Wanted: Financial Literacy

Moderated by Rick Badie

It’s your hard-earned money. Why not make it grow? Today, a self-described “silver rights” activist stresses the importance of financial literacy for all, particularly the so-called “unbanked” and “under banked” sector. Elsewhere, the head of the Gwinnett Village enterprise zone welcomes the development of what would be the largest movie studio in the Southeast. Another writer encourages early HIV detection.

Poor need financial literacy

By John Hope Bryant

President Abraham Lincoln, one of the nation’s original visionaries, had wanted to win the Civil War but also envisioned freeing the enslaved and ensuring their economic prosperity. After he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, he signed legislation creating the Freedman’s Saving and Trust Co., known as Freedman’s Savings Bank.

Lincoln considered the bank’s mission so important to the nation that its offices were located directly across from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, where the president could see it and keep his eye on it. The bank’s mission was radical: Teach newly freed blacks about money. Additionally, during the final period of the Civil War, one of Lincoln’s top generals promised all freed slaves 40 acres and a mule, an opportunity to own collateral and machinery in their own names. Lincoln supported the initiative.

Unfortunately, Lincoln was assassinated. His successor, President Andrew Johnson, was diametrically opposed to things like the Freedman’s Savings Bank.  “As as I am president, this nation will be white-run,” Johnson was quoted as saying. So much for Lincoln’s black empowerment ideas.

Still, at its height, the Freedman’s Savings Bank had 70,000 depositors, all formerly enslaved. By placing all of the little they had in this new federal bank, these people were making the most powerful aspirational statement possible. They wanted to back their own lives, and they hoped to contribute to the American experiment, no matter how they were treated.

The black middle class didn’t emerge until nearly a century later, following World War II, when black workers finally got new access to government jobs and careers. Yet today, we have an entire group of people — more than 30 million African-Americans — who have never been given a lesson in the global language of money or how capitalism works. They have not been given financial literacy. They were never given what I call The Memo.

These people are not stupid; they are simply limited in their financial literacy. Today, the net worth of middle-class blacks is a fraction of the net worth of their white counterparts, who have simply had better financial and economic role models for a much longer time. They have experienced embedded lessons in financial literacy, free enterprise and capitalism as the world practices it. When you know better, you tend to do better.

I founded Operation HOPE more than 20 years ago to address the 100 million Americans who make $50,000 or less, who define themselves as the working poor or the under-served. Today, this also includes the struggling middle class. These people, families, small businesses and communities need to speak the language of financial literacy to help turn their situation around.

In Atlanta, we’ve done things both right and not right. We’re the home of the most African-American small businesses in the country, and that’s a good thing. They’ve  created jobs, paid taxes and helped to grow a sustainable city. But we are also home to the fifth most-unbanked region in the country, Vine City, whose residents have credit scores as low as 250.

Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young had it right when he said Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement succeeded in integrating cities and America, but failed to integrate the money. In fairness, you can’t really “integrate” money. But we can deliver The Memo, to show a new generation how to access it, own it, grow it and keep it.

It’s time to finish what Lincoln started and Dr. King never had the opportunity to meaningfully address. This time, we can and will use the power of the private sector and the free enterprise system, supported strongly by government, to transform people’s lives. We must enable people to contribute to the American dream and to help America win again, with all of its people’s shoulders against the wheel of change.

John Hope Bryant, founder, chairman and CEO of Operation Hope, a nonprofit social investment banking organization, is the author of the new book, “How The Poor Can Save Capitalism.”

Media campus is a catalyst for growth

By Chuck Warbington

Just as entrepreneurs create value for not only their businesses but ecosystems of enterprises around them, community leaders and developers with vision take risks that benefit the wider communities they invest in. Metro Atlanta has seen great examples — Atlantic Station, for one — of truly catalytic development.

As construction cranes return to the regional landscape, the region has the chance once again to produce new jobs and other economic opportunities.

Recently, Jacoby Development Inc., which redeveloped Atlantic Steel into Atlantic Station, announced its intention to purchase and redevelop the 170-acre OFS Brightwave (originally Western Electric/Lucent) facility at I-85 and Jimmy Carter Boulevard in Norcross. Its proposed Atlanta Media Campus & Studios will transform much of the sprawling cable/fiber optics manufacturing facility, once one of the largest employers in metro Atlanta.

With major technology advancements, the facility produces almost as much fiber optic cabling today with just 10 percent of the personnel it once required. The now largely vacant complex — 90 acres under roof — has been an economic drain on Norcross and Gwinnett County. 

In 1969, the announcement of the original Western Electric facility was groundbreaking. However, it will certainly be eclipsed by Jacoby’s vision to create one of the largest movie studios and media campuses in the country, rivaling Hollywood.

The initial estimates of the project are staggering: 1.2 million square feet of movie production facilities, including seven initial sound stages, with just under 2 million square feet of class-A office and institutional space. The balance of the campus is to include retailing, multi-family housing and hospitality space. This will set the standard for high-quality urban (re)development in Gwinnett.

An economic impact analysis reveals just how significant this project promises to be. The value of the property will move from an assessed $19 million to just under $1 billion. The television and movie production facilities will deliver 1,000 direct jobs to Gwinnett, with an additional 9,000 direct jobs at total build-out including the office towers. 

The economic impact on Gwinnett of the initial studio is projected to be $130 million, with an additional $1.1 billion for the project’s mixed-use components. If even half of the predicted impact occurs, the redevelopment will be one of the most significant projects to have ever been completed in the county.

The effect is already being felt in southwest Gwinnett, with productions such as “Fast and Furious 7” and “Hunger Games”  recently filmed at the site. The initial impacts of these film projects were record sales restaurants and retailing in the corridor.

That’s what a true catalyst project can do: Improve the site, energize the community and make surrounding businesses more viable.

Chuck Warbington is executive director of the Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District.

Turn the tide on AIDS

By Gerald Schochetman 

HBO’s original film “Normal Heart” told the story of the burgeoning HIV/AIDS crisis and activism in New York in the 1980s. This film not only reflected on the early days of AIDS, but also provoked viewers to reflect on the 30-year fight against this devastating disease.

The war against HIV is far from over. Some sobering facts: While the number of new HIV infections is down from its peak in the 1980s, new infections have remained at a constant 50,000 annually for more than a decade.  In metro Atlanta, more than 26,000 people live with HIV/AIDS, and 50 percent of all new HIV infections occur in young people ages 16 to 24.

One thing hasn’t changed since the early days of HIV/AIDS: the need for testing. To stem this disease, our battle cry must not only be focused on detection, but more importantly, early detection. Nearly 40 percent of HIV diagnoses are made when the disease is already advanced, making treatments less effective and missing opportunities to prevent transmission.

The discouraging news is current HIV testing guidelines depend, at least in part, on 25-year-old testing technology. This means patients in the U.S. are not widely tested with a critical tool — modern testing technology — to help limit the spread of new infections.

Fortunately, advanced tests called HIV Combo tests, which test for both antibodies and antigen, are available in the U.S. that can detect the virus sooner after infection than traditional antibody-only tests. Antibodies — the body’s reaction to the virus as it fights off the infection — can take as many as three to four weeks to become detectable, while HIV antigen is produced by the virus shortly after infection. By detecting both antigen and antibodies, these HIV Combo tests can help patients reduce risky behavior earlier and begin antiretroviral therapy sooner.

As someone who has been at the forefront of  research and medical advances in the fight against HIV from the onset, I can say we must empower ourselves with the latest tools at our disposal: advanced tests, knowledge and treatment. Until the 25-year-old testing guidelines are revised, physicians and those being tested should be proactive and specifically request an HIV Combo test. With the right information at the right time about HIV status, we can turn the tide.

Dr. Gerald Schochetman is senior director of infectious diseases and diagnostic research for Abbott Laboratories.


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