Last Tuesday, I had the honor of speaking before a sold out, national audience of 1,000 social workers in Washington, DC. Dr. Elizabeth J. Clark, executive director, National Association of Social Workers (NASW) led this meeting of the decade with the theme “Restoring Hope: The Power of Social Work. I joined Terry Cross of the National Indian Child Welfare Association, to discuss hope for our nation’s children. All of this while the continuing aftermath of Aurora and Penn State cast a tragic, nearly desperate, and sad cast on the nation’s affairs. The London Olympics 2012 and its celebration of vital, youthful athleticism seemed to play second fiddle in the press. What could I say? This professional who recalls countless faces of childhood during her long career… infants to adolescents, bereft of safety, protection, and continuity, deprived of comfort, support, and unconditional love. So I confronted what Dr. Clark posed as our role to be “holders of hope”, by challenging my colleagues to help others move through complexity, dire circumstances, and extreme life trauma with simple action, and hope. Look for kindness and compassion. There is goodness in the worst, most nightmarish scenarios. Cultivate intimate, loving relationships. We all will experience a time when we need these relationships to provide us with hope (purpose, love, and meaning). Believe in something bigger than yourself. Such faith allows us to take risks to step up, to model courage, and to do what is right to do.
I ended the week at the same elementary school in Ward 7 where the Mayor earlier announced its double digit improvement in academic results. But I was there late in the afternoon, when nearly 300 NCCF summer campers and campers from the DC General Family Shelter (a partnership between CDF and NCCF) performed a pre-Olympics ceremony. These beautiful children, presented diverse countries, revealing various athletic skills, with precocious precision, and innocent expectations for adult approval. See me! their proud displays called out. And in that school gymnasium, life was transformed into sheer, unlimited possibility. As I joined the others to wildly applaud the dancing children who sang “I am the future”, a Freedom School hymn, I found afresh new hope, intergenerational hope that transcends poverty and defies helpfulness and defeat.