I love Detroit! No matter where I live I somehow manage to squeeze in the fact that I am from Detroit, Michigan. My body may have moved, but my spirit and heart always remain there in the city I love so dearly. Wherever I am my memories always play an important role in what I do: I can never forget those special dinners in the Summit restaurant at the Renaissance Center as it rotated 360 degrees; I recall when I was four years old making my mother angry as I jumped into the Hart Plaza fountain fully clothed on a hot summer day; to this day a number four on an onion roll from Lou's Deli on Six Mile (or McNichols to outsiders) is the best sandwich I have ever eaten; chicken wings from Sweet Water Tavern remains a favorite as well as a seafood deep dish pizza from Pizza Papalis, Vernors, Better Made chips and a Coney Dog. And then there was a cheap round of golf at Palmer Park with my father (even though on some holes it appeared that there was no fairway). These and many more pleasant memories have managed to stay with me (by the way, all these places I mentioned are the backbone of America -- local entrepreneurship businesses that serve all and we need to support past present and future local innovative businesses).
It was the "toughness" that only Detroiters can talk about that allowed me to remember mostly the good and almost shielding the bad as if it never happened... but there was plenty of bad. There were the parties that would end because of gun shots, the vacant buildings, learning how to use your mirrors at stop lights to avoid being car jacked, the high unemployment rate and poverty... I don't know any of my friends who at one point hadn't eaten government cheese (yes, it did make the best omelets). Last but certainly not least, like so many others I have lost some friends to a harsh Detroit environment over the years. Everett, Mongo, Brother Joiner and Johnny were all good friends of mine who fell victim to gun violence.
This was my upbringing, this was my life and this is still MY city... I LOVE IT! I love it enough that I am willing to fight for its recovery and do whatever is in my power to give back to it. Although I moved to New York and now DC, I have continued to implement financial education programming in the city. I have partnered with professionals to empower Detroit students, taught programming in public housing partnering with Fifth Third Bank, worked with Bank on Detroit to empower city residents, and even put together public panel discussions which strategized how to rebrand the city and highlight the brilliance we have within the city. I was certainly not the only one doing good work for Detroit: New Detroit, Detroit Bank On, Detroit NAACP, Yusef Shakur and many more organizations/activists are implementing important programs for the city residents... these activities and people must and will continue.
However, we must always ask the critical question "What happens next?" Or, "Will those who took my class continue to implement the solutions they learned?" We need sustainability, the ability to duplicate the process, and a movement that can last longer than the individual's time commitment on the ground. I can honestly say after teaching thousands of Detroiters I have no idea what is currently happening with the majority of them. This is not acceptable.
This is why I join with Mayor Duggan who fully embraces Project 5117. This project, created by Operation HOPE under the leadership of John Hope Bryant is more than a speech or a program... it is a system. This is a system that was created to last and has the ability to be duplicated. It is a system with a proven track record of success at directing over $1.5 billion of private capital towards underserved communities with a growing army of over 20,000 volunteers globally. It is a system with over 300 offices throughout the United States and internationally as well. Many complain about banks not giving back to the communities, but Operation HOPE has a global presence and is partnering with banks, credit unions, and other institutions to DIRECT their capital towards systemic change not designed to help underserved communities... but to help the underserved communities help themselves.
By 2020 Project 5117 aims to leave:
• FIVE million youth with a new level of financial literacy through unique programming that has already been successfully taught in 3,500 schools across the country including Detroit.
• ONE million of these empowered students will be trained to become future entrepreneurs and local job creators through the Operation HOPE Business in a Box academies.
• ONE thousand banks, credit unions, and other institutions with grassroots investments (empowerment centers) throughout the country through a HOPE Inside models as well as five thousands certified locations through HOPE Inside Plus. This model uses Operation HOPE to train insert an additional trained staff within the bank, or train the current staff to provide clients with expanded FREE services such as homebuyers workshops, entrepreneurship training, credit repair, and youth empowerment training. These activities will bring into our communities a new era of banking which will eventually become the nation's FIRST private bank for underserved communities offering FREE services : improving your credit, purchasing a home, educating entrepreneurs, and much more!
• 700 credit scores within a growing population of those earning $50,000 or less annually.
I remember when the Poverty Tour came through Detroit and did a great job of reminding people of the existence of poverty but gave no solutions. Isn't it time that we take ourselves beyond awareness to action? In many communities the pawn shop has appeared to become the new bank because many across the nation, and within Detroit, have resorted to selling their material items just to make ends meet. Pawn Stars, a show about a pawn shop in Detroit, is popular for a reason... people watch it to either see how the "other side" lives or they can relate to those who are taking items in to make a quick buck to pay rent. This is the closest thing to a true "reality show" on television. If you are as tired as I am of check cashing and payday loan centers gaining more customers to the demise of our financial well-being; if you are tired of Rent-A-Centers popping up in our communities to capitalize on Detroiters' instant gratification desires; if you are tired of having to travel across Eight Mile to purchase goods because we don't have enough businesses to support within city limits... you too must support Project 5117!
Please understand, this is not a program designed to replace other programs, but it is a system designed to complement what is already in place... a system designed to direct much needed private capital in a way which truly empowers those who need it most.
On June 12th, members of the Operation Hope team were joined by John Hope Bryant at a roundtable discussion explaining the benefits of this mission. President Obama's Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans convened in Detroit at the McNamara Federal Building, 477 Michigan Ave., 17th Floor, Room 1725, and afterwards we had a community forum at The Michigan State University Extension Center. This was an ALL HANDS ON DECK mission as we marched this city back towards greatness.