John Hope Bryant
The following article is a response by John Hope Bryant of Operation HOPE to a column written by Anthony Asadullah Samad, published here on April 26, 2012.
*Operation HOPE, founded in South Central Los Angeles on May 5th, 1992, or exactly one-week following the Rodney King Riots in our community, has served more than 2 million low-wealth individuals, families and minority small businesses in Los Angeles, 273 urban cities across the United States, 7 Provinces in South Africa, Morocco and soon Saudi Arabia. HOPE was founded following our first Opportunity Bus Tour in 1992, because we believed then, as we believe now, that once credible leaders and the media experience our amazing community for themselves, they will want to do more within it.
I see the work of Operation HOPE as “rainbows after storms,” but I take a moment today from our work to address a certain LA Op-Ed writer who sees me, and our work, as something altogether different.
First, let me say that the Op-Ed writer actually makes some very good points about what is still needed in our community, 20 years after the worst urban riot in U.S. history. All the promises made by so many, and very often not kept. The unmet needs, the devastating joblessness that must be arrested, and so on. He would be right about all of that, except for just one thing — I was actually not commissioned by him, the mayor, the governor, the President of the United States, nor anyone else to save South Central. I was commissioned by myself to act, and at a mere 26 years old at the time. Often, I might add, with the active-discouragement from those around me. Individuals who over time have unfortunately become expert at what they are against.
So thin was the belief in me and my dream of a community better, at the time that I had to personally write the checks for the first $200,000 that the nonprofit Operation HOPE ever saw for its work in 1992. Sponsored at the time by my own company, Bryant Group, that was $200,000 of my own money that I really didn’t have to give. But I did it simply because I believed in my community so much. I still do.
And so, I am comfortable with any so-called criticisms, and we can grow from the legitimate and constructive forms of criticism that actually aim to make us all better. That said, a casual reader of this particular Op-Ed might actually have gotten the impression that it was more personal attack than professional commentary. In any regard, the writer has done us all a great favor. He now forces us to tell our story, publicly and directly, which is actually a great thing. Here are the facts:
$1.4 billion – the amount raised and invested by HOPE in and for the under-served population, from private and public sources.
1,000 Plus – the number low-wealth homeowners and small business owners created and funded with responsible mortgage and small business loans. We can even tell you the precise number of local homeowners and small business owners created within a four-square block area of the writers own home or place of business, and maybe even on his own block, should he want to provide us his address.
Just one of these countless minority owned small business success stories is Drobe Clothing (http://www.drobe.com/Story.html). I purchase all of my professional suits from this HOPE success story, paying full retail, which is recycling black dollars too. Drobe was created by a young black man, not much older than myself when I started Operation HOPE, and now it employs 6 local people, pays its local taxes, and in so doing adds to the whole of Los Angeles. This is the real story of L.A, and where most jobs come from.
$500 Million - the value of the subprime mortgages that the Mortgage HOPE Crisis Hotline has modified or restructured in the subprime crisis, at no cost to the borrower.
155,243 – the number of individuals directly assisted by the National Mortgage HOPE Crisis Hotline.
78,918 – the number of adults educated in financial literacy through HOPE Financial Dignity Centers.
150,000 – the number of individuals HOPE served in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. And we are still there, serving others years after.
$15 Million – the amount of Earned Income Tax Credits funded to survivors of Hurricane Katrina alone.
273 – the number of cities in the U.S. and South Africa where HOPE currently exists.
5,000 – number of current HOPE partnerships with private sector companies, non-profit organizations, schools and government entities.
30,369 – the number youth and adults educated through the Banking on Our Future program in South Africa alone.
45,828 – the number HOPE Cyber Cafés memberships, including the Cyber Cafe at 3721 South La Brea Avenue, in L.A.
2,000,000 – individuals served to date through HOPE’s Empowerment programs, Banking on Our Future, the HOPE Financial Dignity Centers and HOPE Coalition America.
Today, HOPE is headquartered at Wilshire Boulevard and Hope Street in Downtown, L.A., and thanks to proceeds from the recent Opportunity Bus Tour, we will now be able to keep the doors open to the HOPE Financial Dignity Center office on La Brea. A location which we have funded out of our own internal resources over the last year; after the center lost a historic sponsor to the economy. We simply did not want to see that original office in and for our community closed, so we wrote the check ourselves.
As to the personal attacks on me, the writer suggests that I was “not Hope’in, but Dope’in,” I don’t really understand what this means, so it is hard to respond to it at all. I can only say that I have never doped anyone (smile).
Another choice phrase actually inferred that we were engaged in ”community pimp’in.” All very strong words, but this last phrase is particularly unfortunate, given the precise and undisclosed history of the writer himself.
The writer notes that I changed my middle name to Hope, which I did. I am very proud of it actually. It was a nickname conferred on me by supporters of our now global work. Interestingly enough, the writer also changed his name. The former name tied to a fraud conviction, and ultimate failure of a once prominent South L.A. community bank where he then worked. The amount connected to his conviction was almost the same exact amount that I actually invested to found Operation HOPE for our community – $200,000. I chose to make a community deposit. Others simply made unauthorized community withdrawals, and now tells us they are the community voice. Let the records show, who is pimping whom.
The writer suggested that we have never made a scholarship in South Central. He obviously does not understand our work. We have made more than 100,000 of them in South L.A. alone. Every child that goes through our Banking on Our Future financial literacy program is underwritten at our cost, or a total of more than $5 million over these years for our community. As a direct result of the Opportunity Bus Tour he derides, $50,000 in new HOPE Business-In-A-Box youth entrepreneurship grants will be awarded this year to youth in Los Angeles alone.
Finally, the writer suggests that I pay myself as much as the President. Respectfully, my salary is established by an independent committee of the board of directors, based on an independent compensation survey of comparable organizations, not me. I have nothing to do with it. Furthermore, all of our financials are in fact audited and publicly available. There has never been an issue with any of our financials, nor appropriateness. I also raise most all of the close to $20 million that now fuels HOPE’s work annually. If I keep expenses lower than budgeted, and raise more funds than scheduled, the board rewards me with a modest annual bonus (also capped). And so, my complete and total compensation potential is less than 2% of the total budget of the organization. Again, audited financials tell the story.
I resist the temptation to go one on one regarding the assault on my character, understanding clearly the statement of Jesus — let him without fault or sin cast the first stone. The writer would do well to examine his own past and legacy. When one throws stones from a glass house, they are likely to only hit themselves.
Onward and with HOPE,
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.