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August 14 2014

Missouri's Unrest Stirs Echoes of the Rodney King Riots 23 Years Later

Missouri’s Unrest Stirs Echoes of the Rodney King Riots 23 Year Later

The Chairman of Operation HOPE mourns with America the death of Michael Brown shot on August 10, 2014 and the ensuing unrest and chaos seen so vividly all over the world.  

As a witness to the riots sparked by the Rodney King beating some 23 years ago, the events in Ferguson strike a similarly unique chord. 

Back then, I was a young man myself raised in economic circumstances not dissimilar to the one playing out in Ferguson where the unemployment rate for young black men is nearly four times the national average.  

It is no surprise then that the tensions between those with hope and those devoid of it, are rising to a horrible level, where a young black man can be gunned down in the middle of the day, his body to lay in the street for hours.  

But today, as then, I am not driven by blind rage.  I am driven by a determination to change the very chemistry of this volatile brew of anger, recrimination, and recoil.  I am a believer in the simple premise that rainbows only come after storms, and I see a shining light of opportunity emerging from this dark night of tragedy and tears. 

That is why, in 1992 in the wake of the Rodney King Riots, I founded Operation HOPE -- to replace hate with hope, and fear with faith in a brighter tomorrow.  The path I chose then was one based on the power of capitalism to change lives, a path that seeks to take advantage of this great engine of democracy and independence called free enterprise.

Since I founded Operation HOPE, we have empowered more than 2 million individuals, directed more than $1.5 billion in private capital to America's financially ill-equipped, and recruited a growing army of 20,000 HOPE Corps volunteers to bring financial dignity and hope to the underserved.

So today, I offer a message of hope to the people of Ferguson, Missouri and a memo of financial empowerment and economic freedom.  This memo was drafted 150 years ago, when President Lincoln created the Freedman's Bureau and with it the Freedman's Bank, as a means of bringing former slaves into the American system of power, which all revolves around money in this nation.  That memo went undelivered and unfulfilled after Lincoln was assassinated two weeks later.  One hundred years later, Dr. King too sought to deliver the memo, when he spoke of the promissory note which is embedded in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.  But, tragically, Dr. King too was assassinated two weeks before his first Poor People's Campaign.

The savagery of slavery and the stain of segregation must be battled diligently, everywhere.  With workable solutions, not mere rhetoric.  That's what Operation HOPE embodies: a plan to empower the financially ill-equipped in America -- roughly half of all Americans -- to participate in the only system we have -- capitalism, with the only language of success, namely the language of money.

Let's not despair today.  Let's resolve to erase the impediments to equal economic opportunity, and strife will subside, tears will dry, and a clearer morning of hope will break through the clouds of animosity and rage.  Now is the time to begin again.

--- John Hope Bryant, Founder, Chairman and CEO Operation HOPE