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This Black History Month, we honor the GAME CHANGERS: Everyday heroes whose actions make life better for the people around them. SEE ALL OUR GAME CHANGERS HERE.

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John Hope BryantJohn Hope Bryant

Age: 46

Place of Residence: Los Angeles

Why he is a local hero: Bryant, founder, chair, and CEO of Operation HOPE, is working on bringing financial literacy and hope to young people across the country.

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Bryant, who was recently named chairman of President Barack Obama‘s Subcommittee on the Underserved and Community Empowerment, is working to eliminate the shame associated with poverty and financial illiteracy.

“The biggest thing to overcome in helping to get people out of poverty and to give them some measure of financial dignity, is the shame. People feel shame in not understanding money and how it works. They feel shame in having these problems,” said Bryant on his website.

Operation HOPE has worked to make financial literacy and empowerment a national issue. In a recent BusinessWeek article about Occupy Wall Street, Bryant said that while Black people are more likely to fight for issues of social justice, that sort of thinking is a mistake because the nature of the struggle has changed.

“The 21st century is about economics. Greece’s problem is not more democracy, it’s too much debt,” Bryant, the author of several books, including, “LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World.”

Civil rights is no longer the largest single issue causing the disenfranchisement of African Americans.

“Increasingly, the issue impacting Black America is not love versus hate, as was the case during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, but what I term ‘radical indifference.’ Some people just don’t care enough about us, to hate us. It really is up to us, to save us. Getting mad about it might be justified, but it is not going to change a thing. In fact, on a sustained basis, being emotional first, second, and third in our response simply makes the problem worse. We need to get on with it…..What we need now is a new solution, in a new age. What we need now is to make financial literacy, or teaching each and every one of our children the “language of money,” the new civil rights issue for the 21st century in America, Bryant wrote in the Huffington Post.

Operation HOPE is doing its part to change things. This summer, Operation HOPE will join in the White House Summer Jobs+ effort to secure 250,000 new jobs for youth this summer by securing 20 companies to provide 500 jobs.

Other initiatives at Operation Hope include the Five Million Kids initiative that seeks to bring financial literacy to 5 million low-income children. Chaired by civil rights icon Andrew Young and music legend Quincy Jones, the program looks to open 50,000 saving accounts for youth and 50,000 accounts for adults. Hope Business in a Box let’s elementary school students bring a business from idea to fruition in 60 days. There are also programs to deal with the mortgage and foreclosure crisis.

Bryant believes that Black America would be better equipped to solve some of our most vexing problems if we were financially aware. According to Bryant, African Americans should be focusing on creating small businesses and becoming entrepreneurs. It would help change the way we think.

“Being broke is a temporary economic condition, but being poor is a disabling state of mind and a depressed condition of the spirit, and we must vow to never, ever be poor again,”said Bryant. ….If I can convince you that you are valuable, wealthy, important, and you have a place in this world, and then equip you with the tools to actually understand and succeed in a market economy, then you have a real shot at sustainable success in this world — be you Black, White, Red, Brown, or Yellow and even more so if you are Black in America, as Black folks are born on probation in this country. That means we must be twice as smart, twice as aggressive, twice as assertive, twice as thoughtful and visionary, twice as hardworking, enterprising, and twice as well dressed, showing up early, and leaving late.

The way Bryant sees it, the challenges of racism and prejudice are real but African Americans have overcome something much worse, a little something called “slavery.” For our survival, it’s imperative that we learn from our mistakes. Bryant says his father was victimized by a mortgage scam, but because he is financially literate, it will not likely ever happen to him.

“As I have often said, ‘When mainstream America has a headache, Black folks have pneumonia, but we are all sick.’ If we solve jobs and the economy for Black America, then many other items of deep concern to our community, from crime to incarceration rates to health care to a range of social issues, will either get resolved or be addressed in ways they otherwise would not,” said Bryant. “If we don’t solve jobs and the economy, well then basically what we are all doing is simply “re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.” We can feel good for about 15 minutes, but we are going to be in a real state of hurt for more like 15 years or more.”

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