Operation HOPE recently expanded its reach in metro Atlanta by opening HOPE Inside RBC Bank DeKalb office, on Wednesday, Sept. 25, at the Allen Entrepreneurial Institution (AEI) Startup Factory in Lithonia, GA.

Spearheaded by Lorraine Cochran-Johnson, commissioner of DeKalb’s Super District 7, this arm of Operation HOPE will offer free financial coaching to all county residents through its Credit and Money Management Program, with the goal of providing financial education and increasing credit scores.

“I am overjoyed to announce that we have HOPE in DeKalb,” Cochran-Johnson said. “I represent over 350,000 people. Whether you’re at River Road South Dekalb or you’re at Doraville north, you are apart of my district.”

“And in south and unincorporated DeKalb when you look at the disparity there and the lack of wealth and business, I’m a firm believer that if we want, it’s time we own. We have not in many instances because we own not. So as long as I’m your commissioner I am going to do everything within my power to ensure that we move away from being black and white communities to being green communities.”

Cockran-Johson says that she became aware of Operation HOPE and John Hope Bryant back in 2015 while managing the Atlanta Daily World and Who’s Who In Black Atlanta brand, when Bryant’s organization announced its move to Atlanta.

“After winning office I said I need to go down Peachtree Street, the 131 building, and I need HOPE in DeKalb,” Cockran-Johnson said. “Operation HOPE is located within financial institutions and individuals who care to have counseling to care or improve their credit can have the conversation.”

Offered at no cost to participants, HOPE Inside RBC Bank DeKalb includes Operation HOPE financial wellbeing coaches providing educational workshops and one-on-one coaching in credit and money management, homeownership preparedness, and small business development.

“(This) is arguably the most important HOPE Inside we’ve launched in Greater Atlanta because it’s at the Startup Factory and for what it represents. And I’ve never said that before in anything I’ve done in Atlanta,” said John Hope Bryant, founder and CEO of Operation HOPE.

Bryant’s organization has been responsible for helping underserved Americans by improving economic activity either through financial literacy, business coaching, or credit score enhancing.

Through its community uplift model, HOPE Inside, Operation HOPE has served more than 4 million individuals and directed more than $3.2 billion in economic activity into disenfranchised communities—turning check-cashing customers into banking customers, renters into homeowners, small business dreamers into small business owners, minimum wage workers into living wage consumers, and uncertain disaster victims into financially
empowered disaster survivors.

While the newest location represents a partnership between Operation HOPE, DeKalb County, and RBC Bank, it’s also symbolic of Black wealth and the vision of financial freedom that so many people are trying to achieve.

“This (is) the fourth largest county in Georgia, second-most affluent African American county in the country, but in 1960 it was farm fields. Atlanta as we know it really was DeKalb,” Bryant said.

Additionally, the AEI Startup Factory, and the plaza that it sits in, are owned by Lecester “Bill” Allen, an Atlanta-based entrepreneur who prides himself on making his money off real estate, while also giving back through teaching entrepreneurship.

“I’ve been an entrepreneur for more than 40 years and felt that it was time that I give back the communities across the united states, predominately African American communities that had allowed me to live what we call ‘the good life.’”

The entrepreneur opened the incubator back in 2017, to house up to 150 businesses in the 15,000-square-foot building, as another branch to the originally AEI, which is located next to New Birth Missionary Baptist Church.

“2001 we bought the property where New Birth is, but actually some people were surprised that we were actually there before New Birth, and we started our institute,” Allen said. “Since that time we have had more than 10,000 young people, fifth grade through post-secondary, (have) come through our institute to study entrepreneurism.”

HOPE Inside RBC Bank DeKalb will actually be inside AEI Startup Factory, RBC representatives will be present to assist as well.

“Overall people want to make good financial decisions that set them up for success both today and in the future,” said Melanie Kandil, chief compliance officer at RBC Bank. “But a lot (of people) have never had the opportunity to do that. We teach our children to wear seatbelts and schools are vast in programs aimed at helping them to practice smart internet habits, but fewer are teaching financial literacy and talking about the dangers of too much debt and how important their credit score is.”

A wholly-owned subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Canada, RBC Bank provides U.S. banking solutions to consumer clients with a cross-border lifestyle.

“We believe that financial empowerment changes lives. This partnership increases RBC Bank’s ability to reach the local community, educate individuals on banking products and money management, while also helping them to take control of their future and achieve their of homeownership.”

With 150 Hope Inside locations available, Bryants says that he has 350 more locations on the way with the vision to have over 1,000 across the country.

“I’m going to become the Starbucks of financial inclusion,” Bryant said.

(Photo: Courtesy of DeKalb County)

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