I sat in horror on January 6th with my fellow Americans as we watched scenes of violence, insurrection and white supremacy take place at the Capitol. On January 7th I sat in reflection. Public statements were made, emails poured in, and I was left with an overwhelming sense of despair and uncertainty, asking like many Americans, how do we come back from this? And then I received an email with a quote that has stuck with me since: “Hope is a discipline.”
These are the words of Mariame Kaba, organizer, abolitionist, and educator who leads Project NIA, an organization with a vision to end youth incarceration. Mariame’s work, rooted in racial justice, gender justice and anti-violence across generations, countries and systems has earned her a multitude of honors and awards. As I learned about Mariame, I was inspired by her relentless pursuit of justice, something that I’ve come to realize aligns with her understanding of hope. Working to fight a “justice” system so institutionalized, large and devoid of justice, Mariame demonstrates the discipline of hope that allows her to keep going. It is not optimism, but a choice to do what she can in this moment to bring about a change, no matter how small, in the next.
Black History Month invites us to spend time in reflection and reverence for the stories and contributions of the individuals who make up the Black diaspora. Often those stories include depictions of pain and trauma. But this year, I think it is important that we also reflect on the lessons of hope from Black leaders, organizers and activists. What better lesson for this time.
The discipline of hope is not one that ignores struggle or minimizes pain. Kaba says, “hope doesn’t preclude feeling sadness or frustration or anger or any other emotion that makes total sense.” Instead, hope chooses to push forward, imagining and participating in a future that is better and fairer than our current reality. Fannie Lou Hamer insisted on practicing hope and bringing voting rights and women’s rights to all Americans. I can’t help but think that hope is also what sustained Stacey Abrams over the past decade as she worked to bring all Georgians to the voting booth. Maya Angelou said, “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” Did those words inspire the line in Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb”: Where a skinny Black girl/ descended from slaves and raised by a single mother/ can dream of becoming president/ only to find herself reciting for one”? Hope is practice. And hope breeds leaders.
At Cause Strategy Partners, we believe in authentic, open-minded, accountable leadership. Leadership that sets a new standard to lift up and grow the nonprofit sector. Right now, that type of leadership requires the discipline of hope. Not a feeling, but a series of actions that assure us that tomorrow is worth investing in. We do the work because we believe a different tomorrow is possible. If Black History has taught us anything, it is that there is always hope, if we chose it. History itself does not conform to our dreams, but from within history emerges moments that give people opportunity to reflect, hope and dream. May our leadership in this moment inspire future generations who will look back and say, despite it all, they chose hope.
Whitley Richards, Director of BoardLead Cause Strategy Partners
Whitley Richards has facilitated the placement of over a thousand professionals onto nonprofit government boards. She has designed, built, and led initiatives focused on strengthening diversity, equity, and inclusion in nonprofit governance and among nonprofit staff teams.