>A Forum of Hope, Change, Empowerment, and Literacy for all!

>This past Wednesday I shared on this blog my experience at the Operation HOPE-Ebenezer Baptist Church Shovel Ceremony that took place on April 7, 2010. Let me say now that I can’t wait to witness the day the HOPE Center opens its doors early next year!

Today let me share with you briefly my experience at the HOPE Atlanta Financial Forum that followed the Shovel Ceremony, where the topic of discussion was “Financial Literacy in the Backdrop of the Global Economic Crisis: Where Do We Go from Here?

The event was hosted by and at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. I’m so grateful to have received an invitation to this event. I was told that I would want to be there, and I’m glad that I did attend. I needed to hear firsthand what was being said, committed to, and changed in order to meet the needs of all people in this country regardless of their socio-economic background, religion, color, nationality, or gender.

It’s about an opportunity for economic education and empowerment for all, and this panel of speakers shared with those in attendance exactly what they believed needed to be done to make things happen…and what they were going to personally do to help make it happen.

The panel was moderated by President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, Dennis Lockhart…great personality might I add, and the keynote speaker was FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair. The panel consisted of some of the same speakers who spoke earlier at the Shovel Ceremony at Ebenezer Baptist Church which included Ambassador Andrew Young, John Hope Bryant, Isaac Newton Farris, Steve Bartlett, and Jim Clifton. Joining the panel were Duncan Niederauer, CEO of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), and Michelle Greene, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Financial Education and Financial Access with the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Let me say something upfront right now…I wasn’t sitting in the audience listening to an assistant of the assistant to the VP of the department head of the blah blah blah…no…the top person from each of the organizations/entities personally showed up and spoke at this forum. They all share the vision of John Hope Bryant and Operation HOPE. This was and is HUGE and speaks volumes about Operation HOPE and their Love Leader, John Hope Bryant.

Okay now let’s get down to the nitty gritty shall we? I will try to keep this brief, but you know I’m a writer so don’t hold it against me if we go a little longer than expected….

Great points were made about the most effective way to develop financially literate children and adults. We have to go to the people…into the communities, not simply set up information portals on websites and hope that people are astute enough to maneuver their way around the site to get answers to their very important questions. The Internet is a valuable tool- but we need to make sure that the information provided is palatable. We have to go into the schools and speak with the students directly. It can’t be the typical financial literacy education format that puts most adults to sleep, and causes most children to want to run from their seats screaming, “stop it please“. Financial literacy must be enjoyable, spoken on the learner’s level, applicable to their settings and environment, and creative enough where there is a measurable take away and lifelong application.

John Hope Bryant has been known to say that this period of time we are currently in is a “reset” for all of us. Just like pushing the “reset” button on our electronics, we must do the same in our homes, businesses, and communities. It is a time to back up and assess the situation, look at the damage, see what can be salvaged, then pick up the pieces and create something newer, better, more efficient, effective and efficacious.

I was glad to hear that institutions would be working towards changing the language on financial instruments for the layman and not just the legal professionals who draft the documents. Most Americans, regardless of their educational background and level of intelligence struggle to understand the legalese on their credit card agreements and statements, bank, insurance, and other important documents. Lawyers draft them so lawyers understand. Just as society had to create a version of the Bible separate from Latin, Greek, and the King James Version so that more people could read and understand it, the same is true with other vital information we need to read, digest and understand on a daily basis.

There is a shift towards effectively educating the masses through workshops, websites, and hot lines so that we don’t have a repeat of the real estate and financial market crisis that almost wiped this country’s “clock”. These weren’t proposed ideas and concepts, these were things that were already put in motion. That’s putting action behind your word. Leading by example and not waiting for watchdogs and others to demand you do something. The panel agreed that financial literacy, no matter what name our country, government or the world wants to call it, must be a heightened experience for all people. Every American should have access to a bank account and not have to be enslaved to giving a percentage of their checks to check-cashing centers. Every child should grow up understanding and participating in the process of saving and investing their money, and have their own account to save towards their future.

John Hope Bryant reiterated a fact he shared earlier at the Shovel Ceremony, that with approximately 40 million people living without bank accounts, this number is greater than the number of people who didn’t have the right to vote in the 1960s. We are transitioning from Civil Rights to Silver Rights, where “green” is what our focus is on so that people are not simply living and waiting for a next paycheck (or handout), but truly living and being active producers of economic growth within their communities.

Each member of the panel said that it is long overdue to speak up and speak out against check-cashing centers and those big vultures…payday loan centers who have invested years in putting low-income and struggling consumers further in debt. There was a consensus that our country must focus on jobs, empowering employees to become business owners, and getting renters in the position to becoming home owners; educating the world about “good capitalism” versus the image of capitalism most people visualize which is “bad capitalism”…the rich getting richer and the “poor” getting poorer.

Our nation is struggling as our high school dropout rate increases, as more than half of Black males won’t finish high school (can you guess how many will run the risk of death and imprisonment?), our young girls would rather have ambitions as video vixens and models than doctors or CEOs. It is up to us, the community, churches, and the businesses to take charge…not waiting for the government, but standing up and saying “enough is enough” and be PhDo’s and not simply PhD’s as John Hope Bryant would say.

 It’s time to stop writing about it and talking about it…we’ve got to be about it and act now.

When it came to closing remarks each panelist had final words they shared.  John Hope Bryant casually asked/ encouraged Jim Clifton of Gallup Inc. if he was going to make an important announcement. With a smile Jim Clifton announced that Gallup had partnered with Operation HOPE to launch the Gallup HOPE Financial Literacy Index. Although Clifton did not speak in great length about this new index, Bryant explained that each forum attendee had information at our tables that would fill in the missing blanks about the partnership and its purpose.

So here’s what I’ve gathered and will summarize to share with you today. I’m keeping this brief remember….the index will measure a person’s (in this case children grades 5-12) “hope” coupled with assessing their well being and financial literacy with a goal to educate a minimum of five million low-income youth about financial responsibility and the endless opportunities before them. The index will survey children and adults in cities where there are Operation HOPE Centers on their financial literacy and see how throughout their time working with Operation HOPE educational representatives, their financial literacy improves.

It is believed and can be proven that with hope people believe that they can achieve both small and big, but without hope some fail to even believe in attaining the smallest of dreams. I can confidently say that I believe this index will be in a position to measure hope, wellness, and financially literacy and prove that with knowledge and wisdom hope is restored and improved, and with that comes an increased desire to positively seek change, be community change agents, and producers of products (and services) with true accumulation of wealth… legally.

Earlier in this post I mentioned payday loan centers, remember? How many of you have gone to a payday loan center?

Honestly…speak up! I have.

How many of you found yourself saying you would only do it once…then found yourself on the roller coaster from hell?

Many many years ago I did. I was young, looking for a quick solution in a hurry. I got myself caught up in a badly tangled web financially and I needed “only two weeks of breathing room to free myself” but just like crack or meth I got hooked on a roller coaster that lasted several months…until I ended the ride, came off the “high” and shook my addiction cold turkey. I was fortunate. Not everyone can shake that “fix” cold turkey.

Now you couldn’t pay me to walk into one of those centers. Matter of fact I’d probably roll my eyes even with a gun to my head. The only way I will go into one of those centers today is to help shut them down.

Had I not prayed and believed in God, and believed in myself that no matter what I was going through, being pimped by the payday loan center wasn’t helping my situation it was hurting me I don’t know what would have happened to me financially. What opened my eyes was the reality that I  had another debt I was responsible for paying…I was always deeper in debt!

 How many of you are still hooked on this “drug”? Trust me there is a way out you just have to believe. Pay off that last loan and vow to never return, then go get help so you never have to resort to that level of ignorance again. Go to www.operationhope.org and financially liberate yourself today!

John Hope Bryant’s mission is to make “smart sexy” again, to financially empower the powerless, to restore hope to those who have almost given up, to make the United States a true competitor on every level again. We can only do this if everyone who needs help is willing to do their part, and if everyone who is capable of helping is willing to invest the time to lend a hand.

This won’t work if both sides look at this relationship as charity, as giving a hand out… Hand outs are what government housing “projects” and welfare provides…we see how that has damaged our society. This is about each person reaching back and grabbing the willing hand of the next person and forming a human chain to bring our nation up and on our feet, with strong backs and limbs, and with our chests out and heads held high…with dignity, honor, self-respect, and an understanding that we each can make a difference.

Let those who can serve financially do their part, let those who serve educationally do their part, let our spiritual servers take position, and those with other gifts present them. We each have something to give.

April 7, 2010 we heard from this panel what they have been and are committed to doing to making America better. What are you committed to doing? I want to hear from you!

For more information about Operation Hope please visit: www.operationhope.org  and www.5mk.org

Copyright 2010 Natasha L. Foreman. Rights Reserved