David Horowitz: I'm here this morning to introduce a great friend of mine and a great leader of our time, young as he is, John Bryant.
I met John Bryant in 1996 when J.C. Watson and Jim Rogan came to L.A. They were attempting to do something for America's inner cities legislatively, and they wanted to meet with people who were working in the inner city, with people who have been left behind by the system. And we had 13 charities, 501C3s, at this meeting, and among them was a very young man who is the only person that I can remember from that meeting because I had never seen anybody so confident.
It wasn't bravado. It wasn't bluster. It wasn't rodomontade. It was confidence and so articulate. And they had three minutes to speak, so that didn't give me a great idea of what he was doing. But I made it a point to make contact with John Bryant and find out what he was doing. Well, let me just say the thing that struck me most -- there was just one sentence. “There's a difference,” he said, “between being poor and being broke. Being broke is being out of pocket. Being poor is a dispiriting state of mind that prevents you actually from ever getting in pocket." And that, to me, is a core message of what I would call conservatism. One of the reasons that I left the left is because I saw that its formulas did not work in the real world.
And John had organized -- it's something that he does regularly -- a bus tour. I think it's called the Banker's Bus Tour to the inner city. And I showed up that morning, and there were three busloads of financial officers and bankers about to be taken to South Central L.A., and on each bus, there was a guide. Mine was Lucille Roybal-Allard, who is a Democrat Congresswoman from the Los Angeles area. And the purpose of the trip was to show these financial officers that there are investment opportunities in the inner city.
I was impressed by many things on this trip. The first was that there were five motorcycle cops or more with a captain of the force as an escort. Now, to a leftist, or an ex-leftist like me, this is very important because the left has really declared war on law enforcement, just the way it's declared war on our military. It's declared war on the thin blue line that protects law-abiding citizens in our country. And the citizenry most vulnerable to crime are our inner city citizens. And one of the glaring contradictions for me when I realized that the left could not really help was because they were relentlessly opposed to law enforcement. After leaving the left, I did stories down in South Central. I did a history of a street gang, the Santa Fe Crypts, in Compton, the neighborhoods where John Bryant grew up, and I asked mothers whose children had been killed in this gang warfare if they had complaints about the LAPD, and what they would tell me is, yes, they're not here when you need them. And L.A. has this problem more than most cities. It's very understaffed in terms of police.
We stopped in one neighborhood, and there was a young couple who had just purchased a home. A home in South Central costs $100,000 which means that it's $10,000 down. And if a couple in South Central can come up with the five thousand, John will put them together with the Hawthorne Savings and Loan Association, which will put up the other five thousand. And it's actually a business deal because the Hawthorne Savings and Loan pays 7,500 to get a new customer. Here, they have a mortgage payer. So everybody's benefiting, which is really the way capitalism is supposed to work.
And John started Operation HOPE, which is his organization, after the L.A. riots, and one of the things he notes is that if you own a house, you're not going to burn it down. Pretty important. Thirty-five percent of South Central citizens vote, and thirty-five percent of them are homeowners. John has arranged 700 loans, and in the nine years, there's never been a single default. Those 700 loans represent more loans to South Central citizens who make under $35,000 than all the banks in California -- or, I can't remember, maybe the seven largest banks in California combined.
John Bryant: Pretty good.
David Horowitz: Thank you. I invited John to a weekend many years ago in Arizona. Neither of us can remember exactly, but it was five or six years ago. And I had to sandwich him in, give him more than three minutes. But the main message that he gave was, "Show up." The important thing is to show up. And the reason for that is that nobody's really going to listen to you unless they believe that you care about them. If you don't show up, you can lecture them all you like, but it isn't going to make a dent. And I had had a fairly traumatic -- well, it's been a long-running trauma -- experience with this.
To me, the heart of the inner city problem now is the fact that, in my view -- and this is why I've become a Republican -- the Republicans and conservatives have the right principles, that we – I shouldn't say "we" because I didn't come up with these, but conservatives understand the practical world. The people of the inner city need resources. They need protection from criminals. They need capitalism. And I could see that John Bryant was selling capitalism to the inner city.
But there were no Republicans on John's tour. There were many Democrats. There were Democrats on his board. Al Gore and Bill Clinton put a million-dollar line item in their budget for his operations. Al Gore came and opened his cyber café, where he has a computer bank that connects inner city residents to UCLA, and they can get credentials and get jobs. And John toured with Al Gore in the 2000 election, and they did economic summits. I tried to involve Republicans. Let me say nobody showed up after the first weekend for John Bryant. Who did show up was Senator Rick Santorum and then-Governor Tom Ridge, who sponsored one of his summits.
I had this experience with another community in the early '80s, and that is the gay community. I did one of the first stories on the AIDS crisis way back. It was in 1983. There were only 3,000 AIDS victims and only 300 dead in the entire United States at the time, and I attended a conference headed by Dianne Feinstein, then the Mayor of San Francisco, and all the doctors were specialists in this, and they were mainly gay doctors. And I learned three things. First -- and this is before they isolated the virus – that it was sexually transmitted. What they said was, "There will not be a vaccine for 10 years, and there will probably never be a cure." It turns out they were very optimistic. There's still no vaccine. And the third was that the disease was doubling every six months. What that told me was that "the only thing you can do is to uphold standard public health methods." And there were these bathhouses, which were a sexual gymnasium, as it were; it was just the perfect breeding ground for AIDS. When there was a herpes epidemic in the early '70s, all the sex clubs for heterosexuals were closed down, but nobody would do that for these bathhouses.
I extrapolated in my mind, and I saw that in 10 years, there would be 100-or-so thousand dead, or in 20 years, there would be two or three hundred thousand, which is exactly what's happened. This was a total nightmare, and yet, the leaders… I got in, because of the article -- actually, the magazine was picketed. The leadership of the gay community were very left; they were all my leftist friends from the '60s, and they were denouncing Ronald Reagan as responsible for the AIDS crisis. John is always a little critical of me because of my poor bedside manner, you know, my confrontational -- but I had put on my best bedside manner at a debate --
John Bryant: Did you say a little confrontational?
David Horowitz: -- at a debate that I attended with 100 gay activists, and I said, "Look, you know, I'm totally sympathetic. I believe that homosexuality is genetic. You guys deserve the same rights as everybody else. I totally sympathize with you. Ten years ago, you were being put in jail for sex. But this is very serious, and the only way that something can be done is you've got to close these bathhouses, and you've got to stop defining sexual liberation as sleeping with as many partners as possible -- I mean the average gay male was sleeping with hundreds of strangers in big urban areas; this is a prescription for spreading this. And I was attacked, of course, as a Nazi, denounced. I mean actually I was in physical danger -- somebody threatened to throw a cup of hot coffee in my face while we were sitting in the bar.
And I suddenly realized that they were denouncing Republicans because Republicans weren't carrying any message to them. They trusted the Democrats. The Democrats in San Francisco were dominated by the -- the gay left was so powerful. There were so many and so organized that no Democrat politician could get elected without their vote, and their leadership was protecting the radical message of sexual liberation. This was back in 1983. I saw hundreds of thousand of people in the United States, young people dead, and there was absolutely nothing that could be done about it.
And this is a kind of long digression to come back to what John is doing because I see a similar thing -- I have seen a similar thing in the inner cities. The crime issue is the most obvious. The leading politician for South Central is Maxine Waters, who brought gang-bangers to Washington to testify as, you know, they're part of the oppressed people, and, you know, it's all about racism when there are no white people in South Central, and most inner city schools are run by African-Americans.
The city has a large African-American population. The police departments are run by African-Americans. The government -- I saw the same gap here. And then I met John Bryant. And it seemed to me that John is the solution.
But I couldn't get Republicans to show up, and it's for the same reason. I mean who wants to be carrying a message, however beneficial and however well-meaning, and feel physically threatened and be denounced as a Nazi. And, of course, Republicans are denounced as lynchers. President Bush, of all people, was accused of being a lyncher by the NAACP to the tune of about $10 million in ads in the last campaign. So it's perfect -- here I was again. I was perfectly looking at the same divide. You know, when I looked at the people who could bring resources and funds into the inner city, I could see that they'd just be frightened about being treated this way. Even if there wasn't a physical threat, who wants to be verbally -- there are few of us who seem to enjoy being verbally abused. And I was very frustrated by this.
And I'm going on very long in this introduction, but I want to set this framework so that you can get a sense --
And then something happened. In 2000, George Bush won the election, and John’s organization suddenly has grown from a $60,000 budget to $5 million this year. He has brought $114 million in loans into the inner city. He has 100 banks or more behind him. And he was suddenly cut off from Washington. And this is the last remarkable thing about this man is that given that during these years I brought a book out called Hating Whitey: And Other Progressive Causes. I conducted this reparations campaign. And all my Republican friends are saying, "Step back a little and see if David is going to walk the plank here or survive." And there was John, disagreeing with me on a lot of these issues, but seeing our core connection, and I really wanted to help in this area.
And it turned out that the election of George Bush and the defeat of Clinton and Gore worked, opened doors in this area because Republicans were not going to show up, but what if John showed up to Republicans? So I just make this long story short -- I'll end it here. Not only has he been to Washington now and met with all the Republican leaders and the President and Karl Rove, but he brought the President to South Central on the tenth anniversary of the riots. He put together all the people who were working in the inner city, and they all, of course -- or I shouldn't say all, but some of them are virulent Bush haters, and John made this happen. He said, "This is the President of the United States. He has come to our city. If anybody starts in on a rant here, you're out of the room." And it turned out to be a terrific event.
And I believe it's the beginning. There are probably very few people, if any, with the charisma and the qualities of John Bryant, but there are plenty of people who can follow his lead. And now that we've started the communications going, I just have great expectations for what will happen. Anyway, without more ado, let me introduce my friend, John Bryant.
John Bryant: Thank you. It's been nice being with you this morning. Stole my speech. David's an interesting person. You know, David's in love with America. So David calls me one day, "John, do you believe in America?" "David, it's early. Point of this conversation?" "John, do you believe in America's Constitution?" "David, can you please get on with the point?" "John, do you believe in our Constitution? Do you believe in your Constitutional rights?" You know, he starts to get this cadence to his voice. I said, "David, if you haven't noticed, I'm black. You know, my grandmother and grandfather fought for their Constitutional rights." "John, do you believe in your Constitutional rights? Do you believe in your rights for free speech?" "David, will you please get on with it? I'm sure this is a long distance phone call for one of us." "Well, if you believe in your Constitutional rights, John, will you please come give a free speech? Do you believe in free speech?” And so here I am, traveled 12 hours to get here. Felt like I was going to either Europe or Africa, just coming to West Palm Beach, Florida; honored to be here.
Let me tell you something about David Horowitz. David, yes, he does not have a good bedside manner. Yes, there have been many times I've called him at two in the morning. "Excuse me, April, could I speak to David?" as I curse him out for saying something remarkably insensitive to some group who didn't want to hear it.
But then there's another side to David. When I -- I didn't complain, but I answered the question, "John, did anybody show up after we gave our first speech, "Leave No Community Behind"? I said, with all due respect, "David, no, no one showed up. A lot of people said they would, like they gave me nice platitudes and pats on the back, but no one showed up, and certainly no one wrote a check."
And, fine, I believe in the James Brown version of affirmative action, "Open the door; I'll get it myself." So I wasn't asking anybody to do anything for me, but he asked the question. So David felt a sense of responsibility. To make a long story short, David took me to lunch with a gentleman last December. That lunch lasted 45 minutes. That gentleman said he didn't have a business card, which is normally a great sign that they're not going to be of any help. He went back to his office in Maryland and wrote me a little e-mail that said simply this: "Please come to Washington. Do you have signing authority?" I called and said, "Yes, I do have signing authority. What can I help you with?" He said, "Well, I need you to come pick up your $500,000 grant for your work." That's David Horowitz. That same gentleman just made another $100,000 gift as a $2 billion foundation called the Weinberg Foundation. David Horowitz did not have to do that. Thank you very, very, very much.
That's the David you don't know about. That's the David you don't hear about. That's the David that he does not brag about, but he's a good man, and he really, really cares.
I'm here to talk to you now. I want you to not be concerned. Unlike David, I don't ramble. I'm going to get right to the point, but I'm also going to adhere to the AME Church Doctrine of Public Speaking, which is to "Be good, be quick, and then be gone." I'm here to talk about the Silver Rights movement, the Silver Rights movement, and my 10-point plan for the 21st century. Now, the first question you should ask is, "What is the Silver Rights movement?" As I'll make the case in the next 35 or so minutes, you will quickly see that the Silver Rights movement is the next social movement for this country. That is the case that I will make in the next 35 minutes.
We are living increasingly in what I call an economic age, an economic era, but we are living in an era that is also literally exploding with American ethnic diversity, an American era where the only constant is change. The only constant is change. Changes in the workforce; 70 percent of all new hires today are ethnic minority hires. Changes in who is employing America. Women-owned businesses today employ more people than the Fortune 500 combined. Changes in who's growing up with your kids and who will help them lead this great country. According to a recent Department of Commerce study issued by the Bush administration, 70 percent of all youth in America today under the age of 10 are ethnic minority children. I'll repeat. Seventy-five percent of all children today under the age of 10 are ethnic minority children.
Now, you can either fight this change, or you can join it. Or as I like to say, when you're being run out of town, get in front of the crowd and make it like a parade. I will make the case that these changes in demographics and our shift into essentially an economic era can and will work for you if you choose to embrace it. I'll also make the case that if we don't embrace it, America's prosperity will hit a wall. If the 20th century was about race in the color line all over the world, the 21st century's going to be about class and poverty. If the 20th century was about race and the color line all over the world, the 21st century's going to be about class and poverty.
Let me frame the issue. According to USA Today, in 2002, there were 600,000 penta-millionaires in America, individuals with a net worth of $5m or more, not including their home. According to that same study, there'll be four million penta-millionaires in the year 2004 by year-end. According to the U.N., there are 6.5 billion people in America today sharing our small planet. More than five billion of them live on less than $1 a day.
Let me bring this home. Want to solve terrorism? Solve world poverty because the places where terrorism is growing are the same places where mind-numbing poverty is overwhelming.
In my all-time favorite, according to a 2001 report by CNN, for anybody in here who's thinking I'm talking about "those" people, listen to this.
According to a report by CNN, half of all Americans today are living from paycheck to paycheck. It's not half of all black folks. It's not half of all brown folks. It's half of all Americans today living from paycheck to paycheck. If you're living in Los Angeles or New York and you make less than $50,000 a year, you are struggling just to make ends meet. Can I get an amen? Oh, I'm sorry. Everybody here has a net worth of a million dollars or more.
Let me reflect on the majority of middle-class Americans. Let me frame the issue. If you were middle class 30 years ago, it was one parent working, one parent raising your child as a domestic engineer. Today, middle class is two parents working, and the television is raising your child, or popular culture is raising your child, and you aren't making any more money. This is the America that we live with today. According to a report by the Jump$tart Coalition, 57 percent of all youth today in America failed a basic economic literacy test, 57 percent of all Americans. It appears that they are simply reflecting their parents because the number-one cause for divorce in America today is money.
Now, let me bring it home. Bankruptcies in 2000, one million bankruptcies, non-business. Bankruptcies in 2001, one-point-five million. Bankruptcies in 2002, one-point-seven million, almost a doubling over two years in non-business bankruptcies. Now, here's the startling point. The largest group of bankruptcy filers in all three years were youth between 18 and 24.
Now, let me bring it right to your doorstep. Eighteen to twenty-four; those aren't black kids, and those aren't brown kids. Those are middle-class, white college students getting a master's degree in psychology, an undergraduate degree in bankruptcy, paying for their pizza with a credit card, believe a check is a form of credit, and are writing home to you for more money. The average sophomore in college has a consumer debt of $3,000. The average senior in college has $7,000 of consumer debt and four credit cards and no job. A third of all college students are graduating from college with no idea how to make their first loan -- their first payment on their student loan. Now, those are American statistics, folks. Those are not minority statistics. These are all of our issues.
And so I will say again that the Civil Rights movement is about building a stakeholder class in the 21st century, people who don't necessarily make more money but make better decisions with the money they make. Why? Because the game in the 21st century will not be about race principally but about enlightened self-interest. Folks don't much care about tax policy unless they've got a job. Because any country in any group is at its greatest risk by those who have no stake in it. The riots of 1992 in Los Angeles -- $1b in property damage, 3,000 structures burned, 55 people lost their lives, 8,000 people arrested.
Now, I'm coming back to the economic piece. Three thousand structures damaged. Guess how many were homes. There's some smart people in this room -- Ph.D.s, doctorates, masters, economists, Senators, Congress people -- 3,000 structures damaged. Somebody heard my speech before. Not one was a home. Why? You don't burn that which is your own. Now, here's the magic. Here's why we should be hopeful. Thirty-five percent of the residents in South Central L.A. owned a home in 1992.
Sixty-five percent rented for the same cost as a mortgage payment. If you knew better, you'd do better. Why would you rent when you can afford to own? Either it had to be low self-esteem or lack of access and lack of education and information. If you knew better, you'd do better. Thirty-five percent of the residents owned their own home. That was enough to give the community the perception that they owned the residential streets.
Now, here's the magic. Thirty-five percent of the residents own their home. What's the voter turnout rate? David was almost correct -- 38 percent. Wasn't a black issue, wasn't a brown issue, it was enlightened self-interest. The best policeman you could have on a block is a homeowner. My mother used to say to ruffians on the front street, the front block, of our house, "You better get off of my porch with that mess," and underline "my." My mother would rather mortgage me than risk missing her mortgage payment.
Why should you care? This is the real question before I say anything else. Why should you care? Because you want more taxpayers, which leads to more voters. Because you, just like the Democrats on the other side of the aisle, want more voters for your agenda. Because you want to tap the growing American ethnic minority. Because you want to grow you agenda. Supporting the Silver Rights movement gives you all four.
Now, what does it take for our leadership to support this movement? The first thing is to have what I call an inspired perspective, an inspired perspective. That means being positive, in simple English. The Bible says, "Where there is no vision, the people perish." Deepak Chopra has said in The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success that, "We're not human beings having a spiritual experience. We're spiritual beings having a human experience." Dr. Scott Peck said in A Road Less Traveled in the first line of this 200-page bestseller that's been on the bestseller list for 20 years, "Life is difficult." Translation: if you can't get with that statement, don't read the rest of the book because no one promised you a rose garden.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said in a letter from a Birmingham jail when the theologians called him an extremist as he sat in that Alabama jail. His only question was, "not whether I was an extremist, but what kind of an extremist would I be?" And my pastor, Cecil "Chip" Murray of First AME Church, has said, "It's not what people call you; it's what you answer to that's important, and never answer out of your name." And then I added, "To argue with a fool proves there are two." You guys are a tough crowd.
I have said when People magazine profiled me last year as a community hero, they said, "John, the one criticism of your agenda is that you are a bit of a self-promoter." I said, "Well, I'm not a bit of a self-promoter; I am a self-promoter." Just as Dr. Martin Luther King was a self-promoter for racial justice. Just as Nelson Mandela was a brilliant self-promoter for freedom. Just as Jesus Christ was a self-promoter for the glory of God with even a tribe called Christians. Just as you here today are a self-promoter for an agenda and a cause, which you believe in with every bone in your body. I have seen it for myself as I have listened to you passionately make your case for your America.
Yes, every movement must have a face, so I'm proud to be the self-promoter for hope, for poverty eradication, and for economic empowerment of the poor and the underserved. And I've said in my book, Banking on Our Future, there is a difference between being broke and being poor. Being broke is an economic condition, but being poor is a disabling frame of mind and a depressed condition of our spirit, and we must vow never, ever, ever to be poor again. And my all-time favorite, "Jesus is coming. Look busy."
Believe in people. We don't do business with companies, governments, or organization. We do business with people.
When somebody calls your company or organization and they get somebody rude on the line, they say, "That's a horrible company, or that's a horrible Congressman, or a horrible Senator." But they didn't do business with the Senator or the Congressman or your company; they did business with somebody who had a bad morning, a bad afternoon, or a bad evening. They did business with a person with a personality. We don't do business with companies; we do business with people. There are six billion people in the world, and there's nobody just like you. As I like to say, watch how you live your life. It may be the only Bible that anybody else reads.
My story: I grew up in Compton, California in South Central Los Angeles. My mother and my father are two of the most important, the most incredible people I ever met in my life. They also never finished high school in the South.
My mother told me she loved me, though, every day of my life. Do you know how powerful it is to have a child to be told that he or she is loved? So I never grew up with a self-esteem problem because my mother told me that I was important.
My father is 78 years young. Owned his own business for 52 years. So when I was 10 years old and I started my first business, which was called the "Neighborhood Candy House," I made $300 a week, found girls, lost the business. It's been a recurring theme in my life till I met my sweetie. But people said, "How did you start a business at age 10?" Response: "It never dawned on me that I couldn't." Why? Because I saw my father do it. He met a payroll ever week for 52 years.
Let me tell you how special my mother is. I just told you she never finished high school in the South. She's 65 years of age. At 62, she went back to school and got her GED degree, and she's now in college in Riverside, California.
My mother is not conceited; she's convinced. My mother's an incredible lady, and they passed that legacy on to me, and so I grew up believing that I was somebody. I was an actor in my teenage years -- not a very good one -- but I made a lot of money. And if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plan. I went from living in a beach house making $14,000 a week to living in my Jeep. I was homeless for six months in my life. But God don't make dirt, and you can't fall from the floor.
And so I decided to reconstitute my life, and I went to a private banking firm, and as a favor to a friend, they hired me, and I had to pass a California real estate test. Well, you know, if you can breathe in a mirror and walk, you can pass this test. And so I failed it three times in the first year. And, basically, California said, "If you fail it four times, you're too stupid to do business in California to have this license." So I failed it three times, and I did zero in business. The second year, I passed the stupid little test and did $9m in business as a private banking firm -- short-term, gap, and swing-loan financing. The third year, I did $15m in business. The fourth year, I did $24m in business. In the fourth year, I did a management buyout and became the youngest American to do such a transaction and acquired my employer. That was 1991. If you can't beat 'em, buy 'em. And so I understand capitalism and I understand markets.
Point number three -- make the connections. And so if we don't do business with companies and we do business with people, what are people focused on in the 21st century? I've just suggested a transition. Let me tell you where it started.
His name was Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1968, he was focused on something called the "Poor People's Campaign," 1968, about poor whites because there are more poor whites than poor anybody else in America today, poor Latinos, poor African-Americans, poor Asians, moving them all up the economic ladder, because he realized you couldn't legislate goodness and you couldn't pass a law to force someone to respect you. The only way to social justice in a capitalist country was through economic parity, but he was also a liberal minister. And so his ministry fed into his work, and his mission was a redistribution-of-wealth mission, which I believe is what got him assassinated in 1968, three weeks before the march on Washington for the "Poor People's Campaign."
My mission is not a redistribution-of-wealth model. My mission is a creation-of wealth model. You don't have to cut up a poverty pie; you can expand it. Now, that does not suggest that I'm in conflict with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It suggests that he was on a stepping-stone to the next movement and simply wanted somebody else to pass the baton to. So what am I saying in English? It's not about black, red, or brown; it's about green.
Number four -- support an institution of change. Support an institution of change. My institution is called Operation HOPE. I founded it in 1992 after the riots in Los Angeles, the worst riots in U.S. history. We had a $61,000 operating budget, one employee, and a vision to change the world and to eradicate poverty, and everybody laughed at me. It was America's first nonprofit social investment bank to which people said, "Nonprofit social investment bank -- that's an oxymoron, and, John, you're a moron." We had a $61,000 budget, as I just said, a visit to change the world. I'm 26 years old. People did a wonderful thing. They wrote me off. They dismissed me. They said it won't amount to much.
Today, David's wrong. We have a $6m annual operating budget. This year I'll raise $10m in a down economy. We are in nine states. We have nine nonprofit companies within our umbrella. We have 38 CEOs of major banks on our national board of directors and other folks like Jack Kemp. We have funded $110m in loans, with $170m in commitments all across this country, creating over 600 homeowners and 100 small business owners. And out of all of those loans, the market-rate loans made by 130 FDI-insured banks. In nine years, not one home loan has ever gone bad.
My mission is poverty eradication and empowerment. I believe in a partnership between the government, the community, and the private sector. My mission is bipartisan and inclusive. He mentioned to you I hosted President Bush on April 29 of last year. What he didn't mention is I also hosted President Clinton on April 24 of last year. I want to get everybody under this big tent of hope, opportunity, and empowerment because we can't solve poverty if it’s a partisan issue. You cannot solve poverty if it's a partisan issue. It's an American issue, and it's all of our issue, and we should all be concerned with it.
Nine companies, what's our mission? Conversion. Converting check-cashing customers into banking customers. I hate check cashers. I'm on record as saying I think it's a morally repressive business. I think it is a horrible, horrible, horrible business. I bought a check casher. If you can't beat 'em, buy 'em. I partnered with Union Bank of California, $40b in assets. We acquired the most ethical check casher in South Central L.A. Six hundred thousand customers, 47 locations, because Jesus met you where you work and said, "Let's go from here." So 600,000 people chose to go to a check casher. Either good or bad, that's the choice that they made. We met them there.
Let me tell you the results.
We got them out of the check-cashing business and into the conversion business. Union Bank opened 30,000 new accounts last year in six states. Three thousand of those accounts, or 10 percent of their entire business, came from us from that check casher in South Central Los Angeles. Three thousand customers moved from a check-cashing customer to a banking customer, moving them up and out of poverty. You can do well and do good. You can do well by doing good. It is enlightened self-interest because we're all wrapped up in the same fight.
The second thing we did is convert renters into homeowners, convert renters into homeowners. We converted 600 homeowners, as I already mentioned, into homeowners and created taxpayers in South Central L.A. We converted small business dreamers into small business owners and minimum-wage workers into living-wage workers with new job skills and the economically uneducated to the economically empowered. This is the mission of Operation HOPE, to create new stakeholders in America.
The most important thing that we've done and we do is educate children.
Banking on our future teaches kids checking, savings, credit, investment, and the history of banking. We've taught 114,000 kids checking, savings, credit and investment in the history of banking with 1,000 volunteer banker/teachers, and I'm not going to stop until we teach every child in America before they get to eighth grade economic literacy skills.
President Bush has highlighted this program. We're partnering with the Bush administration with several agencies to push this program. I took Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, if you can believe this, into a classroom on June 5 of this year to teach kids economic literacy, and they actually laughed at some of his jokes.
Mission: Teach five million kids in five years economic literacy in the top-10 urban communities in America, and I've asked President Bush to help me do this. And right now, there's a proposal right before the President to do exactly that, and I've been told he's looking on it favorably.
My final point on this point: I want you to see the inner city not as a wasteland but as an opportunity. Let me give you one simple model -- Harlem. Manhattan, it's an island. Manhattan's an island. You have the upper west side of Manhattan, Central Park, the upper west side of Manhattan, the lower Manhattan, the upper east side of Manhattan, and Harlem. Let me make it easy for you -- black folks. But when you have increasing population and increasing wealth and finite land, after a while, white folks say black folks ain't so bad.
Do you know right now today there are $1m townhomes on 125th street in Harlem? A teardown in Harlem is $500,000. They would've given it to you five years ago, and they'd have paid you to take it 10 years ago.
Eighty-five percent of all small businesses in Harlem today are on a month-to-month lease, and the landlord doesn't want to give them a longer lease. Ten years ago, they were on a month-to-month lease, and the tenants did not want to have a longer lease. Where there is no vision, the people perish.
Let me bring it home on some economic statistics. Movies -- black folks are 10 percent of the U.S. population. We purchased 25 percent of every movie ticket sold in this country. We go to the movies once, we go to the movies twice, we rent the video, we bootleg-copy it -- I mean we copy it. So why did Mattie Johnson build a theater in South Central L.A.? Did he do it because he was a nice guy? No, no. You give a thousand dollars to your favorite charity because you're a nice guy. You don't invest $30m because you're a nice guy. You invest $30m because you want to get paid. That theater's in the top-10 percent of every theater sale for the Sony chain, South Central L.A., and that's why they are replicated all over the country.
Pittsburgh used to be a smokestack state. Now it's a clean economy. Where was the worst real estate 40 years ago? Next to the lake on the hill. Now, where's the best real estate? Next to the lake on the hill. They are building quarter-million-dollar townhomes right now in Pittsburgh. Where there is no vision, the people perish. So what we are doing is creating stakeholders in America. We're growing our American economy, and I'm making the case that it is in your self-interest to join me.
My final point, the global link. The largest economy in the world is the United States of America. I love this point. The only nation in the world where every race of people is within its borders it the United States of America. The two largest economies in the U.S. are California and New York. The two most ethnically diverse places in the United States of America are California and New York.
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