The Memo

Five Rules for Your Economic Liberation

John Bryant (Author)

Publication date: 09/18/2017

The Memo
True power in this world comes from economic independence, but too many people have too much month left at the end of their money. John Hope Bryant, founder and CEO of Operation HOPE, illuminates the path toward liberation that is hiding in plain sight. His message is simple: the supermajority of people who live in poverty, whom Bryant calls the invisible class, as well as millions in the struggling middle class, haven't gotten “the memo”—until now.

Building on his personal experience of rising up from economically disadvantaged circumstances and his work with Operation HOPE, Bryant teaches readers five rules that lay the foundation for achieving financial freedom. He emphasizes the inseparable connection between “inner capital” (mindset, relationships, knowledge, and spirit) and “outer capital” (financial wealth and property). “If you have inner capital,” Bryant writes, “you can never be truly poor. If you lack inner capital, all the money in the world cannot set you free.”

Bryant gives readers tools for empowerment by covering everything from achieving basic financial literacy to investing in positive relationships and approaching wealth with a completely new attitude. He makes this bold and controversial claim: “Once you have satisfied your basic sustenance needs—food, water, health, and a roof over your head—poverty has more to do with your head than your wallet.”

Bryant wants to restore readers' “silver rights,” giving them the ability to succeed and prosper no matter what very real roadblocks society puts in their way. We have more power than we realize, if only we can recognize and claim it. “We are our first capital,” Bryant writes. “We are the CEOs of our own lives.”

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Overview

True power in this world comes from economic independence, but too many people have too much month left at the end of their money. John Hope Bryant, founder and CEO of Operation HOPE, illuminates the path toward liberation that is hiding in plain sight. His message is simple: the supermajority of people who live in poverty, whom Bryant calls the invisible class, as well as millions in the struggling middle class, haven't gotten “the memo”—until now.

Building on his personal experience of rising up from economically disadvantaged circumstances and his work with Operation HOPE, Bryant teaches readers five rules that lay the foundation for achieving financial freedom. He emphasizes the inseparable connection between “inner capital” (mindset, relationships, knowledge, and spirit) and “outer capital” (financial wealth and property). “If you have inner capital,” Bryant writes, “you can never be truly poor. If you lack inner capital, all the money in the world cannot set you free.”

Bryant gives readers tools for empowerment by covering everything from achieving basic financial literacy to investing in positive relationships and approaching wealth with a completely new attitude. He makes this bold and controversial claim: “Once you have satisfied your basic sustenance needs—food, water, health, and a roof over your head—poverty has more to do with your head than your wallet.”

Bryant wants to restore readers' “silver rights,” giving them the ability to succeed and prosper no matter what very real roadblocks society puts in their way. We have more power than we realize, if only we can recognize and claim it. “We are our first capital,” Bryant writes. “We are the CEOs of our own lives.”

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Meet the Author


Visit Author Page - John Bryant

John Hope Bryant is an entrepreneur, author, advisor, and one of the nation’s most recognized empowerment leaders. He is the founder, chairman, and CEO of Operation HOPE and Bryant Group Companies, and, as the author of Love Leadership: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey– Bass, 2009), is the only African-American best-selling business author in America. Mr. Bryant serves for President Barack Obama as chairman of the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability, Subcommittee on the Underserved and Community Empowerment.

Mr. Bryant is the cofounder of the Gallup– HOPE Index, the only national research poll on youth financial dignity and youth economic energy in the United States. He also is a cofounder of Global Dignity, with Crown Prince Haakon of Norway and Professor Pekka Himanen of Finland. Global Dignity is affiliated with the Forum of Young Global Leaders and the World Economic Forum.

Mr. Bryant is a thought leader represented by the Bright- Sight Group for public speaking and serves on the board of directors of Ares Commercial Real Estate Corporation (NYSE: ACRE), a specialty finance company managed by an affiliate of Ares Management LLC, a global alternative asset manager with approximately $59 billion in committed capital under management as of December 31, 2012.

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Excerpt

The Memo

RULE 1

We Live in a Free-Enterprise System—Embrace It

Money runs the world from the moment you wake up until the moment you hit your pillow and head to sleep. Actually, money is even intersecting every aspect of your life while you sleep!

I am talking about YOUR life, not some random person you don’t know and cannot relate to. I am not talking about a city’s economics, or a company’s balance sheet or revenue, or a country’s identity, brand, or GDP. I am talking about YOU.

So, you doubt me? Okay, that’s understandable. Check this out:

You woke up this morning at 6 a.m., 7 a.m., 8 a.m., or whatever. What precisely woke you up? An alarm clock, or an alarm setting on your mobile phone or smartphone? That’s money, folks. (It’s actually more than that. It’s entrepreneur-ship, which I address in Rule 4 in the book.) You or someone who loves you spent hard-fought-for cash money for that alarm clock or phone. No one got it for free.

You pulled back the sheets someone purchased and rolled out of the bed that someone purchased and put your feet on the ground of a house or an apartment that someone is paying for (even in most public housing the tenants pay a portion of the rent out of their own pockets).

You put on the slippers you or someone paid for, and walked into your bathroom to brush your teeth—with toothpaste and a toothbrush that someone paid for.

You washed up with soap and dried yourself with towels that someone paid for.

You then walked to the refrigerator that someone bought, and nourished yourself with food that someone purchased, probably that same week.

As you walked out the door, you turned off the lights and other utilities that you or someone else is paying the bill for.

You plopped yourself into a car that you pay for, probably on a monthly basis.

You started the car up, and within fifteen minutes you glanced at the gas gauge. If it was low, you pulled into a gas station, and you paid for that gas in real time.

You dropped your children off at day care on the way to work, and while the ladies there are super nice and kind, for sure they are not keeping your crazed-with-energy kids just for the hell of it. You are paying these hardworking people to put up with them. (Smile. I am sure your kids are just angels.)

Late for work after dropping your kids off at day care, you got pulled over for driving too fast on the street, or maybe you got a ticket on the freeway for driving in the carpool lane because it was only you and the blow-up dummy in the car that morning.

The police officer, who could not have been more polite in this instance, did not want an excuse. He did not want an apology. He did not want to hear your sob story or promises for redemption. He wanted your money for your city’s coffers, and so he wrote you a ticket. And you didn’t get mad, you just paid it—unless of course the radar was lying (smile).

You stressed yourself out to get to work before starting time—let’s say 8:30 a.m.—not because you absolutely love punctuality but because you value your job. A job that hopefully you love, or at least enjoy and find fulfilling, but let’s face it: It is a job that provides you with a paycheck. You are getting paid to be there, which is at least part of the reason you are there.

And even if you did love your job and would be willing to do it for free if you could afford to do so, you probably wouldn’t break your hypothetical neck to get there before 8:30 every morning.

Given a choice and complete economic freedom, you would probably stroll in at whatever time you liked to that job. And this is precisely why my lovely retired mother, who worked hard her entire life to raise her children, build her own nest egg, and take care of her responsibilities, now has a business card that lists her full name—and nothing else.

My mother has no interest whatsoever in being reached by anyone whom she does not fancy now that she can afford to fancy whomever she chooses. Money got my mother to work on time every day for thirty-plus years, and money allows my mother to get up at any time she likes now. She has an 850 credit score, by the way.

So, your being there at work on time every morning (at least I hope this is the case) is all about money. Your money! And there’s also this: someone values you enough to pay you to be there.

Is the light bulb going on yet for you?

As my best friend, Rod McGrew, once told me, “Even the parking meter that you stopped your car in front of on your way home to pick up some food for dinner has figured out capitalism.”

All it does is sit there every day, collecting consistent and impressive passive income from you and everyone else who wants to sit before it on an hourly basis. Every day.

And don’t get mad at the parking meter, either. The income it generates allows the city you live in to collect enough money to pay for public services for you and your city.

Take my friend, St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones, who used parking meter fee income to fund financial education for the residents of her city. She even partnered with Operation HOPE and five local banks in town (that benefit from city deposits in their bank vaults) to form and launch the first-ever HOPE Inside location at St. Louis City Hall, where it proudly operates to this very day. All of this was done at no direct cost to city residents, thanks to Tishaura’s brilliant thinking. (And by the way, the financial literacy, homeownership, small business, and entrepreneurship classes are all FULL. I just love this, and you should too.)

And now back to an average day in the life of YOU:

You head home after grabbing dinner, which was also paid for with someone’s cash, and you and the family sit down at the dinner table, using plates, utensils, even napkins and paper towels that you or someone who loves you paid for. After dinner, maybe you sit down to watch the big-screen television that someone definitely paid for.

And so on, and so on, and so on.

This routine continues until you go to bed with the things and services that occupy every aspect and moment of your life involving money. Even when you are sound asleep, (your) money is at work.

And then, like magic, the entire routine begins again. When you wake up six to eight hours later, it all repeats itself. Just like Groundhog Day.

But most of us never notice any of this. We go through the motions, never noticing the elephant in the living room of our lives. Money.

But where did all of this start? We were born brilliant, correct? So how did we take a turn so wrong—not only down the wrong street but on the wrong expressway, heading in the wrong direction, to the wrong city.

The answer is: we never got the Memo.

Here I Go Again: Why I Love Credit Scores

If you never got the Memo and are a card-carrying member of the Invisible Class, I can predict some basic things about your economic situation. First, your personal finances aren’t together—maybe a few of the bills on your kitchen table have red “past due” stamps on them. More importantly, you don’t know (or want to know) your credit score. Second, your family finances probably aren’t overflowing with hope. You don’t own, you rent, and you’re not putting away money for your kids’ educations. And, in all likelihood, your business plans are nonexistent. You don’t see yourself ever running a business, and you couldn’t get a business loan even if you’d just invented the best thing since the Ginsu knife.

In short, you are going in the wrong direction down at least one of the three basic paths to financial independence.

Let’s start at the beginning. The beginnings of financial literacy come from understanding how our purchases and debts contribute to an invisible (for the Invisible Class) number that determines our economic destiny: the credit score.

A large and growing portion of employers (more than 40 percent at the time of this writing) require a credit check before they will hire you. That means that no matter how smart or qualified you may be—or how brilliant your now-college-educated-child may in fact be—if your or their credit reports stink, you can pretty much forget about getting hired.

But there is hope. This is a challenge that you can do something about. Take one of our clients at HOPE Inside Ebenezer (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s home church in Atlanta), Ms. Eboni Brown.

Here is Eboni’s story in her own words:

I applied to participate in the 700 Credit Score Community after having been denied my dream job. The reason behind that denial was my credit score. It was too low, and I had too many items in collection.

Doubtful that I would get accepted (because my score was so far from 700), I was overwhelmed with joy and so excited when I received the email saying that I had been accepted into the program. This was the opportunity I needed to receive guidance and motivation as well as a game plan to get my overwhelming debt and falling credit score under control.

After attending the first session, I was elated to see that I was not the only person having debt issues, and that I would be in a cohort of like-minded individuals ready to get their finances in order.

During my tenure in the 700 Credit Score Community, I learned several things. The first, and I believe most important, was that you can’t change your credit score overnight. It takes time and patience and the practice of one day at a time.

I learned also to evaluate my lifestyle. I needed to determine the root of the problem. Was I living a caviar and champagne life with a Wendy’s and Coca-Cola budget? Was it the mistakes I made in my young adult life that were now catching up to me? Did I just not make enough money?

In all honesty, it was a combination of all of the above.

So, based on the principles I learned in the class, I began to budget my money and live within my means. I put aside the thought that I would never become debt-free and have a great score and filled my mind with more positive thoughts.

After adjusting to my new lifestyle and mind-set, I was very anxious to report to my coach all the things that I had put into place and to receive her feedback. During that session, I learned that the work I had done within a three-month time frame had increased my score 52 points. To date, I have increased my score 78 points.

I continue to apply the concepts I learned from the program, and I look forward to learning more. I am excited to cross the finish line and attain a 700-plus credit score. All things are possible!

A credit check is not necessarily a character check, but it amounts to the same thing in this world we live in today. Eboni chose not to argue with reality but rather to change it. She decided to win.

If you want to start a new business or buy a home, the financing you seek will most likely pivot heavily off your personal credit history. I know this firsthand.

As an entrepreneur with 1,001 ideas coming up in my teenage years, I used to have credit that stunk. I’m talking 500-credit-score range. When I was eighteen years old, I was homeless for six months in Los Angeles, California. Things got so bad and the stress and the harassing calls from creditors so intense that I even considered filing for personal bankruptcy. I’m glad I didn’t, but nothing was easy during this period.

I remember signing an auto finance contract to pay more than 18 percent interest to buy a car during that period. I pay 1.99 percent for a car loan today.

I signed up for a time bomb—I mean, a new credit card—that charged me 23 percent interest annually. Of course, it was marketed to me as “free money,” and made total sense in my head. Until I had to pay it all back.

I could have easily filed for bankruptcy, and I don’t judge others who believe they must, but I knew that I had gotten myself into this mess and I needed to take responsibility and get myself out of it.

No one forced me to take on all those loans or to sign those contracts (which I did not read, even though I was encouraged to). I did that. I didn’t need help screwing up my financial life. I did a brilliant job of that all by myself.

My mentor, former UN Ambassador Andrew Young, says that “men fail for three reasons: arrogance, pride, and greed.” I wasn’t full of greed, but I was guilty of being full of pride. Pride kills. I needed to get over it—and get over myself.

On a related note, African Americans are the celebrated and targeted kings and queens of spending needless money, racking up more than $1 trillion in annual payouts, with almost nothing tangible to show for it.

Air Jordan tennis shoes and jeweled cell phone cases don’t count. Cars don’t count either—as they start depreciating the moment they drive off the lot.

In short, we don’t own a THING.

It always kills me when professional athletes take out $4 million in loans to buy stuff, and then when their lives fall apart and they can’t pay, now the bank is “racist” and “oppressing” them. Huh? What?

We weren’t saying any of this stuff about being oppressed when we were all set to take out these ridiculous loans and credit agreements. And, no doubt, there would have been huge claims of bias and discrimination if we were denied the loans in question in the first place.

No, nine times out of ten, there is no funny business going on. We just got hoodwinked. Robbed in broad daylight. And now we’re mad.

Well, while we are busy being mad and throwing up the Black Power sign or whatever, the lender just wants their money back. And unless we can prove fraud or misrepresentation, we just need to pay them. Or just say that we can’t. That simple.

Losing at the roulette tables in Las Vegas does not rise to the occasion of a Dr. King writing the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” No need to call the NAACP. They have better things to do than to waste time with someone on stupid stuff. We just need to deal with our drama. I dealt with mine.

I knew that my name was all that I had. It was my principal and primary asset. I had to protect my good name even if it hurt my pocket and my pride in the short term. I knew that my name (and my financial record) would be my signature and my calling card for the rest of my life, and I had dreams to achieve. It was time to get busy.

My credit score was once just above 500 (really bad, by the way). My credit score today is around 750. The quality of my life changed significantly when I got it above 660. Everything changed. My self-esteem, my self-confidence, and my sense of well-being, it all changed. My options expanded, and my dream making got easier.

To my personal surprise, my decision making also got better.

Like almost all important things in life, this was really about my own growth. This growth was simply reflected in the state of my personal credit profile and credit score. Likewise, within my own community, I believe that when our well-known reputation of our Black Consumerism is replaced by a sustained legacy of Black Wealth Accumulation—starting with raising our credit scores—we will not only see a community that has choices, a high degree of well-being, family stability, and increasing self-esteem, we will see a race that has begun to turn itself around.

Changing one’s credit score isn’t some game tied to “the man” trying to keep you down or “the system” oppressing you. The system didn’t buy that now-broken-down television set on torn-up credit from the rent-to-own store. Knowing this is a part of getting the Memo.

Boom.

Operation HOPE Gets in the Credit-Score Game

Several years ago, Lance Triggs, one of my chief lieutenants in our silver rights movement and a dear friend who also runs a division of Operation HOPE, began experimenting with positively impacting credit scores for our adult clients. The results were stunning (to us) and liberating (to them). (Silver rights is about empowerment: How we transition beyond giving a fish and teaching how to fish to owning the boat—and the pond—itself. It is about making more money but also about making smarter financial decisions with the money we have.)

Lance and his group at Operation HOPE had consistently moved credit scores up an average of 120 points for our clients over a twenty-four-month period. The interesting thing is that in the process of raising their credit scores, they (unknowingly) accomplished so much more for the clients:

  • Financial literacy and financial IQ improved.
  • Confidence, personal well-being, and even self-esteem improved.
  • Clients’ options expanded and deepened, and their decision making became radically different. Even choices about who they wanted to be with as mates changed!
  • They stopped stressing out about their lives almost overnight.
  • They stopped reacting to whatever happened to them, and they began responding.
  • They stopped making emotional decisions.
  • They stopped settling and started dreaming again.
  • They stopped being victims and began the process of taking their lives back.

In short, they began to regain control over their internal life compasses. As my friend Bill George would say, they regained their “true north.” This is part and parcel of getting the Memo.

The number one cause of heart attacks, says the American Heart Association, is stress, and the number one cause of stress, ladies and gentlemen, is money. It is all connected. A major cause of divorce is money, too. And the number one reason why black and brown kids drop out of college is not academics, it’s money.

Lance and our team also helped our clients build alternative credit files, often called “thick credit files,” that include copies of rent statements, telephone and utility bills, insurance statements, and other legitimate forms of credit that do not show up on a traditional credit report.

When we combined our alternative credit profile work with our growing expertise to help clients lift their credit scores through traditional means, and with other powerful financial empowerment tools such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC; if you make less than $50,000 a year income, you probably qualify for an EITC. Look into it!), we began to see lives change right before our eyes.

A military veteran came into one of our HOPE Inside locations in Southern California. He had been living in a homeless shelter where we were providing free financial literacy education classes. The volunteer HOPE Corps bankers whom we asked to join us for the teaching session didn’t know what to expect at first. They questioned whether they were wasting their time, but my team knew it would be a customer business development opportunity for the banks—the bankers would be doing good and creating sustainable new customers at the same time!

The homeless shelter where the man temporarily lived required its clients to do three things: work, attend a financial literacy class from HOPE, and save 80 percent of their income. This gentleman was doing it all. He worked, attended classes, and he quietly saved.

A few months after our first financial literacy outing at the shelter, the same gentleman told my team he was ready to come in and open a bank account. He walked into the branch and stunned everyone when he opened a bank account valued at $50,000 cash. Boom.

Like most people, this man didn’t want a hand out, he wanted a hand up. He just needed someone to believe in him. He needed someone to give him the Memo. We gave him the Memo and a hand up, but he surely met us more than halfway.

When you live in an economic age as we do, the issues of the day are not so much race but class. It could be argued that the important color today is not white, black, red, brown, or yellow, but green—as in the color of US currency.

In an economic world, a 700 credit score will not guarantee justice, but it can change your life. And I am not just talking about what you can buy; I’m talking about how you feel about yourself and your future. True wealth is all about how you feel about yourself.

The twenty-first-century definition of freedom is self-determination. You can change your life, starting right now. This is part of getting the Memo.

Now Buy a Home

The Memo on home ownership in America is fairly simple—it’s the tax code. The tax code in America clearly benefits the homeowner. If you own your own home, you get mortgage deductions that are worth their weight in gold. If you’ve done your homework and built up your credit score, the US government will gladly help you pay for that house.

Mortgage tax deductions combined with regular home value appreciation clearly establish a home purchase as your single best hedge against poverty if you are middle class or below.

In other words, if you are a member of the Invisible Class, becoming a homeowner is the single best way to become “seen” in the US system of free enterprise. In one move, you become a stakeholder, a taxpayer, an engaged citizen, and more than likely you will now vote.

In the first years of owning your new home, almost 100 percent of your mortgage payments are tax deductible against your income. That means that in addition to the benefit of home ownership, you get some of your annual income back through the mortgage deduction.

Something like 65 percent of American citizens own a home today, but, unfortunately, many minority groups—charter members of the Invisible Class—have wrongly been told that they should not own a home. This is patently wrong. It is really bad advice for the working poor in this country, and possibly anywhere else.

If you want to send your kids to college, your best chance of doing so is drawing equity from your home in twenty years when your children are ready to go to college.

If you want to start a business or come up with down payments for your children to get on the right path by buying their own homes, then the single best chance of accomplishing this for most people is pulling accumulated equity from their homes.

Now, could this experiment of home ownership end badly? Could you end up owing more money than the home is worth? Yes, that is possible, but it is also possible that you will be dead broke in thirty years after a lifetime of work because you chose to take no risk at all. To quote Chelsea Clinton, “I would rather get caught trying to do good.”

The bottom line is, if you choose to rent, you will spend X dollars per month paying off someone else’s mortgage—which may be completely fine with you, by the way. Just understand what you are doing. As my friend Rod McGrew would say, “Fair exchange is no robbery.”

As for me, I have no interest in freely handing over to some investor I don’t know $25,000 (or an average of $2,000 in monthly rent for the typical middle-class family) or as much as $50,000 (an average annual rent in Manhattan and in other high-rent districts) of my hard-earned money so they can build equity in their real estate portfolios. For me, renting a house or apartment when I can afford to own is like opening a window and just throwing buckets of money out of it.

But it’s all good if you read this and still want to rent a place to live. People like me who own single-family residential and multifamily rental real estate need for you, and a lot more like you, to keep on renting. I just want to unpack the system for you so you can decide.

In this world, you must decide whether you want to be the one writing checks or cashing checks. An investor or a consumer. A builder or an employee. Both are good and both are necessary, but there is a mind-set difference, and it is a decision for you to make.

Homeownership works because the government made a public policy decision that it was good for America, and then folks got the Memo, so to speak. But homeownership is also as old as America itself. While mortgage interest as it relates to single family homes is relatively recent in American history, homeownership in the form of farms in the agrarian age IS America.

In fact, the ownership of private property, land, and farms is what drove these first Americans to become interested in public policy and politics. Said another way, ownership of private property was a primary reason for engagement in politics and public property.

Homeownership today is in many ways the poor person's hedge fund. Over the long arc of our history, it has been one of the best ways for the average family to both protect themselves against income erosion and to begin to build wealth.

Homeownership is part of getting the Memo.

Looking back to my years growing up in Compton, I remember one neighborhood friend and his family. My childhood friends from the Gutierrez family were lucky, as were their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Gutierrez, who immigrated from Mexico. Based on the success they witnessed growing up in Compton, my friends knew that there was a way out of the poverty we all experienced.

I remember that they owned their own home, and everyone from the family—a big family—stayed there. They worked together. They played together. They created an effective family ecosystem based on their own agreed-upon rules for aspiration and success. The rules for them were simple and straightforward: keep your nose clean; stay out of trouble; get your education; find a job (specifically, don’t have a baby before you have a wife or a husband AND A JOB); save; invest; buy a home; double down on work; and, most of all, hustle.

They had their own Family Memo, and they passed it around from family member to family member until each one got it. All my friends from that family found successful paths forward, and there is no doubt in my mind that Mr. and Mrs. Gutierrez are proud of how they turned out.

But then there were other kids in the neighborhood whose families were not nearly as well put together. In fact, their families were a mess. They were renters, not owners. But, worst of all, most of the parents didn’t have a Family Memo—or even realize they needed one.

Now Go Build Something

When I was coming up in Compton, California, a banker came into my classroom and taught a course in financial literacy. I remember it like it was yesterday. The entire world opened up to me when this man taught me and my classmates about what I now call the global language of money.

He wore a blue suit, a white shirt, and a red tie. I remember that it was a good suit! He happened to be Caucasian, but that didn’t matter to me. He might as well have been green as far as I was concerned (as in the color of US currency).

I remember asking him, “Sir, what do you do for a living and how did you get rich—legally?” And I was dead serious.

You see, almost no one in my neighborhood wore business suits, or had a professional job with a salary for that matter. Almost everyone was an hourly wage worker. No one in my neighborhood had a business card—there were no entrepreneurs—and small business owners were in very short supply.

Anyway, the gentleman told me he was a banker and that he financed entrepreneurs. All I remember thinking was, I don’t know what an entrepreneur is, but I want to be one!

I started my first business the following year at age ten, with a $40 loan, lots of love and a little encouragement from my mother, and active role modeling from my father who did in fact own a small business. Today, I am an entrepreneur and the founder of a global economic impact organization for “the least of these” called Operation HOPE, with a six-figure payroll every two weeks.

I did it playing by the rules that my mother, father, role models, society, and teachers placed in front of me, which helped in turn to create an environment where I had hope, where I could dream big dreams, and where I thrived. But for far too many in the Invisible Class—of any color and neighborhood—this story is the all-too-rare exception, not the rule. And this is the thing we must change.

Today, we need one million young people a year to decide to build something. Anything. Everything.

We need a generation of builders.

We need them to start businesses.

We need them to become entrepreneurs.

When they cannot find jobs, we need them to go create jobs for themselves.

We need one million youth a year to decide to take their lives back.

America actually needs one million small business startups a year to win again. We need one million start-ups a year to solve the jobs crisis in America (Gallup data). But I am not naive. I don’t believe that these one million new business owners and entrepreneurs will all be successful… in business. Statistically, most new small business owners will fail. But so what? Success for me is about becoming resilient and building resilient people. It is about becoming positive, focused, unrelenting, and never giving up. As the saying goes, Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.

Success in business is not the goal. Becoming resilient is. Building leaders is. Building a Nation of Builders is.

And as we are busy doing this—nurturing a new generation of positive, confident, affirming leaders and builders—we are bound to find one (or more) new Steve Jobs or Reginald Lewis (look him up) in our urban and rural communities. And THIS is our magic sauce.

The reality is that every big business was once a small one.

All of us with manicured nails had generations before us, foremothers and forefathers, with dirt underneath their nails. They were not “proper” people at the dining room table, but they may have made the dining room table! They certainly made it possible for all of us today to sit at the dining room table. But we forget about all of that.

We assume that rich people have always been rich. Not true.

Or that poor people are destined to always be poor. This does not have to be true.

The fact is that America and most of the free world were built by entrepreneurs and dreamers, most of whom started out poor and unsophisticated.

What was Walmart if not a man named Sam Walton with a high school education, a storefront, and a pickup truck? From that humble beginning, he built the largest retailer in the world that is today the largest employer of African Americans, seniors, and women in the world.

What was UPS (United Parcel Service) if not the vision of one man named Jim Casey with $100 and a bicycle? UPS is today not only a global logistics company with 400,000 employees, it is also one of the world’s ten largest airlines.

What were Ebony and Jet magazines if not a bet made by a young John H. Johnson, who borrowed $500 from his mother to start what is now one of the largest publishing empires serving Black America? The same can be said for Earl Graves, another black man with a dream, who started Black Enterprise magazine, or as I call it, the black Wall Street Journal. And for Edward Lewis, his partners, and my friend Susan Taylor, who together built Essence magazine from a dream into a brand so important and valuable that Time Warner paid many millions to buy it.

But we have lost these storylines in our lives. We think that all big companies have always been big, and we simply want to work there.

A recent USA Today poll found that the majority of youth want to graduate from college and go work for a small handful of big, well-known companies, companies that for the most part are not hiring. Not because they have something against you, but simply because big companies are not—as relates to their growth—in the people-hiring business. They are in the efficiency business. And efficiency at that size and scale comes much more from technology than it comes from people.

But who does love people enough to hire them? Small businesses and entrepreneurs do, that’s who.

Most of the new job growth in America and the world over comes from entrepreneurs, small businesses, start-ups and shoot-ups, in years three to seven.

Half of all companies in America have 100 employees or less, according to Gallup. About 70 percent of all companies in America are 500 employees or less.

And fewer than 1,000 businesses in America employ more than 10,000 people—so few you can name them.

If you’re ready to build something of your own, Operation HOPE is here to help you get there, and plenty of others are, too. If you feel like you are already an entrepreneur, feel free to skip to Rule 4 and learn how to create your own economy that works for you.

Why Your Free Enterprise Isn’t Just Your Concern

I hope I’ve planted a seed that helps you see the power of simple financial goals like improving your credit score, buying a house, and starting a business. More than anything, I want you to succeed, but I’d be wrong if I stopped there. This book isn’t about just you escaping the Invisible Class, but about all of us—our neighbors, our communities, and our churches—doing that.

Your financial health is directly related to your power, safety, and future, but also to the power, safety, and future of your community. If you don’t believe me, travel with me to Ferguson, Missouri.

Ferguson was dying in 2014 after the death of Michael Brown, but quite possibly not just for the reasons you might believe.

First, please don’t take anything I say below about Ferguson’s economy and businesses as minimizing Michael Brown’s tragic death and his family’s loss or the town’s failures to dispense justice and opportunity equally to all. That’s plenty of work for another book. Ferguson needs equal justice and equal rights, but I think it’s also high time we addressed the things that are dying in Ferguson that do not appear in the evening news or protest signs.

I am talking about the death of small business and jobs and, with it, the resiliency of both a people and a community in a once-vibrant American city.

I’m not talking here about big government jobs or even big business jobs or even big business for that matter. I’m not talking about the so-called evil capitalists who control billions and order our lives from afar. I’m not even talking about the businesses that played a negative role in creating an environment of crisis, such as was the case during the Rodney King riots of 1992.

I’m talking about mom-and-pop small business owners—including gas stations, convenience stores, and hair salons—four million of the six million businesses in America that employ one person or more across the nation.

I’m talking about small businesses that take in $100,000 annually on average, maybe $250,000 in a very good year, and as a result of this, enable the owners to put roofs over their children’s heads and food on the table, send their kids to college, pay their taxes, and go on vacation once a year. These are the capitalists responsible for more than 70 percent of all businesses in America and the vast majority around the world. They look like you and me, and destroying them destroys us too.

Some examples of these small businesses in Ferguson were:

The Quick Trip: burned down during the first Michael Brown demonstration.

The Ferguson Market: looted the next night.

The beloved Red’s BBQ, a recognized and well-respected community institution: looted and shut down.

None of these and the many other small businesses affected by the demonstrations had anything to do with the injustices taking place in Ferguson, but several would never open again. Some didn’t even have a desire to come back. This community, which had few jobs to speak of before the Michael Brown crisis, had significantly fewer after everything went down.

And what Ferguson, especially the youth of Ferguson, needs almost as much as they feel the need for social and criminal justice, are JOBS. Just listen to what eleven-year-old Marquis Govan told the St. Louis Commission, which was looking into this crisis: “We don’t need more tear gas, we need jobs” (“Meet an 11-Year-Old Voice of Reason,” CBS News, September 21, 2014, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/meet-an-11-year-old-voice-of-reason/). Brilliance and solutions, from one of Ferguson’s future leaders.

But how is anyone supposed to know what they really need (jobs) and how to get them in a place like Ferguson? The fact is, these most recent and well-meaning residents of Ferguson, Missouri, never got the Memo. Nearly one in four people living there are below the poverty line, and the rate of home ownership is the lowest in the state.

This lack of understanding of America’s free-enterprise system and of how to create a sustainable life for oneself is not only driving unemployment (and crime along with it) in places like Ferguson, it also explains why a young man with an otherwise bright future, like Michael Brown, took a few cigars from a store instead of finding a way to pay for them.

The people who called Ferguson home for the past hundred years, up until about 2000, actually had the Memo. They got it from their mothers and fathers, their mentors, and their friends who were homeowners and business owners. And, unfortunately, most of these longtime residents also control the seats of power in Ferguson’s government and criminal justice system, too—we now know that a police department that doesn’t reflect the cultural or racial makeup of the neighborhoods they protect can lead to big problems.

When you better understand the plight of those who never got the Memo, it is easier to see how it leads to low employment, low quality of life, communities in need of resources, and consequently crime and looting. The facts and statistics behind the real Ferguson are nothing less than stunning. Here is just one—Ferguson, Missouri, represents the widest racial gap of the unbanked in the entire nation, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

And so, yes, we must pursue our social justice agenda in Ferguson, but we must also stop killing the geese that lay all the golden eggs: small businesses and the entrepreneurial spirit. And not only in Ferguson, but in each and every stabilized community here and around the world.

Remember, a broke person cannot help the poor of Ferguson escape their own poverty. Or, to quote the late Shimon Peres (former Israeli prime minister and president), when I last saw him in Jordan: “Even if you want to distribute money like a socialist, you have to first start collecting money like a capitalist.”

We live in a free-enterprise capitalist system. It’s time to embrace it.

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Endorsements

“We regrettably live in a system of haves and have-nots, and I know nobody working harder than John Hope Bryant to deliver success and resources to those who feel left out. Our Creator intended each of us to share in the Earth's bounty, and none of us should be without the means to achieve prosperity and wellness. This book explains how to claim your place at the table. “
—Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

“John Bryant gives us a new understanding of the world in which we live. Normally we approach the world through votes and politics, when ultimate power has always been with the money, and having been ambassador, mayor, congressman, and civil rights leader, I must confess I am still struggling to make sense of the present global economy. Atlanta's success was clearly that we ignored Washington and went to Wall Street. Washington has $20 trillion, the US government has $20 trillion and $18 trillion in debt. Wall Street has available in excess of $60–70 trillion. Atlanta made the shift to globalization, and our city has grown from about 1.7 million in 1982 to over 6 million presently, and the only explanation that I have is we were willing to reach beyond government debt and politics and engage with the money centers of the planet. The truth of it is, the press and the Congress and the Senate and even the FBI are thinking nationally, but the major decisions of the world are a part of the global economy. Dr. King's efforts to redeem the soul of America from the triple evils of racism, war, and poverty was right on target, but his vision was stalled by a single bullet. They may have killed a dreamer, but John Bryant continues to pursue the dream that all God's children are endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The Memo gives suggestions on how we might help ourselves and each other through earning, investing, and managing money.”
—Ambassador Andrew Young, Chairman, Andrew J. Young Foundation, and Global Spokesman, Operation HOPE

“John captures how our world, with its amazing technological advances, has no space for those who procrastinate. To reimagine what is possible, people need more than just access to financial tools and services. The sense of urgency and ownership he describes can help us to put those tools to work to benefit ourselves and ensure that we won't have the Internet of Everything without the Inclusion of Everyone.”
—Ajay Banga, President and CEO, MasterCard

The Memo is what so many in America need to truly realize their full potential. My life is testimony to just about everything that John has placed in the bindings of this book. I grew up on the rough side of Chicago but found my Identity Project standing next to the playing side of a piano in Seattle. Just that one thing changed the trajectory of my life. And relationship capital—well, next to having talent, of course—this has proven to be everything in my life. I am now a global citizen, with business and partners around the world. I ‘got the memo.' I have known John Hope Bryant for a long time and can say he has been fighting tirelessly to bridge the gap between the haves and the have-nots. You should read this book. It made my soul smile.”
—Quincy Jones, entertainment icon and CEO, Quincy Jones Productions



“John Hope Bryant makes a clear and compelling case for taking control of your future by managing your ‘inner capital.' With 
The Memo, he shows how to tap into your wisdom, creativity, and intuition to lead a successful, thriving life.”
—Arianna Huffington, cofounder and former Editor-in-Chief, The Huffington Post

“At a time in our history when it becomes crystal clear that finding untapped hope, discovering untapped opportunity, and believing in people is a core strength in any society—or a company like Delta for that matter—John Hope Bryant shares
The Memo. John and I both value ‘relationship capital'—it's how we met. The Memo is a sort of ‘StrengthsFinder' for the reader (to quote our friends at Gallup).”
—Ed Bastian, CEO, Delta Air Lines

“John Hope Bryant brings both insight and inspiration to the quest for financial independence. His experience and vision combine to help people help one another and themselves, building a more inclusive economy and a brighter world.” 
—Bill Rogers, Chairman and CEO, SunTrust Banks, Inc.

"Amid the overabundance of financial advice today, 
The Memo stands apart with its straightforward, five-step guide to leveraging one's inner strengths toward sustainable economic independence. John Hope Bryant has dedicated his life to educating the poor in financial responsibility, and his simple solutions for navigating a complex landscape are an absolute must-read."
—Andrea Jung, CEO, Grameen America, and former Chairman and CEO, Avon Products

“Our future is indentured so long as so many of our students and families are in debt. John Hope Bryant is leading the charge to help each of us free ourselves from this burden. We all will be better off if we get
The Memo!”
—Benjamin Jealous, Partner, Kapor Capital, and former President and CEO, NAACP

The Memo is a clear and compelling course in self-reliance and self-sufficiency . . . prescribing a new world order where opportunities are ubiquitous and may be accessed without the burden of economic encumbrance.”
—Lisa Borders, President, Women's National Basketball Association


“John Hope Bryant offers a simple message for personal success and a better world: respect and believe in yourself, build something that inspires you and helps others, live within your means, keep your promises, and invest in a home for your family. These are eternal truths, rooted in religion, moral philosophy, and practical experience. In a complex, challenging, and confusing world, we all need clarity, honesty, and insight. There's a great deal of all three in this fine book. Let's get on with it!”
—Seán Cleary, Executive Vice Chair, FutureWorld Foundation

Aim not at receiving a fish, as you will have fish for a day. Aim not at learning how to fish, for you will have fish for a lifetime. Aim at owning the pond, and you will have fish for generations. Understand that the small business is the heart of America, and the megabusiness grows out of the heart connecting with the mind. The Memo exalts wisdom and education—from the Latin educo, drawn out, not spaced out—drawn out of the darkness of ignorance, misunderstanding, self-devaluation. Drawn out of poverty.”
—Rev. Cecil L. "Chip" Murray, retired Pastor, First AME Church, Los Angeles
Professor, Center for Religion and Civic Culture, USC
Cofounder, Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement, USC

“With
The Memo, John Hope Bryant blends his real-world experience and practical guidance to create a life model for taking economic control. It is a plan for taking control to achieve financial stability for the individual. It is a plan for building the financial stability of the neighborhood and community. The Memo is a means for us to begin leveling the economic playing field and creating a much broader sense of ownership in our shared economic future.”
—Bryan Jordan, Chairman, President, and CEO, First Horizon National Corporation


“Bryant's rules for economic liberation are applicable to all who recognize that inner capital is the currency for success. He brilliantly tackles the root cause of the invisible class and shines a light on the path to a life well spent through one's mindset, spirit, and action.”
—Susan Somersille Johnson, Corporate Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, SunTrust Banks, Inc.

“Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. presented for America a vision that is still uncompleted. This book presents a simultaneously inspiring and hands-on memo on what is needed on the way there. John Hope Bryant is what our time acutely needs: dignity in action!” 
—Dr. Pekka Himanen, philosopher and cofounder of Global Dignity


“John brings the type of generational leadership America needs during a time when the financial illiteracy epidemic has reached epic proportions. Through his vision and approachable guide to economic well-being outlined in
The Memo, I believe a path to prosperity and happiness is well within a person's reach. This book should be required reading and could not have arrived at a more necessary time.”
—Zak Pym Williams, actor

“I don't know anybody who can deliver ‘the memo' better than John Hope Bryant. He has something to say to every one of us who falls short in our self-esteem and confidence as financial beings. Read this book and reclaim your power to live to your full potential.”
—Peter Ueberroth, Managing Director,The Contrarian Group, Former Major League Baseball Commissioner.

“By sharing the key concepts and experiences that have contributed to his success, John Hope Bryant provides a formula for upgrading your personal software and understanding how to leverage yourself in today's society.”
—Steve Case, Chairman and CEO, Revolution, and cofounder of AOL

“Too many of us in America have lost our way. We are overwhelmed with the extreme poverty in our lives and hearts and the seeming impossibility of attaining the success we see in papers, movies, or the swell streets far away next door. John Bryant gives you hope. He builds your body and soul so you can reach for your own star, to be the success of your dreams, one step at a time. He helps you climb to the best you can be, and that's a splendid place to end up. All you've got to do is read, listen, act. Every one of us can do it. You can do it!”
—Peter Georgescu, Chairman Emeritus, Young & Rubicam

“It's not easy being young these days. People tell you that your formal education probably hasn't given you the right skills for the job market, that you need to reskill every two years, and that you can't expect someone to give you a job—you need to create one. No wonder youth are feeling the pressure. John Hope Bryant has always been a beacon of light for the economically disaffected. His latest manifesto is a powerful road map for any young person who is seeking answers to the existential questions that Gen X inadvertently burdened them with. If ever there was a one-stop shop for 21st-century life and career advice, this is it. “
—Clare Woodcraft-Scott, CEO, Emirates Foundation

“There is only one truth: it is the power that lies in all of us. If we have the right ‘glasses' to see this power, we can use it to build the financial destiny we want. This book gives us the necessary vision and real-life practical tools to climb our financial mountain and enjoy the beautiful sunny summit that we deserve. İt is authentic, moving, and refreshing, both for our mind and our soul.
—Özlem Denizmen, entrepreneur, Young Global Leader, author, and spearhead of the financial literacy movement in Turkey

“This book delivers the missing ingredient in the financial lives of too many people today: hope. Without pity or bromides, John lays out for all human beings their economic power and potential. Whoever you are and whatever your bank account, you have something to learn from this amazing book.”
—Chris Gardner, owner and CEO, Christopher Gardner International Holdings

The Memo will have you take a hard look at your inner self. John is giving his readers raw examples of his personal life in hopes of empowering them to invest in themselves, to be responsible, and to make the world a better place for all of us.”
—Rev. Dr. C. T. Vivian, founder of C. T. Vivian Leadership Institute

“This is one of the most inspiring books I have read in thirty years. After showing ‘how the poor can save capitalism' through his commitment to financial literacy and entrepreneurship, John Hope Bryant is contributing practical personal development solutions to lift people and communities out of poverty and into mainstream America. John's call for people to aspire to build something, whether a small business or a large corporation, instead of merely looking for a job, has the power to transform America and the rest of the world at a time when technological breakthroughs, while creating new jobs and wealth, are making millions more jobs obsolete. His book should be mandatory reading in high schools.”
—Karim Hajji, CEO, Casablanca Stock Exchange


“John Hope Bryant has once again written an essential book. He distills the many accomplishments in his own life—and a few failures as well—into a simple and practical road map for achieving personal and professional fulfillment. At a time when so many Americans feel trapped—by money, by the system, by their commitments—Bryant reminds us that breaking the cycle starts with each one of us acknowledging our own incredible humanity. Best of all, his message transcends today's fractured political landscape, with common-sense actions that anyone can get behind.
The Memo is nothing less than a field manual for success in the 21st century.”
—Paul Smyke, Head of North America and Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum, LLC

The Memo is a fresh and inspirational take on how to think about money, success, and personal fulfillment. John Hope Bryant offers important advice that will shift the mindset around achieving financial security.”
—Ellen Alemany, Chairwoman and CEO, CIT Group

This book sets one's mind to be focused on life principles rather than just life outcomes, to be focused on developing one's heart and mind. This book will ensure that wealth is developed not only in financial capital but also through the mental capacity that makes it timeless. The life principles that one develops through this book are invaluable as these are the principles that get us to focus on our lives as a whole and the components that make it up. In this book, one learns that prosperity is not only financial but spiritual and physical.”
—Phuti Mahanyele, Executive Chairperson, Sigma Capital

“At a time when so many believe that the American Dream is dead, 
The Memo offers hope in the form of a prescription for prosperity. John Hope Bryant takes five fundamental principles of financial and social well-being and stitches them together to form a road map that will deliver financial freedom for individuals, families, and communities. Unpacking John's basic rules should be dinner table conversation across America to inspire all generations to embrace their potential to realize financial and social freedom.”
—Frank Martell, President and CEO, CoreLogic, Inc.

“There are two books every black person in America must own and read: the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s
Chaos or Community and John Hope Bryant's The Memo. The future survival of black America depends on it. Period."
—Roland S. Martin, Host/Managing Editor, NewsOne Now, TV One, and Senior Analyst, Tom Joyner Morning Show

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