"Hope Springs Eternal..."
-Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man
[NOTE: This month’s President’s Report is an adaptation on my Spring In-Service talk, entitled On Adversity and Hope.]
It was just a few weeks ago that our LBCC Choral Groups presented their Winter Choral Concert entitled “Transformation.” Conducted by Raymund Ocampo, our student singers performed an array of songs that focused on some of the bigger social challenges of recent times including Civil Rights, Extremism, and Gun Violence. Reading from the Program for that evening’s performance:
"Transformation" is about finding what unites us, in a world that seems more divided than ever. Focusing on songs and themes around the Civil Rights Movement, Apartheid, gun violence, and other charged issues, the music offers a path forward to find unity with our fellow citizens.”
It was a compelling musical presentation on important political and social issues, one that I was grateful to be able to attend, thanks to the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max 8’s (another story for another time).
One of the pieces performed that evening was the song Glory, from the movie Selma and written by John Legend. Some of the lyrics from that song go like this…….
One day when the glory comes
It will be ours, it will be ours
One day when the war is won
We will be sure, we will be sure
Yeah (glory, glory)
There’s an obvious theme of transformation in this song, a message of better days and better selves ahead. But, as I listened (and teared up), I could not help but sense that the power behind that transformation, and the power in the music itself was Hope.
And that reminded me of my December trip to Africa………
As most of you know, I had the privilege of joining up with an LBCC group lead by Greg Mulder and Diana Wheat, in part to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. But first, I and my traveling companion State Representative Dan Rayfield had some other plans. We went on a safari in the Serengeti, visited a Maasai village, and took a “tour” of the largest shantytown in the world, located in a low lying area adjacent to downtown Nairobi, Kenya. The area is called Kibera.
Over a million people pushed together into a space smaller than the OSU campus, with very few roads, almost no water, sewer, or electricity. I prepared myself to see and smell endemic poverty, squalor, and human desperation.....and there was plenty of that to see and smell. What I didn't prepare myself to see was Hope..... but there it was.
The two guys who gave us the tour were born in Kibera, grew up there, and still live there. They give these tours because they believe that, in doing so, people will begin to see human potential instead of poverty, that those who walk through the narrow paths of Kibera with them will come to believe in the possibility of something different, something better, and maybe even join with them in doing something to help bring that vision to fruition. Together, with a group of guys generating some income by producing a substitute for ivory, and a group women working to fight AIDS, these Kibera residents are overcoming desperation with determination, overcoming poverty in the pursuit of their own potential. I may have been hoping to reach the top of Kilimanjaro, but these women and men were demonstrating something that made my kind of Hope seem small by comparison. I was humbled by and in awe of their spirit, their determination, their Hope.
I tried to find some images and quotes about hope that I could use to help illustrate what I was thinking but almost everything I found made hope look and sound sentimental…. like maybe not really all that much more that a wish. Like maybe something we dream about but never actually do anything about. But the hope that our choral groups sang about a couple of weeks ago and the HOPE that I saw in Kibera wasn’t anything like that. Instead, it was a resolute hope, a hope against what seems hopeless, an ACTIVE Hope. It was the hope that makes doing possible, and powerful. It was a hope behind the doing and not a hope INSTEAD of doing. Where do these people find this hope, and how can we claim it for ourselves?
For many of the people who fought hard for Civil Rights, they found Hope in their faith.
Yes, this was “faith” of a religious sort, as it was for the people I talked with in Kibera as well. This is true for me, and perhaps for many of you as well. But it can also be a kind of faith that transcends any specific religion, a more inclusive faith. A faith such as that of Thomas Jefferson who wrote bold and active words of faith like
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Or a faith like Martin Luther King Jr., who gave renewed meaning and power to those same words when he proclaimed
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
The Hope that has changed and continues to change our world for the better is a Hope that is rooted in a faith that we can do more, be more…. and that we are made for something more. The people I met in Kibera have a faith-based believe that they are made for something more than the challenges of poverty and disease that they see in their community, and that is the source of their Hope. It is this sense of Purpose that gives Hope its Power.
And so I want to acknowledge the challenges that we face here at LBCC. Admittedly, they are not exactly comparable to the challenges faced by the writers of the Declaration of Independence, the fighters for our civil liberties, or the residents of Kibera, but they are challenges just the same and they are the challenges that we face now. They are challenges that have been imposed upon us by a State that cannot decide on what it values enough to actually fund. They are challenges that push us toward hard decisions about finances, personnel, and programs. I cannot make these challenges go away…….none of us here can. But we can see our way through them with that same kind of Hope that has moved people and nations and community colleges such as ours through challenges before these, and challenges yet to come. It is in our sense of purpose – our Mission – that I find inspiration for this Hope, and it is in LBCC employees such as those whom we recognized with awards at Spring In-Service that I see the pursuit of purpose most clearly manifest. I find Hope in the people I work with.
When Dan Rayfield and I finally made it to the top of Kilimanjaro, the only person who actually appeared happy to be there was our guide, Wilfred. Dan and I suffered numerous physical and mental challenges on the way up, but Wilfred was determined. And his determination to reach the summit was stronger than our loss of Hope and it is no exaggeration to tell you that we would not have made it to the top without his encouragement, guidance…… and insistence.
Sometimes, when we can’t drum it up for ourselves, it is the determination and passion and vision of the person next to us that keeps us moving forward, that gets us to where we need to go. And this is one of the most important lessons that I’ve learned about Hope….
Hope is something we do together.