Quality credit scores are more important today than ever before, John Hope Bryant, a man devoted to improving this critical statistic in the nation’s low-income communities told Newsmax.TV in an interview on Thursday.
"Seventy percent of all employers today won’t hire you unless they do a credit check,” Bryant told Newsmax.TV in an interview at former President Bill Clinton’s second convening of the Clinton Global Initiative-America, this year in Chicago. Bryant is the founder, chairman, and CEO of Operation HOPE, a nonprofit group that teaches inner-city residents basic financial skills. “It is, literally, no longer the issue of do you have a criminal report; the issue is, how’s your credit report.”
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An adviser to the last three presidents, the Los Angeles native is the author of the 2009 book, “Love Leadership: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World.” Since Bryant founded Operation HOPE in 1992, the organization has helped more than 2 million people.
He also started the Silver Rights Movement, raising more than $1 billion benefiting 70 major U.S. cities, South Africa, and most recently, Haiti.
Bryant talked with Newsmax about his newest effort, “700 Credit Score Communities,” which seeks to improve the vital statistic in the nation’s low-income areas.
“You look at an underserved neighborhood — be it white, be it Latino, be it black — and you see a 500-credit-score neighborhood,” Bryant said. “If you can go from 550 to 670 — then over five years, you take that neighborhood from liquor stores to convenience stores.
“It takes a check-casher or a payday loan-lender and turns it into a credit union or a bank. You literally turn a poor neighborhood into an emerging market.”
The program also includes redefining money and the idea of “financial literacy” — a term included in legislation signed by former President George W. Bush in 2008.
“You want to put a kid to sleep, give him a traditional course in financial literacy,” Bryant said.
“We now call it ‘financial dignity.’ We think that’s more of a motive. It speaks to aspirations. It speaks to the outcome versus the input. It speaks to, frankly, what drives people’s decisions, the opportunity of life.
“You and your wife don’t want a mortgage,” Bryant continued. “But if you want to become a homeowner bad enough, you’ll look right past documents you don’t understand and say, ‘Where do I sign, and, by the way, what’s the payment?’
“In this crisis we’ve just gone through . . . middle-class folks said, not what’s the interest rate, but what’s the payment. You never ask ‘What’s the payment?’ when there’s an interest rate that’s attached.
“Well, the whole economy, the whole consumer economy of the United States was ‘paymentized.’ What’s the payment? We did the same thing with an auto loan. We didn’t want the auto loan. We want the car, but we sign up for the 21 percent, crazy auto loans.
“You have to do the same thing with financial literacy,” Bryant continued. “You’ve got to understand that people are aspirational. And, so, what we’re now doing with ‘financial dignity,’ is really about speaking to the respect and dignity of the individual.
“It’s about speaking to their aspirations, their hopes, and giving them the tools to fulfill the American Dream: to get a job, to become a job creator — to start a business, to be an entrepreneur — the CEO of their own life.”
This also is Bryant’s focus with the “HOPE Business-In-a-Box” program, started recently to engage school-age students in entrepreneurial endeavors sponsored by local businesses.
“Thirty percent of all kids today are dropping out of high school,” Bryant said. “In America, the richest country on the planet. Thirty percent of all kids.
“The 30 million kids in fourth grade through 12th grades are, in my opinion, the bench strength for the playoff game of the rest of our lives. But nobody’s focusing on them and the enormous economic energy that they have."
He added: “Last year, the Gallup-HOPE Index proved that 91 percent of all kids aren’t afraid to take risks. Seventy-seven percent of all kids want to be their own boss. Forty-four percent of all kids want to own their own businesses — and I think it’s very interesting that there’s a disconnect between those two numbers — but only 5 percent of kids have a business role model or a business internship.
“In communities that I am passionately concerned about, kids want to be – unfortunately – rap artists, athletes and drug dealers. Not because they’re dumb or they’re stupid, but they’re actually brilliant. They’re modeling what they see.
“We’ve been hijacked by ‘thug culture’ in this country,” Bryant added. “We have dumbed-down and celebrated it in the last 20 years. We have made dumb sexy. We’ve got to make smart sexy again. This is a way of making smart cool, so kids want to stay in school.”
I’m going to take this across the country. It’s $5,000 per school, so it’s doable. Every local dentist. It doesn’t need a big business. They just adopt their school and say, ‘I’m going to take back my school.’
“For $5,000 and a little shoe leather and some personal investment of time with a couple of kids [businesses] can change their community — and it becomes their legacy."
When asked how he would update his 2009 book, Bryant replied: “The book that I’d write that has resonance today, and I’m focused on it, is how can the poor save capitalism.
“Communism — and this is an Andrew Young quote: ‘Communism failed because it could not create a middle class.’
“Capitalism succeeded because it did, but capitalism has since tripped and fallen because it has not made itself relevant to the poor, to the working class and the least of these God’s children.
“Every source of wealth in the world, except that which has been gained through military power and war and government has come through poor people.
“Wal-Mart serves the least of these God’s children,” Bryant continued. “It’s the largest retailer in the world. It was decent and respectable free enterprise and capitalism. Everybody won.
“So, I think, the focus on building wealth and not just getting rich — we’ve got to create something that actually has wheels on it that can run. We have to create something that actually has value — that actually creates jobs, that’s sustainable, that — oh my god — serves a customer.
“America’s a great country, man. I love her, but we got to get out of our own way.”
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