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Operation HOPE Educates Community on Money Management

New Partnership with SunTrust Bank Brings Needed Services to D.C.

D. Kevin McNeir | 8/6/2014, 3 p.m.
Hundreds gathered at a local bank branch in Northwest last Wednesday to hear about a unique partnership between a financial ...
John Hope Bryant, founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE, announced a new partnership on July 30 with SunTrust Bank that will provide free financial literacy education to communities throughout the District. (Courtesy of Operation HOPE)

The need for greater financial literacy has become apparent, particularly in these days where outsourcing, layoffs and bankruptcies have become more commonplace.

Perhaps that’s why hundreds gathered at a local bank branch in Northwest last Wednesday to hear about a unique partnership between a financial institution and one of the nation’s most successful nonprofit organizations. The program, HOPE Inside, offers a host of financial services that according to Operation HOPE founder, chairman and CEO, John Hope Bryant, seek to make individuals feel greater self-esteem.

“What we’re doing is not so much about providing education and assistance as it relates to financial management as it is about finishing the work that was started by President Abraham Lincoln when he set up the Freedman’s Bank in 1865,” said Bryant, who started his nonprofit company, Operation HOPE, in 1992 in Los Angeles shortly after riots broke out in the city. “Lincoln knew that freed slaves needed help learning about capitalism and tapping into the system of free enterprise after centuries of dependent bondage. That’s what this program aims to accomplish,” said Bryant, 48.

During the announcement on July 30, Bryant shared complimentary copies of his new book, “How the Poor Can Save Capitalism,” and said financial literary remains part of an untapped but needed resource for many Americans, particularly blacks.

“When Andrew Young, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others took up the Poor People’s Campaign [December 1967] 100 years after Lincoln’s failed efforts, their goal was to show those in poverty how the [financial] system works – blacks never got the memo,” said Bryant, a native of Los Angeles, California who dealt with homelessness during his teen years. “We’re going to grow HOPE Inside locations in rapid pace and plan to have 1,000 nationwide in banks like SunTrust by the year 2020. We’ll have another 2,000 in schools.”

The two newest D.C. locations, in Northwest and Southeast [Anacostia] both offer services on properties adjacent to SunTrust branches. The bank becomes one of only a handful of financial institutions that have chosen to leverage their branch network in support of financial literacy.

“We’ve partnered with John in other programs and so combining efforts and staff members for this new initiative was an easy decision for us to make,” said Scott Wilfong, chairman, president and CEO of the Greater Washington and Maryland Region, SunTrust Bank. “Financial literacy training, learning the rubrics on how to become a successful entrepreneur, credit management and how to purchase a home are skills that we know are needed in many communities. But with the right tools, anyone can move up the economic ladder and become self-sufficient. It starts one person at a time,” said Wilfong, 64.

Bryant said that with greater financial literacy, he hopes to shutter liquor stores, check cashing businesses and pay day loan companies that exist in black communities and replace them with convenience shops and other cash making enterprises.

“We have to create a new norm in black and poor neighborhoods,” Bryant said. “Blacks have allowed themselves to be hijacked by today’s culture and environment so that dumb has become the new sexy. But with a bit of financial education, we can change that.”

Wilfong said partnering with programs like Operation HOPE make sense because everyone wins.

One man from Southeast took advantage of the services provided by Bryant’s nonprofit and found great success.

“I wanted to become a homeowner and got needed lessons on mortgages and what to expect as a first-time home buyer,” said Warren Gilchrist, who shared his story during the HOPE Inside event. “I’m still connected with and close to my mentor who works for Operation HOPE and have become both a participant of and advocate for the work that Mr. Bryant and his organization do.”

Gilchrist added more to his testimonial.

“It may be hard to believe, but I first heard about their efforts while shooting hoops with some friends and I have to admit, I’m very glad I listened,” said Gilchrist, 26, who closed on his home in Bowie, Maryland, on April 29 and recently became engaged.