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February 07 2013

Workshop Focuses on ‘Silver Rights’ for Blacks

Originally published in The Atlanta Voice.

By Kalin Thomas 

ATLANTA – Operation HOPE, Inc. (HOPE) held its annual Global Financial Dignity Summit in Atlanta for the first time this week with the theme: “Community, Character and Responsible Capitalism.”

The leading nonprofit dedicated to financial literacy and economic empowerment is celebrating its 20th anniversary of reaching more than one million people in the United States, South Africa and Haiti.

“We are here today to frame the issue for global financial dignity and financial literacy as a core ingredient for mid- to long-term economic recovery and stability,” said HOPE founder and CEO John Hope Bryant at the summit’s opening day on Thursday.

Bryant believes that it’s time for black America and the world to move from civil rights to “silver rights.”

“At the core of our ‘silver rights’ mission to make free enterprise and capitalism relevant to the underserved, we believe every individual should have a fundamental understanding of the language of money, and access to banking. We need all boats to rise, and not just yachts,” said Bryant.

The summit attracted a diverse group of VIP’s, including:  Former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young; Rush Communications CEO Russell Simmons; Cassius Butts of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA); Don Graves, Executive Director of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, and U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

Speaking at a session on Thursday, Bernanke discussed the impact of the housing crisis on minorities.

“The growth made by minority communities in home ownership has been reversed by the crash in the housing market.  Minorities were hit the hardest,” said Bernanke.

Graves spoke at the opening reception and panel at the Atlanta Airport Marriott Gateway on Wednesday night, where Ambassador Andrew Young moderated a panel discussion on “The Future of Global Jobs:  The Local Atlanta Economic Miracle.”

“Financial dignity is the first key piece for an individual or family to take advantage of the opportunities we have in the United States – otherwise they’re not going to be an active participant in the U.S. economy,” said Graves.

“This summit is having discussions about ways we build our economy through education, supporting small businesses and building partnerships between the business, academic and political communities.  Government helps get this started, but then we get out of the way,” he added.

“When you talk about job creation, you must know that 99.7 percent of jobs are created by small businesses,” said Butts.

“That’s why the president elevated the SBA to the cabinet level because we have given small businesses close to four billion dollars in loans. This is the time to start your own business, and we want the public to know that we offer free counseling and workshops to help them do that,” he added.

The two-day event started Wednesday with a community block party & grand opening of HOPE’s new offices in the Martin Luther King, Sr. Community Resource Center at Ebenezer Baptist Church.

“We are continuing the legacy that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. started with the Poor People’s Campaign,” said James “Jay” Bailey, CEO of HOPE Atlanta. “Already we’ve taught financial literacy to 140,000 kids at 129 schools across the country.  And we’re teaching adults about financial literacy, home ownership and entrepreneurship.”

He added, “One of our main goals is to increase credit scores to 700.   Right now many black communities have check cashing places, liquor stores and predatory economic businesses because the community has a 550 average credit score.  Raising that to 700 will change everything.”

Bailey adds that this will give people more dignity where they can hold their heads up high when they want to open a bank account, or get a loan from a bank.

At the Financial Dignity Forum at Ebenezer Baptist Church on Wednesday, Ambassador Andrew Young moderated a panel that focused on the importance of people in poverty getting back their dignity.

Panelists included: SCLC President Rev. C.T. Vivian, Elder Bernice King, NAACP president and CEO Ben Jealous and Ebenezer senior pastor, Rev. Raphael Warnock.

Warnock talked about how blacks in previous generations kept their dignity through adversity, and included the story of Osceola McCarty – a Mississippi “washer woman” who managed to save $150,000 and donate it to the University of Southern Mississippi.

Bailey concluded, “Dignity is about empowerment – making stakeholders in the community.”