the 9th Ward in New Orleans was still torn up…sort of like South L.A. Hope came and went on its merry way. California leads the nation in foreclosures, and Los Angeles County has more foreclosures than any county in the nation. In the words of California Attorney General, Kamala Harris, the “American homeowners were robbed by the American banking system and California was the scene of the crime.” Los Angeles is the yellow tape outline on the ground where homeowners were found homeless and lifeless. Black Enterprises cited that 53% of median black wealth was lost when the housing bubble burst. Los Angeles is still pushing through that storm. There is no rainbow in sight. I know…but there is HOPE, right? There’s also reality…
Glad he also acknowledged the tour was a fundraiser. That’s all they’ve ever been. You can’t get to $20 million without a show, and he puts on a show. He shows off communities he had little to do with and even less to do with building upon. Somebody else did the work. John Bryant shows it to you and collects. I know he thought that the term “pimpin” was hard, and I never said he was the pimp, but since he put on the shoe, let him wear it. I’m sure it fits very well. Pimps bring Johns to the “promised land.” The promise is in the experience and they pay as little as they can get away with…but they don’t move the family down there. It’s not that type of investment. Well, that’s what South Los Angeles has been to investment bankers that still pay to take the ride every five years for a momentary experience…but that’s about it. Any dope can tell you that investment won’t bring much of a return. Like playing the lottery, you can HOPE you win, but the odds against you are overwhelming. L.A. has yet to overcome the odds. But HOPE has. HOPE claims he doesn’t know what “Dopin’” means. He should. He’s an expert at it…
Well, let’s give Lil Johnnie a black history moment…
In the aftermath of the King assassination, one of King’s entourage, Jessie Lewis Jackson, decided to start an organization called “Operation PUSH (People United To Save Humanity).” His mission was to continue King’s work to eradicate poverty through “silver rights” (a term Jessie invented and wrote a book about—not John Bryant). Jessie went to middle and senior high schools, giving assemblies, talking about “Up with Hope, Down with Dope.” This simplistic attempt to lift the self-esteem of black youth was followed by the greatest influx of drugs in this nation’s history. Jessie’s “hope talk” was viewed as an insult to King’s legacy and got Jessie labeled as “pimpin’, “dopin” the community.” It wasn’t until Jessie elevated the conversation in the public discourse, to the seats of global power, in running for President, that he became respected and relevant. Slangin’ HOPE, like its dope, has never been relevant if the discourse isn’t public, the seats of power aren’t confronted and a change follows. We forced America to deal with its drug problem and it created a prison boon that disproportionately affected the same community impacted. Slangin HOPE while people can’t get real capital, jobs and are losing their wealth (primarily in their homes) is the same thing, creating a poverty vacuum under the guise of helping, or “empowering people.” It just demonstrates that the HOPE game perfected in L.A. can be sold anywhere. That’s all. Just like dope. Black people in South Africa are nearly as worst off in the post Apartheid movement as they were in the pre-Apartheid period because the wealth was stolen there, as the wealth is being stolen in America.
Bryant suggests that “individuals” have “become experts at what they are against.” Why? Because they stand up against chicanery? I know what I’m for. I’m for equity and justice. I’m against inequity and injustice. I’m not against HOPE, but I’m for change rooted in reality, something I don’t see attached to this HOPE game. Standing up against something is not a bad thing, as HOPE tries to suggest. I remember four years ago when the black leadership was for Hilary Clinton and was trying to force the community to back it because they were told Barack couldn’t win. I was the first to publicly take a stand against that in L.A., while others cowered in corners trying to stay out of harm’s way. The rest is history. I spoke up against police misconduct of Daryl Gates and the economic subjugation of Alexander Haagan 25 years ago in 1987. I didn’t just start asking questions, challenging irrationality and speaking up against things. I am an “expert” on some things…like racial politics, racial injustice and confronting nonsense.
I also spoke out against HOPE 20 years ago when Bryant “announced” his “partnership” with Nix Check Cashing. I met with Bryant at the City Club and asked him why was he partnering with economic exploiters? His answer, “Because they’re not going anywhere.” I said, neither are the drug dealers, if that’s your rationale. That’s how slangin hope began. The Bryant Group was a mortgage company that partnered with the check cashing company to form the non-profit. He didn’t have $200,000. He claimed he was sleeping in your car just a few years before. That’s his “rags to riches” story. The check cashing company put up the money for the non-profit…but it’s his story to tell. The point is that, how has HOPE changed the communities they claim they serve? Every person HOPE touches (in his statistics) is not indicative of every person that was actually helped. But it looks good for the funders. We call that in the community, frontin’ people off. He didn’t address that. Nor did he address the tour as an incentive philosophy…but he’ll have the opportunity.
He also asks the question, who is pimping who? Then he brings up my conviction of 22 years ago which was neither precise nor undisclosed. It was very public yet subversive in origin. It’s an old play some do when they can’t argue on the merits, they say “look at him-who is he to talk,” like my community doesn’t know who I am. John Bryant could only wish he had my story to tell…then maybe he could tell it right. People know I’m someone who can get something done. They know I’m someone who will tell their side of the story right. As for my story, it was a national bestseller ten years ago that anybody can read anytime. I don’t have to tell it again.
I just correct it every time it’s mis-told for the purpose of digression from the real issue.
First and foremost, people who defraud people in our community DO NOT regain credibility. I will put my street cred up against John Bryant’s any day of the week. Morning, noon or the middle of the night. Let us both call a community meeting and see who comes (without the celebrities). In fact, I have one this Friday, talking about Mass incarceration as the current system of economic subjugation, or the “New Jim Crow.” See, I’m not afraid to talk about jail, since so many people in our community have been unjustly incarcerated. But since he brought it up, no one was defrauded in my case, but that’s what happens when you read the L.A. Times . Not the bank. Not the community. Not one cent was lost on my account. If he knew the case, it was a false statement on a document, that had nothing to do with my home loan being made. I made over 3,000 loans at Founders, many to the homeowners in neighborhoods HOPE toured that could not get loans from the bankers on HOPE’s bus. The only two they pulled was my home loan and a partner’s personal loan, five years after I left the bank, right when I requested the federal government to come in on LAPD. Suddenly, I have a case. What a coincidence? The community knew what was up, that’s why they never turned on me. My vindication came two years later with the L.A. riots when everything I said would happen while I was NAACP President, happened. My vision wasn’t blurred then, it’s not blurred now.
The house was sold and the feds kept all the equity (more than was owned on the house—which was illegal), before the case even went to court. I was the one that disclosed the impropriety in the bank. The bank survived five years after I left. Ironically, the one who ran the bank and caused it to fail now has a building named in his (dis)honor on the campus of USC…from a $25 million endowment…and nobody is suggesting that he defrauded the community? My point here is that my failing was my own, and not the community’s, as the community has benefited, then and now from my advocacy efforts. I’ve raised, and given, close to $1,000,000 in college scholarships (not second grade workshop scholarships) through various organizations that asked me to lead them—despite my past—since my conviction. My advocacy has remained consistent through the fire of that period, and the targets of my advocacy have always been those who perpetuate injustice, or confusion, in our community, regardless of race.
I have never recalled Mr. Bryant speaking out against economic injustice to the very ones that perpetuate it the most—those whom he sits around the table with. It’s funny that Bryant didn’t have a problem with my past when he wanted me to co-sign his bus tour bullsh*t five years ago. He wasn’t looking for community pimps. He was looking for credibility, as the question of a bus tour wasn’t credible. But he’ll get another chance to tell that to the community.
My community knows, and never forgot, who I am—regardless of my name. And they never forgot the good I’ve done. They remember what I stood for, what I still stand for, and when I stood for them. But I didn’t change my name to mock aspirations of the poor, that they can one day HOPE to live the lifestyle to which Bryant has become accustomed. I changed my name to reinforce my faith, in defiance of those who thought that I would wilt under their prosecution (and persecution). Asadullah means “Lion of God.” I never lost my voice, even in the face of my prosecution, even in the face of my conviction—and it only got louder after my conviction. I studied the same racist system of economics that John Bryant cooperates and is co-opted by. I earned a Ph.D. studying why economic inequality befalls our communities while forcing down $400 million dollars to do more than nothing. John Bryant was telling people we don’t need Ph.D.s to access our problems, we needed “Ph.Doos.” Whatever the hell that meant. Investors were pulling out of South L.A. right in front of his face, right under his nose, and he didn’t care as long as they flipped him a nickel for the buck dance he was doing (and still does). I guess a man who dropped out of college wouldn’t know the true value of a college education and that economics is relative. That’s why he couldn’t see beyond the nickel, the economic compromise, while standing in the middle of it. He thought he was doing a lot when a lot was being done—just not for our community. It’s called a grand distraction, and John Bryant became one. I guess that’s “Ph.Doo doo” for you. I’m sure he takes his shoes off before he goes into the “big house.” The lesson here is that all motion isn’t action and all activity ain’t progress. 20 years of HOPE now proves this.
If John Bryant wants to see progress, look at my life. I don’t run from my past, nor do I run to it. That’s my testimony, and there’s no testimony without a test. I’m a living witness to the power of redemption. My past doesn’t define who I was, nor who I am. It was a lesson that I learned from and provided an insight to legal injustice that I could gotten no other way. Now for 21 years, people around the country pick up the column—not for entertainment, not for gossip, but for truth. 900 words a week (I wish), all the truth you can stand. I get paid to teach race and politics. I get paid to write about race and politics. I get paid to lecture on race and politics. My legacy? Over 5,000 college students taught. My students are now teaching students about race and politics. My writings are used as part of college curriculums in over 100 colleges and universities. Bryant wouldn’t know that, because he “don’t do college.” I’ve written or contributed to a dozen books, and 50 or 100 years from now when people try to understand how the most affluent and educated African American generation went backwards, they will be able to read over 1,300 articles and columns written about the last twenty years—when reality was replaced with false hope and low to no political will to change the lives of black people. Future generations will know our people “OD’ed” on too much HOPE. There is such a thing, ya know?
With that said, I’m sure Mr. Bryant, who’s always too busy to defend his work in person, wouldn’t have taken his precious time to even respond if he thought nobody read the column. It’s easy to throw a rock and duck back to Atlanta (something else he didn’t deny). Let’s see if he can defend it in person. Not from Atlanta. Here in L.A.
On May 25th, the Urban Issues Breakfast Forum will have a serious panel discussion on what has changed in South Los Angeles since the 1992 riots. A celebrity filled panel (I know I have his attention now because I know he like celebrities). Attorney Connie Rice and several others high profile community “celebrities” will be there to tell of their work in trying to rebuild South L.A.. Bryant claimed I’ve never invited him to the Urban Issues Forum (he’s been invited three times, the last being in January of this year). Guess I need some witnesses, so y’all—pay attention;
Hear Ye, Hear Ye…I am publicly inviting John Bryant to be on the panel (since he likes to be on panels) of the May 25th, 2012 Urban Issues Forum. Somebody show him this…Just in case says he wasn’t invited (again).
It’s free so he won’t have to run it past his “compensation committee” or take a pay cut to come. And it’s NOT “invitation only,” so the whole community is invited. Whether he shows or not, a big John HOPE Bryant placard will be right in the middle of the panel, for the community to see. John Bryant will either be part of conversation, or he will become the conversation. John Bryant has fronted off Los Angeles for the LAST time. He can come and defend his glass house, or he can be fronted off as what we always thought this HOPE game was. It’ll be in Watts. Hope he brings his bankers with him. Oh…and we’re NOT sending a bus.
In conclusion, there’s nothing John Bryant can say to me or about me that hasn’t already been said—about me or my past—to my face or behind my back. The windows have been broken out of my glass house, many times, long before he decided to start throwing rocks. But my house still stands on a firm rock, the windows are always replaceable when they’re painted with clear truth and my work of advocating for those without a voice continues—with much success. Elijah Muhammad said it best… “When you put a clear glass of water next to a cloudy glass of water, you don’t have to say much. The people will make the correct choice, when their vision is not blurry.” My vision is not blurry, and neither is the community’s. We see what’s real.
I can go anywhere in my community and get mad love from my people—regardless of race, religion or class. I don’t need a celebrity escort. I don’t need a police escort. I don’t need a bus escort. But I do need my community to be told the truth why hope hasn’t worked in South L.A. We’ll see if Bryant shows up on the 25th to offers a rational explanation for his glass house, that little cash cow of a “non-profit he calls “HOPE.”. Not bring more than the pimp line
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum (www.urbanissuesforum.com) and author of the upcoming book, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com or on Twitter at @dranthonysamad.