In part three of this series, Black Enterprise speaks with John Hope Bryant to learn more about his efforts to eradicate poverty and increase financial literacy through a partnership with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and by sharing pearls of wisdom in his new book, How the Poor Can Save Capitalism.
BE: What fuels your passion for poverty eradication?
BRYANT: Guilt, responsibility, and frustration. The guilt comes from the fact that I grew up in Compton California in South Central Los Angeles, but because of the unique gifts of my mom and my dad, I got chances that other people didn’t get. We didn’t have a lot of money but my mom told me she loved me every day of my life. So I never really had a self-esteem problem. And my dad owned his own business for 54 years. My mother gave me a sense of “Yes I am,” and my father gave me as sense of “Yes I can.”
I grew up with my best friend George, who had better grades than me. He didn’t know who he was because he didn’t have supportive parents. I had a C+, but George had an A+. I wanted to be like George. But George wanted to be like Tweet, my next door neighbor. Tweet was the community gangster by 18 years old. However, I decided to model the banker who came to my class to teach financial literacy when I was nine. I asked him how to get rich legally. He said that he financed entrepreneurs. I said I don’t know what an entrepreneur was, but I wanted to be one. That dream kept me out of trouble. I started my first business the next year when I was 10. I sold candy. And for the next 10 years, I was going from one business idea to the next. Most of them didn’t work out, but it didn’t matter. I was growing more resilient, and my parents kept me focused.
Tweet got killed and George got killed standing next to him. I felt guilt about that and I felt guilt about all the folks who grew up in my neighborhood who didn’t have the opportunities I had. I wasn’t any smarter, but I had an understanding they didn’t have. I got the memo. Nobody understood in my neighborhood that they were getting pimped. There was a check cashing store next to a payday lender, next to a rent-to-own center, next to a liquor store. And nobody thought that was abnormal. It’s just modern slavery. The people who own those businesses are targeting a 500-credit-score customer. I want to rob them of their customers. I want to do two things: I want to rob bad capitalists of their customers by helping people raise their credit scores and I want to give people financial protection as well as financial and economic empowerment.
BE: Why did you write the book, How the Poor Can Save Capitalism?
BRYANT: I wanted to figure out why poor people are poor. I wanted to unpack capitalism and free enterprise, and repack free enterprise and capitalism with poor people in mind.
BE: Tell us a little about the outreach agreement between Operation HOPE and the CFPB.
BRYANT: We partnered with CFPB to promote financial education. The CFPB regulates everything that touches the consumer’s finances. That means everything from check-cashing stores to rent-to-own stores, to banks and credit unions. I’m convinced that consumer protection has to be married with consumer empowerment. The way you protect someone is to give them the tools to protect themselves. Operation HOPE is in the community dealing with real people, and helping to raise credit scores, and dealing with their everyday lives. If we can gather non-confidential data from them and push that data back to CFPB and other federal government offices on a non-privacy-breaking basis, that’s invaluable for CFPB as they try to evolve and innovate and create strategies to protect people.