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July 10 2014

John Hope Bryant: Free Enterprise and Capitalism Can Lift All Americans

Entrepreneur, philanthropist and author appears at book signing sponsored by Regions and Protective Life to discuss How the Poor Can Save Capitalism.

JULY 10, 2014 - John Hope Bryant brought his book tour to Birmingham, Ala., to explain his motivation for writing the best-selling book, How the Poor Can Save Capitalism.

That motivation? Guilt.

“I wrote this book because I thought I failed,” Bryant said.

The solution, he said before a capacity Birmingham audience, is outlined in his new book. A successful entrepreneur, author and philanthropist, the founder, chairman and CEO of Operation Hope first found success at age 10, selling candy to classmates heading to school. As he built on his successes, however, Bryant said America’s middle and economic lower classes struggled.

“We’ve tried everything else,” Bryant said. “We’ve never tried free enterprise and capitalism to lift people up.”

Bryant’s philanthropic focus is on making financial education available to everyone. 

He also believes a key to changing attitudes is providing better role models. As a child, his parents were his role models, and he wanted to be a businessman like his dad. 

As an elementary school student, he attended a financial education class taught by a “banker in a blue suit, red tie and white shirt” who also served as a role model.

Mayor William Bell, Grayson Hall, John Hope Bryant, John D. Johns, Rick SwaglerUnfortunately, Bryant said, role models today are in short supply. For instance, to many in lower income neighborhoods, the only role models are “athletes, rappers and drug dealers.” That must change, Bryant said.

At a July 9 book signing hosted by Regions, Protective Life and Birmingham Mayor William Bell at Protective Life headquarters, Bryant provided a glimpse into his background, his motivation and his intentions in a question-and-answer session.

Bryant said the American economy — one spurred by everyday transactions in neighborhoods across the nation, not by big business or government — still remains full of untapped potential, provided all Americans have access to financial education and opportunity.

“We need a million start-ups a year to get the economy growing,” Bryant said. “I believe we can spike a new resurgence of American growth.”

Bryant added, “We’re all in this mess together. Your competition isn’t the white guy or the black guy next to you. It’s China and Europe and Africa.”

Bryant was in Birmingham in January to announce his teaming with Regions for the launch of Hope Inside, Birmingham, an innovative strategy that is part of a national campaign to bring financial empowerment and financial dignity to locations already frequented, such as banks and grocery stories. Hope Inside, Birmingham is located at Regions’ Five Points South location, a bustling residential and commercial neighborhood near the city center.

Grayson Hall, Regions chairman, president and CEO, introduced Bryant Wednesday. He explained Regions’ role for partnering with Bryant and Hope Inside.

“What John is trying to do is remarkable in this community,” Hall said. “For our community to succeed, we have to succeed as a team.” Noting Birmingham’s potential, Hall said that Bryant’s new book “is a testament to how powerful helping people help themselves can be.”

John D. Johns, CEO of Protective Life, said meeting Bryant had changed his perspective of the challenges facing Birmingham and cities across the nation. Where he once saw blight, he now saw hope.

“His life quest is to figure out how to bring everyone into the mainstream and move the country forward,” Johns said.

Bryant’s stop in Birmingham was part of a nationwide tour. Just the day before, he spoke at the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank. While preparing for his appearance in Birmingham, he realized he had run out of clean dress shirts. A quick visit to a store inside the Westin Hotel, where he was staying, solved the problem. But as Bryant offered to pay, he was told by the clerk that the shirt was a gift in return for his appearance in Birmingham.

“That wouldn’t happen in New York City,” Bryant said. “That hospitality is embedded in your city and culture.”

(Pictured: Mayor William Bell, Grayson Hall, John Hope Bryant, John D. Johns, Rick Swagler)