The Savannah State University Class of 2024 will each receive over $25,000 of in-kind services with Operation HOPE and Shopify

SAVANNAH, GA (May 3, 2024) Pinky Cole Hayes, renowned entrepreneur, 2023 TIME100 Next honoree, and founder of Slutty Vegan and Bar Vegan, gave an inspiring commencement speech for the Savannah State University 2024 graduating class, and surprised the graduates with a very special gift. In collaboration withOperation HOPE and One Million Black Businesses (1MBB), Pinky Cole will give every graduate of Savannah State University a membership to 1MBB and the class will receive $8.75 million dollars’ worth of in-kind services with Operation HOPE, which will include:

  • Entrepreneurial Educational Resources
  • Mentoring From 1MBB, Including One-On-One Financial Counseling
  • An Eight-Week Small Business Training Course With Business Plan Development And Credit & Money Management Courses
  • 3-Months Free With Shopify To Build Their E-Commerce Platform For Young Entrepreneurs Ready To Start Their Businesses

One Million Black Businesses (1MBB) is a partnership with Operation HOPE and Shopify to start, grow, and scale 1 million Black businesses by 2030 to provide a successful path to wealth creation for the black community.

“I am passionate about lifting up the next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs of our world. I know firsthand what it means to have mentorship and how someone believing in your dream can make a difference. This graduating class has experienced so much adversity. Their college years began with a global pandemic and they have had to navigate their lives through unprecedented events. Through it all, they have thrived and are ready to enter the ‘real world’ with more experience and the confidence to face life’s new challenges. I believe in these graduates, and I hope that this gift will help them as they transition into this next phase of their lives,” says Pinky Cole Hayes.

In her commencement speech at Savannah State University, Pinky Cole inspired the Class of 2024 with her personal journey and emphasized their resilience through historic challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic. She celebrated their adaptability, asserting that the world should adapt to them, not the other way around. Drawing on her own experiences of loss and success in building a multimillion-dollar brand, Cole highlighted the importance of perseverance and faith in overcoming life’s obstacles. Cole’s message was clear: the graduates are prepared to thrive as agents of change in a world that has tested them deeply.

Pinky has an impactful track record of uplifting young people, inspiring them, and supporting their dreams. In 2022, she gifted the graduating class of her alma mater, Clark Atlanta University, LLCs to begin businesses, and most recently, sponsored the Benjamin E. Mays High School prom, providing free admission to all students, as well as prom attire, catering, decorations, a DJ, and souvenirs.

“Since I founded Operation HOPE, it was grounded in my experience as a young, Black entrepreneur seeking to reach one hand down the ladder to lift people up along with me. Entrepreneurship was the success trajectory I discovered, thanks to a banker who came to my elementary school to teach financial literacy, and taught me what an entrepreneur was. That banker changed my life,” said Operation HOPE CEO John Hope Bryant. “Pinky Cole Hayes is a living example of what happens when a brilliant idea meets opportunity. With 1MBB, we want to offer opportunities to as many brilliant ideas as we can reach and are excited to partner with Pinky to help lift up the next generation of Black entrepreneurial excellence,” says John Hope Bryant, CEO and Founder of Operation HOPE.

“We are excited about this fantastic opportunity for our students and grateful to Mrs. Cole Hayes for leading this investment opportunity,” says Savannah State University Interim President Cynthia Robinson Alexander.

This donation will be a catalyst to the graduating class as they make their transition into the world providing them with tools to navigate their lives post-grad. The theme of Pinky’s commencement speech for Savannah State is Thriving Through Change, and impressing upon this class, who left high school during COVID and have missed many traditional events, celebrations and milestones that what has happened to them has happened for them, making them resilient and flexible in the face of adversity.


About Pinky Cole Hayes

“Pinky” Cole Hayes is a Jamaican-American restaurateur, author, community activist, and owner of the Slutty Vegan restaurant chain and Bar Vegan in Atlanta, Georgia. Cole Hayes is a culinary disruptor in the industry, transforming America’s view of plant-based fast food and striving to make plant-based eating delicious, accessible, and enjoyable for vegans and flexitarians alike.

In addition to her work in the food industry, Pinky is also a philanthropist and head of The Pinky Cole Foundation, which is committed to uplifting marginalized and underrepresented communities and breaking the cycle of poverty by providing access to resources and education to pursue their entrepreneurial goals. Pinky has been named to Restaurant Hospitality’s 2021 Power List, Forbes Next 1000, Entrepreneur Magazine’s Top 100 Powerful Women in Business List, LA Wire Influential Women of 2020, PETA’s 2021 Most Beautiful Vegan Celebrities List and Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 40 Under 40 List. Most recently, she has been included in the 2023 TIME100 Next List.

In November 2022, Cole Hayes released her first cookbook, Eat Plants, B*tch — a compilation of 91 vegan recipes plus a selection of tips and tricks for vegan cooking and other plant-based substitutes — that is now available for purchase online and at bookstores across the country. Pinky’s latest book with HarperCollins Leadership called I Hope You Fail (October 10 release), that details how her failures have driven her successes. To learn more about Pinky Cole-Hayes, visit and follow @pinkycole on Instagram and @pinky907 on X (formerly Twitter).

About Operation HOPE, Inc.

Since 1992, Operation HOPE has been moving America from civil rights to “Silver Rights’,  with the mission of making free enterprise and capitalism work for the underserved—disrupting poverty for millions of low and moderate-income youth and adults across the nation. Through its award-winning community uplift model, HOPE Inside, which received the Innovator of the Year recognition by American Banker magazine, Operation HOPE has served more than 4 million individuals and directed more than $4 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. Operation HOPE recently received Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas Award for driving entrepreneurship as well as its tenth consecutive 4-star charity rating for fiscal management and commitment to transparency and accountability from the prestigious non-profit evaluator, Charity Navigator. Operation HOPE also recently launched The 1865 Project, an initiative designed to help level the economic playing field for underserved Americans. For more information: Join the HOPE conversation on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.

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