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S.C. Rural Forum

John Hope Bryant, CEO of Operation HOPE Inc., gave the keynote address at the South Carolina Rural Summit held on the campus of Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College.

Building self-esteem, optimism and hope in the community will translate into economic growth and stronger communities, an entrepreneur told a group of gathered for the S.C. Rural Summit on Tuesday.

"Success is going through failure and failure without the loss of enthusiasm. Life is 10 percent what life does to you and 90 percent is how I choose to respond to it," John Hope Bryant said. "Poverty has nothing to do with money, which is why we can't solve it."

Bryant spoke to the 170 people who attended the S.C. Rural Summit at the Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College. He is the CEO of Atlanta-based Operation Hope Inc., which is designed to help low and moderate-income youth and adults.

"Half of all poverty across the world is low self-esteem and a lack of confidence in yourself," Bryant said. "The second part of poverty is crappy role models in a crappy environment."

"If you hang around nine broke people, you will be the tenth," he said. "Whoever you hang around, you will be."

Bryant said the things that matter in life and for human success are meaningful relationships and knowledge sharing.

"What really matters in your household, in your county, in your city, is love, charity, compassion, tolerance, joy, faith, confidence, vulnerability, relationships, trust," Bryant said. "The most valuable things on the planet you actually cannot physically touch, but what do we obsess about? We obsess about buildings, we need some more infrastructure and roads."

"Don't get caught up in things that don't really matter," he said.

The fifth aspect of poverty is the lack of aspiration or hope, Bryant said.

"The most dangerous person I know in the world is a person with no hope," he said.

Without hope, opportunity diminishes.

"I will never leave my porch," Bryant said.

"Wealth is high self-esteem and high confidence," Bryant said. It’s also built on “solid role models -- mothers and fathers at home, business leaders around you … and an enabling environment."

On top of improving human capital and human relationships, Bryant also noted that improving communities starts with improving credit scores.

He noted Orangeburg's average credit score of 614 means it is “locked out of the free enterprise,” meaning the average person cannot get a small business loan or a home loan.

"You are in the bottom 10 percent of all cities in your state and the crime rate is through the roof," he said.

Bryant said, "There has never been a riot in a 700-credit score neighborhood in all of American history of any race -- ever."

"It is very simple," he said. "700-credit score neighborhoods don't riot. They go shopping."

But he said it won't be easy.

"GDP is hand-to-hand combat," Brant said. "House by house, block by block, city by city, county by county."

Moving the average credit score up 120 points will mean less police, more small businesses, job creation, positive attitudes, optimism and families staying together, he said.

"You will begin to see the underground economy go underground and see the traditional economies begin to emerge," Bryant said. "You will see less drug dealers."

Bryant said those gathered at the summit are the gatekeepers of the Orangeburg community.

"You are the gatekeepers of change for South Carolina," he said. "You are sitting in a moment of history."

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Contact the writer: gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5551. Check out Zaleski on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD.

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Staff Writer

Gene Zaleski is a reporter/staff writer with The Times and Democrat.

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