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NAJEE’S NOTES: Offering hope for our young people

By Najee Ali

Contributing Writer

Operation HOPE’s inaugural “Take A Youth to Work Day” Oct. 26 was a major success. The event was designed for youth of color to spend time and be mentored by men of color in the workplace for an entire school day.

With so many obstacles and hurdles for our youth to overcome, it’s important that we support parents and our schools to ensure they have outside help and support from the village.

The annual event was created and sponsored by entrepreneur and humanitarian John Hope Bryant who is also the founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE. As a volunteer for this event, I had the pleasure of meeting students from Wilders Prep Academy in Inglewood.

The students were selected by their principal to participate. It was my first visit to this school and I was very impressed by the staff, faculty and students who seemed to be one big happy family.

The students were well behaved and happy to participate. I saw firsthand how young lives can be impacted by adults who simply care enough to donate time and resources so youth can have experiences they might not have otherwise. Participating students started the morning off with a motivational speech by Bryant at Hot and Cool Café in Leimert Park.

An inspiring speaker, Bryant told his personal story about growing up in Compton and struggling to start Operation HOPE, whose birthplace is Leimert Park. Bryant launched Operation HOPE after the civil unrest in 1992. Bryant talked about people laughing at him and counting him out before he was even in.

Now, a quarter of a century later, it’s Bryant who has the last laugh. But he is too humble for that. Instead he continues to focus on building Operation HOPE, which is now a global brand, an organization working to disrupt poverty and empower inclusion for low- and moderate-income youth and adults.

His focus is financial dignity and inclusion and equipping young people and adults with the financial tools and education to secure a better future — coaching them through their life’s challenges and facilitating their journey to financial independence. They continue moving America from civil rights to “silver rights” with the mission of making free enterprise and capitalism work for the underserved.

That mission connects the legacy of the Freedman’s Bank, established by President Abraham Lincoln more than 150 years ago to integrate all Americans into our nation’s economic life, and the second part of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s integration dream — the integration of the dollar, under the banner of “silver rights” — rights to financial literacy, access to capital and equity of opportunity for all.

Bryant also spoke about Project 5117, which is a multi-year four-pronged approach to combating economic inequality that aims to improve financial literacy, increase business role models and business internships for youth in underserved communities, and stabilize the American dream by boosting credit ratings. It includes educating five million youth through financial dignity programs, empowering one million youth through entrepreneurial and career-building programs, establishing 1,000 HOPE Inside locations, and facilitating HOPE 700 credit score communities across the nation.

The youth were on their feet cheering for Bryant as he concluded with a chant the students and the audience members in attendance all joined in “Saying I am somebody.” I was moved myself. That chant was first made famous and used to motivated people by the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., who ironically has served and continues to be a mentor and friend to Bryant.

The students then departed and met with Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti, Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino and county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who all made time to speak to our youth and take photos. The youth were given a tour of Los Angeles City Hall and met with key members of the Garcetti administration including Andre Herndon, who has two young sons and understands the value of male role models. Herndon, along with all the City Hall staff, was very personable with the students.

Deputy City Attorney Carmen Hawkins even stopped us outside to introduce herself and her City Hall colleagues and gave the students some words of wisdom.

The visit to L.A. City Hall and meeting some of the most influential leaders had to be impactful for the youth but the day continued with a visit to the campus of USC, where faculty and students embraced and encouraged the youth. The students had a campus tour, which concluded with lunch sponsored by Bryant. Students ate side by side with college students and I could tell by the look in their eyes that college life is something they all seemed to be inspired by.

The trip ended with their return to school to be picked up by their parents. But the students all expressed their gratitude on video to Operation HOPE and Bryant. Seeing these young people truly enjoy themselves on an educational trip was moving.

I assured them that I would make a request to Bryant that this be an annual event for their school and this event should be done nationally by Operation HOPE. Our young people sometimes just need to know that people do truly care for them and want them to succeed. And Bryant gave our young people what we all need. Hope.

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