Main Street Nashville

Free financial literacy center opens on Jefferson Street

Mayor John Cooper and other local officials join COO of Citizens Bank Corey Hammonds (right) and Operation HOPE founder John Hope Bryant (fifth from right) in opening a HOPE Inside branch on Jefferson Street. PHOTO BY MAIN STREET NASHVILLE

North Nashville residents have a new resource for financial literacy through HOPE Inside, a nonprofit service that opened inside the Citizens Savings Bank and Trust Company on Jefferson Street Thursday.

Operation HOPE, an Atlanta-based nonprofit, uses HOPE Inside to provide financial education and coaching in credit and money management, mortgage applications and other financial areas. Services are free, and individuals do not have to bank at Citizens Bank or live in the neighborhood to get help.

There are over 200 HOPE Inside locations around the country, including four in Nashville already. Citizens Bank is the first Black-owned bank to partner themselves with Operation HOPE rather than being sponsored.

Several local dignitaries such as Mayor John Cooper, Metro Council members Brandon Taylor and Sharon Hurt and state legislators Charlane Oliver and Harold Love Jr. were on-hand at Thursday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Taylor, who lives in the area, reminded attendees that 37208, where the newest HOPE Inside branch is located, is the most incarcerated ZIP code in America according to a 2018 report from the Brookings Institution.

“Hope is to desire with expectation of obtainment and fulfillment,” he said. “And that’s exactly what Citizens Bank and Operation HOPE is doing today.”

Corey Hammonds, COO of Citizens Bank, said that HOPE Inside will equip people with tools and financial empowerment to accomplish their goals, dream bigger and find their purpose in life.

“This is history,” he said of the opening.

Citizens Bank, based in Nashville, is the nation’s oldest continuously operating African American-owned bank and Tennessee’s first minority-owned bank.

“This is the example of why this bank continues to be a leader with their partnership with Operation HOPE because it’s going to create a space where all Nashvillians can gain knowledge and tools to create a secure future,” said Cooper. “Citizens Bank has demonstrated a true commitment to building wealth and economic security in communities that just have not received the same level of investment and resources as other parts of Nashville.”

John Hope Bryant, founder of Operation HOPE, addressed the crowd, sharing both his story and perspective on the power of financial literacy in the Black community.

“When the rules are published and the playing field is level, we excel,” he said. “But no one told us about capitalism. No one told us about free enterprise. We’re not dumb, and we’re not stupid. It’s what we don’t know that we don’t know that’s killing us.”

Bryant compared the ZIP codes of 37213, the East Bank area, and 37215, Green Hills. Green Hills residents are, on average, better off financially than East Bank residents in several ways. The average credit score in 37213 is 607 while the average in 32715 is 747.

The life expectancy is also strikingly different – from 69 in the East Bank area to 79 in Green Hills.

“Tell me your ZIP code. I’ll tell you your credit score, and I’ll tell you how you’re living,” he said.

Bryant’s plan for Nashville is to raise credit scores by 100 points, saying it stabilizes everything.

Here, services offered by Operation HOPE have raised scores by an average of 41 points as of last year. Client savings have a median increase of $1,237, and they have applied for $10 million in loan applications.

“Nothing changes your life more than God or love than moving your credit score 120 points,” he said.

Tennessee State University senior Charlie Green Jr. is studying architectural engineering, urban studies and nonprofit management. The HOPE Inside coach visited TSU to talk to a group about financial literacy.

Green is starting a nonprofit of his own, Brothers of Umoja, to focus on the transition from boyhood to manhood for Black men. He wants to apply the financial literacy aspect of Operation HOPE to his own nonprofit and continue a partnership.

“Particularly the African-American community, a lot of times our perspective on credit, we’re not there,” said Green. “We want to have conversations centered around money management, centered around preparedness.”

Bryant and Hammonds both said that working with HOPE Inside can quickly make a big difference on a credit score, by helping remove errors on their credit score and debt.

Half of Black Americans have a credit score below 620, Bryant told Main Street Nashville, which affects their getting mortgages, auto loans and small business loans.

“You’re really locked out of the free enterprise system,” he said.

Hammonds also encouraged people to set a budget.

“Set plans, set goals, execute them and then live out your American dream financially,” he said.

Tonesha Talley is the HOPE Inside coach at Citizens Bank. She can be reached at 615-785-5897 or