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Social Entrepreneur Shares Words for Future

While shaking hands and walking among the audience, John Hope Bryant, the founder of Operation HOPE and an advocate for financial literacy, spoke with Berea College students during the November 14 convocation about ways in which they can achieve their dreams of economic success.

John Hope Bryant speaks at Berea College.

"Education is the ultimate poverty eradication tool," said Bryant. "When you know better, you tend to do better."

Bryant used his informal, dynamic style of speaking to engage and motivate his audience. Instead of standing behind a podium, he walked up and down the aisles to connect with his listeners more closely. Occasionally he would pause in his presentation to ask a name or shake someones hand.

"I'm not here to give a speech," said Bryant. "I'm here to share a message not all of you may be aware of. You are all revolutionaries."

Bryant, a successful businessman, became active in social and community leadership in 1992, when some of the worst race riots in history took place in Los Angeles after the Rodney King trial. Bryant was so affected by the riots and their aftermath that he founded Operation HOPE, a non-profit organization that seeks to eradicate poverty and helps empower low-income families and individuals through educational programs and financial assistance. As chairman and chief executive officer of Operation HOPE, Bryant has raised more than $80 million in grant funds and $250 million in lending commitments to help families start businesses, buy homes and achieve their dreams.

Bryant has also served as advisor to Presidents Clinton and Bush, and as a Young Global Leader for the World Economic Forum. He is a former United Nations goodwill ambassador and has received more than 400 awards and citations for his work in educating low-wealth communities across the nation. Bryant is also the author of "Banking On Our Future," a book on youth and family financial literacy.

In his talk, Bryant used his experience and accomplishments to drive home his message. He spoke about his childhood, his faith, capitalism and the Civil Rights Movement, using each story or anecdote to describe ways in which people can achieve their dreams and help change the world. He also spoke about the wisdom of being a "political free agent." "It's not about the Democratic party," said Bryant. "It's not about the Republican party. It's about the 'get-it-done' party."

He left the audience with a reminder of "all the crazy people who have changed the world," giving such examples as Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa and Jesus Christ. "So now let me come straight at you," said Bryant. "Who are you going to be? What are you going to stand for?"

"I am going to suggest to you that you remake America."

Along with the convocation on Nov. 14, Bryant also spoke with the campus community about "changing the world through social entrepreneurship" in a luncheon earlier that day. Bryant's visit to Berea College was sponsored by Entrepreneurship for the Public Good (EPG), African American Studies Program, Black Cultural Center, Campus Christian Center and the Center for Excellence in Learning Through Service (CELTS).

More information about Bryant and Operation HOPE can be found at the links below.

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