CareTalk Podcast – John Hope Bryant: Is Slavery a Pre-Existing Condition?

John Hope Bryant joins CareTalk for an unforgettable discussion about how years of slavery has led to countless healthcare disparities amongst African Americans.


David Williams (00:00):

Welcome to CARETALK, your weekly home for incisive debate about healthcare, business, and policy. I’m David Williams, President of Health Business Group.

John Driscoll (00:07):

And I’m John Driscoll, the CEO of CareCentrix.

David Williams (00:09):

Hey John, you’re like a one-note Johnny when it comes to doing these shows. You’re just all healthcare, Mr. Wonky all the time, so I hope you could find another John, that’s going to set us straight.

John Driscoll (00:19):

Well, we’ve got a special guest, actually. I think we’re going to expand the notion of what’s relevant for healthcare, because if we don’t deal with some of the structural challenges of the healthcare system that have led us, that have failed us during COVID, we’re not really dealing with healthcare today. And we’ve got a phenomenal guest, John Hope Bryant. Welcome, John, who’s going to share some of his ideas. He’s a part-time entrepreneur and a full-time warrior for justice around these issues showing, through his example, as a leader and a businessman, how economic empowerment can be transformational without losing the thread of how challenging it is for folks of color to navigate both our economic and our healthcare system. And we’re going to probe how those two are tied together. Welcome, John.

John Hope Bryant (01:08):

Honored to be with you and honored to be with somebody I believe is not only a decent human being, but really a champion and a giant, in the area of consciousness and capitalism you, John, I think that you are a very special human being and CareCentrix is lucky to have you as its CEO. And we are lucky to have you as a partner for Hope Inside the Workplace, where you’ve done great things for your employees through us, you’re beginning to do that now and what you’re doing for society, ie things like this podcast that you don’t have to do. So I appreciate you.

John Driscoll (01:47):

Big love back at you, John, but talk to us a little bit about how you’ve started to remind people about how the fact that 13% of populations of color, and yet people of color are 40% of the fatalities from this horrible COVID plague and how that ties into some of the structural challenges of American society. And particularly how the economic structures have really kind of locked us in some pretty terrible healthcare outcomes.

John Hope Bryant (02:20):

Well, it’s actually more intense than that. John, you have double the … This pandemic, this year 2020, has represented the worst health pandemic, worst health crisis since the Spanish flu, I believe of 125 some odd years ago, the worst crisis of unemployment since the Great Depression in America and a 400 year old social justice reckoning for black America, all within a four month period. You cannot even plan this more strategically as far as a reset for America and the world, and who would ever think that one of these things would happen to us, let alone all three and all three of these things bear down on the least of these God’s children the most. So unemployment is for blacks are double right now than it is for whites. About 20% of all businesses are having some challenges being offline right now, but 41% of all black businesses report being offline right now.

You have 30 million businesses in this country. About 9 million of them were black businesses, but 96% of the black businesses don’t have an employee, they’re sole proprietors, they’re self-employment projects. So when PPP came around, which I helped in some ways to design with the Treasury Department, they couldn’t get access to the money because they didn’t have a banker. They thought their banker was their bank teller down the street. It’s not. It’s your private banker, couldn’t get in line, didn’t have the books and records, didn’t have the infrastructure, the credit score, the things that allow you the financial acumen to be able to move quickly and faith in the system so you move quickly to get access to this once in a lifetime Care Act money that flowed in 2020.

And then you’ve got the health numbers that you have illustrated where African Americans are being infected at and dying at a rate higher than anybody else, actually multiples of almost double. So, yeah, it’s a moment for sure and we can get into the why and the how, but we are in a moment in history right now, in my opinion, John. History doesn’t feel historic when you’re sitting in it. It just feels like another day, but that doesn’t mean the moment we’re in is not in fact historic. And we’re starting to see for the first time our interdependencies, our interrelatedness, we are at home now, those who are lucky, social distancing and retreating from infecting others and being infected. But the poor and struggling people who often, like me, can’t do that. Their realities are just the opposite.

They’re in tight apartment buildings with multiple people. You’re working in jobs that are highly contagious or contagious adjacent, working in retail, working in delivery, working in food service, working in factories and you have to go to work. And that is having dealt with the largest issue, which hopefully we’re going to get into in this podcast, which is the pre-existing condition that a certain population has dealt with and the mainstream has not, which makes you more susceptible to COVID than not.

John Driscoll (06:04):

So, so dig into that one, John, because when we talk about preexisting conditions in healthcare, we’re always thinking about those healthcare inherited disease, experienced disease, history with illness, what kind of pre-existing conditions predispose us to sort of the health care outcomes … Hold on the economics, but look at the healthcare outcomes that have fallen so unfairly on folks of color.

John Hope Bryant (06:33):

A slave diet. I hope that your listeners don’t run off the road listening to this, or drive into a ditch or hit reverse by accident. Hope they just stop and rewind this because I did not make a slip of the tongue. It’s a slave diet. That’s not a pejorative. That’s not emotional. This country is 450 years old, give or take. 300 of those years, John, were enslaved. 150 years free, and a hundred years that were free, where seventy-five years of what we call Jim Crow, which is commercialized slavery. We don’t have time to get into that conversation, but that’s where the penal system evolved because if you couldn’t have blacks that were forced to do labor for free, then you would pick them up and imprison them for some infraction and the way you can only work it off is to go work for a commercial business.

This is in the 20th century. Half of the people who worked for the commercial venture died in the first year. But let me go back to the early 17th century and 18th century. The slaveholder in addition to giving you the first sin against independence in this country, which is if you work hard and play by the rules, you should get the benefit of your labor. There are the people listening to this, no matter what political social economic framework they come from, rural, urban doesn’t really matter. Black, white, conservative, liberal, we all agree on that.

You work hard, get the benefit of your labor. Well, the slaveholder plantation owner got the benefit of our labor. We worked hard and his house got bigger and then we couldn’t create capital because we were capital. We were traded, financed, insured, brokered. We were more valuable than land because if a crop went bad in the South, you could actually take us and trade us across state lines and we were more valuable than the land itself. And so if that wasn’t bad enough, the slaveholder would throw the scraps out the back door of the plantation that they didn’t want. I guess, as a sense of disrespect for their slaves, but we turned that into a delicacy, which we now call soul food.

So it’s sort of rainbows only after storms conversation, you can not have a rainbow without a storm first and when people are doing bad to you, make a good out of it. And so we turned it into grits, hog malls, pig feet, collard greens, fried chicken, hoecake, literally making a cake in a shovel, a hoe cake. You can go on. I mean, think about, I want your listeners now to think about all of the things that they associate with soul food, which is fantastic and delicious. And if it tastes that good, there’s a reason for it. If your tongue tingles, John, because there’s a lot of iodized salt. Because the way you kept food from going bad in the heat was put a lot of iodized salt on it. Well, of course, black folks have one of the highest blood pressure epidemics of any race in America, not blacks from Caribbean, not blacks from Africa, African-Americans blacks because of slavery.

And we are obese in an unprecedented rate. We’re dropping like flies in COVID because we have these pre-existing conditions that are tied to diabetes, hypertension, high blood pressure, obesity. It goes on and on and on because we shouldn’t maybe eat this food. We ate it when we had to and even when we were freed, now we’ve got a habit of eating it and our taste buds are used to it and it’s delicious. And if you’re not getting a lot of other aspirations, you’re not succeeding on the workplace. You’re not succeeding in a family structure. You’re not building wealth. “Well, at least I’m going to eat some good food.” And it literally is killing us now, John. And when then COVID comes along, it feeds on those preexisting conditions, particularly the things like the obesity.

David Williams (10:41):

So, John, I assumed that the upcoming $600 check is not going to solve everything.

John Hope Bryant (10:48):

Yeah. This is like a sin on top of a sledgehammer. I mean, it just boggles my mind. Wait a minute. We’re going to do what I think, $15 billion for a wall we don’t need because most of the people coming in from the border are coming underground tunnels, they’re sophisticated. People are smart. They’re not coming in broad daylight, over a field. They’re coming underground, but we’re going to put up a fence for 15 billion. We’re going to put another 10 or 15 billion on a space police force or something crazy thing and we’re going to give people 600 bucks. Well now, wait a minute, now. I did nothing wrong. I’m just standing here. I didn’t bring … It’s not laziness. It’s not being spineless. It’s not having no work ethic.

I’m just standing here and got hit by a global health pandemic and my government should be protecting me as a bridge over troubled waters until I get to the other side and can do for myself. And you want to give me 600 bucks. I don’t need it by the way, but you want to give the average person 600 bucks after they’ve been waiting for four months. It’s just, it’s insulting. And so, yes, it’s like black folks, we were born on probation. You know what I mean? Life is bad when you wake up. There was a friend of mine, did a survey of wealthy blacks and wealthy whites, my white friends. “When have you thought about being white?” Pause. Answer. “Not really ever.”

My black friends. “When do you think about being black?” “Every 28 minutes.” It’s exhausting. Right? And so, you’ve got PTSD. You’re exhausted from being black because you can’t even get pulled over by the police without having to think about your strategy is not get shot, right? You’re dealing with with COVID preexisting conditions. You’re being ignored by wealth and you don’t have relationship capital that’s in the corporate circles, so if you hang around nine broke people, you tend to be the 10th no matter how smart you are. And on top of that, your government has prioritized the wall over your humanity.

John Driscoll (13:03):

Well, John it’s just for that particular piece, you can directly see that societies like Germany and others where there’s direct economic support. There’s actually a much better healthcare outcome, not just from the stress. And that’s just not for black people or people of color, people with their structural discrimination. It’s anybody who’s poor and certainly anybody who’s been disempowered and is immediately poor because there’s no way they can work. I mean, it is insane because, at least from our perspective, I think you’re going to see more and more people hitting the healthcare system that’s more and more stressed. It just, it’s craziness.

John Hope Bryant (13:41):

Well, John, let’s be clear because some people may be listening to this and presuming that what I just said was some kind of a socialist statement, and I believe this, even if you wanted to use the money like a socialist and I don’t, you got first collect like a capitalist, right? So I’m all about free enterprise and entrepreneurship, but I’m not dumb. And if all your customers are dead and if your consumers are feeble and if your financial resiliency is shattered, right. And if you have an economy that’s 70% consumer spending, which is what the US consumer economy is. And then 64% of all people, read white middle-class folks too, don’t have $400 for an unplanned event, Hello, before COVID 2019. And if we need restaurants to have customers and we need Best Buys to have customers, and we need whatever, pick the rest. I mean, my rich friends need my poor friends to do better if only to stay rich and the Citigroup Report recently said that racism against blacks in the last 20 years alone cost America $16 trillion in GDP.

David Williams (14:48):

So John, 2020 has been pretty bad you’ve traced the arc back 400 years or so to show how we got here. How about 2021? We’re going to have … The wall builder is not going to be building walls. We’re going to perhaps have a vaccine. We do have a vaccine already, and things may be looking up. Maybe people are ready for a reset, and you seem to be on the optimistic side in terms of building capital, building wealth, helping people do better. It’s in everybody’s interest. Are you an optimist for 2021? What do you see as the key things that could happen for us?

John Hope Bryant (15:20):

I’m extraordinarily optimistic actually. I think that the 300,000 people who have perished in COVID thus far are martyrs for a war, fought not only against the virus, but a war against our culture. I think that there are certain people who thought that in order to change America, you had to break it first. And there’s been an attempt to break our culture, break our institutions, break our trust, break our love, break our bond to each other, our love for each other, break our sense of family. And the only person, the only individuals or entities that benefit from that, John, are countries like China and Russia, because a house divided cannot stand and we’re the largest economy in the world. But we’re forgetting that we’re family. We’re forgetting that it’s the United States of us, the United States of America, and that we’re better together.

And I’m convinced that without COVID, we wouldn’t have been sitting at home, watching children, adults, seniors, rich, and poor alike watching George Floyd with a public assassination, a lynching by iPhone on broadcast TV. We all would have been too busy. And that stopped everybody. And people said, “No, that’s not my country. That’s not me. And if that happened on an iPhone by accident, what’s going on in this country every place else?” I think that became a reinvention of values. And I think that we’ve now seen that you have two economies, John. You’ve got an investor economy and you got the real economy. The real economy is suffering from an L, a recession, it feels like a depression. And the investor economy has gained a trillion dollars in ownership value in the last year that’s not sustainable. Even my wealthy friends know that that’s not sustainable.

So now you have this massive push by the private sector, including leaders like you, to re-imagine our economy to bridge wealth and income inequality, to repair the health care system, to race to a vaccine, to revitalize our political structure, to have not black or white, but green is in the color of currency. To not have red or blue as in politics, but fuchsia, okay, the get it done party.

I think that we’re just all sick and tired of being sick and tired. We’re exhausted and we know this is not sustainable. All of us who are reasonable. Even those who are fearful know that, they’re fearful because they know it’s not sustainable. They just don’t have a plan, but I’m convinced that we’re now in an era where we’re going to re-imagine our sales beginning in 2021. I think it’s going to be a decade of re imagination and empowerment. You’re going to see a surge of businesses from the bottom is my prediction, a surge of up from nothing businesses. My last book title, by the way, Up From Nothing Businesses, an investment at the bottom of the pyramid and a restrengthening of the middle-class which drives this country. I think we’re getting back to the basics and that is extraordinarily exciting to me.

John Driscoll (18:31):

So John, we’ve got a new administration. We’re obviously convinced that bear economics, an economy that’s growing is going to create more healthy people, but you’ve got a big idea out there with a new Marshall plan. You want to just talk a little bit about it? You got a new administration, a new Congress, and maybe talk to that because I think it is, we are a great country. Sometimes we focus on small ball, but let’s let’s maybe talk or share a little bit with our listeners, your plan.

John Hope Bryant (19:02):

Sure. I’ll do it quickly. You know, very much like, John, the the sixties, the private sector integrated the South. Very few people know this. It wasn’t the government. In fact, it was Bull Connor. It was obstructionist mayors and obstructionist governors in the South that said, “Over my dead body will you integrate?” It was a private sector, leaders like you, who took down the whites only signs in their businesses. They knew it was bad business. Likewise, today you have this great leadership by the private sector when you have obstructionism at the federal level and it’s like history repeating itself. Now you have this transition of government and you have people of good will from both sides and I’ve introduced some bold ideas, internships for all. And I’m talking about millions of internships, not a few hundred, because the ladder of aspiration is broken.

What do we do after World War II, John? It was a GI bill, The Marshall Plan. The GI bill, which gave you a mortgage for a new home and so that’s a wealth creation for the average person. That created, in many ways, black middle, I’m sorry, white middle class wealth. Unfortunately, black folks didn’t get that. Today you got 41% of black folks who own a home, 70% percent plus of white folks own a home. That Delta of 30% is what happens when you focus. White folks got a home. White folks returning GI, by the way, God bless them. As much education as they can shoved down their throat, there you go, the higher education generation. And you had an apprenticeship for a new job, for the job of the future. So there’s your growth for the 20th century. I think we need internships at scale with tax benefits for those who provide the internships.

Apprenticeships at scale, same applies. I think we need K through college financial literacy education. I think we need K through college free education as an investment for those when they’re underserved. I think reparations should be in the form of free education through college for anybody of color who went through what I described earlier, as long as you graduate and get a job, create a job or support job creation by working for the government, community, private sector, or yourself, because all that money’s going to come back in the economy. And the better you do, the more education you have, the more you’re going to contribute in GDP and the economy. And I think there should be a living wage for all. And you do that through the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is like a bonus for middle-class workers who make $60,000 a year or less. It’ll cost each of us pennies to do, but allow every working American to have a living wage without it being taxed to the small business owner, which is what everybody is afraid of.

And I’ve launched, as you know, John, one initiative called the 1 Million Black Business Initiatives already with Shopify, $130 million commitment by them, their largest commitment ever to create a million new black businesses over the next 10 years. So if you’re aspiring and you’re a person of color listening to this, and you think you’re black, and that’s good enough, call Operation Hope. Go to Go to or call or text me. Send me a, I don’t care, send me a carrier pigeon. Just get to me. Download our hope and hand app and we will make a $20,000 investment in every one of these businesses, John.

David Williams (22:24):

John, it’s awfully exciting and what I wonder, listening to you, are you just sort of like a breed apart, like one person doing this or is there a whole movement coming? I mean, are you sort of in the Vanguard and people are coming or are you just sort of out there and say, look at this guy?

John Hope Bryant (22:39):

No, no, I’ve found it. I’m a builder. I’m an entrepreneur, so I founded 40 organizations, two of which have sort of emerged as outliers. My for-profit allows me to have the financial flexibility to have these conversations. My nonprofit is the largest and that’s what partners with John, Operation Hope, the largest nonprofit financial inclusion organization in America, financial literacy. 26 States, 158 locations for Hope Inside, raising credit scores 54 points in six months, 120 points in 24 months. And we’re the Starbucks of financial inclusion for me and clients and we have 5,000 partners, 500 of which are from the private sector. And we’ve created financial literacy policy in this country. That infrastructure is the movement maker and other organizations and companies sort of piling in behind them. I call it the silver rights movement.

Civil rights was in the sixties and waged and won in the streets and gave us access to the ballot box and the right to vote for blacks mostly. And I think that silver rights will be in the suites. It’ll be about a coalition of the willing, like John and others who understand that social justice today is economic empowerment. So it’s a new Marshall plan and things like it. So, and that movement’s about green, not black or white or red or blue, it’s the color of currency in the US so a different time, same kind of movement, organization in the middle, but hub and spoke as a strategy.

John Driscoll (24:27):

The challenge is, can we convince people that it is an investment, a critical infrastructure investment to create the economic and healthcare outcomes we need? Because certainly John, over the last 30 years, we have not been successful at investing in society and driving a different sort of social outcome. What’s going to be different this time? What’s going to be different about your plan? I’m a believer, but you know that there are going to be skeptics who said, “We’ve invested and it hasn’t worked. We’ve got to let the free market just do its own thing.”

John Hope Bryant (25:01):

Yeah, I think because everybody knows we’ve driven into a ditch and that’s not sustainable. I think if I was saying, “Save black people. Save Latinos.” The poor people would all be like, “Oh, that’s sounds noble.” No, but I think it’s because COVID hit everybody, at the same time, of every political, socioeconomic strata. I think that everybody is saying, like post 9/11, “How do we get out of this mess?” That’s number one. Number two, I think anybody listening to your podcast now will find it hard to argue with the math. I love math because it does not have an opinion. Here the math. Diverse States are the most economically prosperous. Say what you want about California and New York. They’re the largest economies in the United States. Okay, I know California where I grew up was a little off and if California tilted to one side, all the nuts would roll to California.

If world tilted to one side, all the nuts would roll to California, but it’s still the tenth largest … The city of LA, actually, the tenth largest economy in the world, last time I checked. The numbers may be better now that I haven’t checked it in a minute, but it’s big. And, in the South, Atlanta, where I’m at now, one of the 10 largest economies in the US, the biggest economy in the South, the only international city in the South with a business airport in the world, the most diverse by the way, in the South, we call it the South coast. We have the East coast, West coast, and the South coast. Places that are stuck on stupid are folks arguing over who gets at the water fountain or white or black or red or blue or like the Bible says, “A house divided cannot stand.” It’s biblical.

I think that people are beginning to get that stuck on stupid doesn’t work and we’re better together. And I think, let me give you a little bit of hope. Dr. King only had 10%, sorry, 20% of the black community support at his height. 20% of the white community support at his height. Most people were either against him or sitting on their hands. Well, the tipping point, Malcolm Gladwell proved that if 5% of role models, every community stabilizes. So Dr. King, with 20% that, that that aura of moral leadership, morals and money, not morals in money, lasted what? 1960? Help me out here, lasted 80 years? That’s unbelievable. One guy, one man with 70 employees and a $600,000 budget. So look, I think, I’m a dreamer, but I’m a dreamer with a shovel in my hands. And I believe that with the help of the internet and folks like you and people like Next Door, who I’m joining. There’s one out of four households in America, joining this movement. If somebody joins every day, we can create a juggernaut here where it’s cool to be inclusive.

David Williams (28:14):

Well, John, that’s it for another edition of CARETALK talk a more hopeful episode, I may say. I’m David Williams, president of Health Business Group.

John Driscoll (28:23):

And I’m John Driscoll, the CEO of CareCentrix. Thanks for listening.