When John Hope Bryant was 9 years old, he knew he needed to get out of Compton. He had already lost a friend to murder and saw drug dealers kill his uncle. The only multi-story office building in his Los Angeles neighborhood was a courthouse, he recalls, and the only targets were aggressive police officers and a few teachers. Everywhere he looked, he saw dead ends.
Then something happened that changed his life. Every week for a month, a white banker in a smart suit and red tie attended Mr. Bryant’s fourth grade class to lecture on credit, debt, interest, and savings. “It was like this guy came from Mars,” he recalls by phone from his home in Atlanta. When he steeled himself to ask the speaker how he got legally rich, the man explained that he was a banker who financed entrepreneurs. “I’ve never heard that word before, but I decided that’s what I would become: an entrepreneur,” says Bryant. “That’s my way out.”
Bryant, 54, now works to offer a similar outlet to others. His nonprofit, Operation Hope, teaches financial literacy, improves credit scores and facilitates loans for people who, in his words, “have too much month for their money.” He points out that more than 70% of American workers lived paycheck to paycheck even before the pandemic, and only about six in 10 could afford a $ 400 surprise expense. “These problems are real,” he says. “Can we do something about it”.
Bryant is particularly concerned that, according to the Urban Institute, about four out of five black households, and half of all whites, have a FICO credit score below 700. “With that score, you can’t get a little company lending or buying a car or getting a decent mortgage, ”he says.
People who cannot save or invest affordably find it difficult to translate income into wealth, which is part of the reason why the racial wealth gap is not only wide, but huge: a median white family had more than 10 times the wealth of the median black family in 2016, according to the Federal Reserve. It’s no coincidence, Bryant says, that states with large low-income populations of people of color, such as Alabama and Mississippi, are particularly awash in check cashers and payday lenders. “Financial creditors are taking advantage of these people,” he says. “Basically, those who have access to capital, education, financial literacy and good role models are going to win. Those who do not stay poor. “