ATLANTA (CBS46) — Black Americans have worked for centuries to close the wealth gap partially formed by racial discrimination.

But some recent data shows the U.S. continues to grow more unequal.

In the heart of Atlanta is a non-profit birthed to create change among underserved communities.

John Hope Bryant says before launching Operation HOPE, he experienced homelessness. But from a young age, he always had a drive to succeed.

He had been working to create a path to build wealth, since he was a kid growing up in Compton, Ca.

A banker came in my classroom and taught financial literacy when I was nine years old,” Bryant said. “I raised my hand, I said ‘excuse me sir, what do you do for a living and how’d you get rich legally?”’

The banker told Bryant he helped finance entrepreneurs and that became the moment Bryant was determined to help others be financially responsible in life.

In the 1990’s Bryant said he experienced financial hardships. But by the time he was 26, he founded Operation HOPE with a small loan from himself.

“We’re like the Starbucks of financial inclusion,” Bryant said.  “We get your credit score up, get your debt down, get your savings up, so we can get you qualified, so that the bank can tell you ‘yes’ for your dreams.”

For the past 30 years, the non-profit has worked to disrupt poverty and empower low and moderate income youth and adults through free financial literacy.  

“I believe other than the right to vote, there’s nothing more consequential that changes the quality of your life and your nature of social justice and your ability to be free, than financial literacy acted upon in your life,” Bryant said.

Recent data from the Pew Research Center shows the difference in median household incomes between White and Black Americans has remained steady for nearly 50 years.

“I think there’s two to three percent gross domestic product locked in our communities, waiting to be born.”

With goals to help others build wealth, Bryant launched an initiative to birth one million Black-owned businesses in the U.S. by 2030.

“The vision here is to really pour us into the future, in one generation” Bryant said.

Operation HOPE teamed up with Shopify, a leading global commerce company providing funds and resources to help small businesses succeed.  

“We’re going to get you a website, we’re going to get you a domain name, all free,” Bryant said. “We’re going to give you a small business contrary of accountants, bankers, insurance, marketing, to get that infrastructure or bones of your business up so you know what you’re doing.”

With the desire to create an economic infrastructure for African Americans for the first time ever, Bryant says he is building future entrepreneurs.

“It’s not on my giveback it’s my leave behind,” Bryant said. “It’s the institutional infrastructure that we never had an economic infrastructure that demands respect.”

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