by April Warren
“I’m still asking you to believe — not in my ability to bring about change, but in yours. I believe in change because I believe in you.” -Barack Obama
These words came from Obama’s final tweet as President of the United States. When he was first elected in 2008, his campaign was built upon this promise of change and progress toward a more just world. His presidency brought hope for racial reconciliation and social justice, yet with the recent change in power, our nation feels more divided than ever before.
On Monday morning, the week before the inauguration, we gathered as a full-time staff. As we reflected on how we and members of our community would feel with this transfer of power, words like “fear, anger, confusion, paralysis, and hopelessness” filled the room. These words felt especially real on Friday. As I watched the Obamas receive the Trumps on the steps of the White House and welcome them inside, tears streamed down my face. I was witnessing far more than an inauguration ritual of morning tea. I felt as though I was watching the hopes and dreams of so many Americans go down the drain. I was consumed by this sense of hopelessness.
Shortly after watching this moment, I heard the above quote from Barack Obama. I was reminded that my hopelessness would not change our current circumstances, but would instead paralyze my own ability to invoke change. The Law of Attraction claims that focusing on positive or negative thoughts can actually bring positive or negative events into existence. While I am not claiming that this is a scientifically proven fact; I do believe that your pre-conceived notion of a situation can influence your perception of that event as either positive or negative. In this case, if I sit and wallow in my hopelessness and frustration; I will continue to view the world as a hopeless place, devoid of justice. I have to consciously choose hope.
I choose hope when I remember that I serve a God with a plan and trust that He is still in control. Although I do not currently know or understand His plan, it is part of a greater scheme that I am clearly not meant to understand right now and may never fully grasp. I hope and pray that justice and mercy will prevail over a rhetoric of hate that has been given a voice.
I choose hope when I remember the power of individuals to advocate for change. Last week our middle school students did an activity at YRP on resistance. They read bios about individuals who devoted their lives to advocating for change. Many of these individuals fought for their beliefs through civil disobedience, writing, art, or organizing people to collectively make change. We do not have to be bystanders who must now sit and watch our world change. We have a voice that can and must be used. Whether this is by marching with four million people nationwide to advocate for women’s rights or simply a conversation with someone whose views are different than yours, using your voice right now is critical.
I choose hope when I look at our students every day at YRP. As Obama stated, I believe in change because I believe in them. Last Friday, as a group of students discussed their feelings about the inauguration, one student vocalized her desire to be president one day. She went on to cite all of the changes she would make in order to strengthen our nation and make it a more inclusive space for all people. She was met with a chorus of affirmation from her peers. I believe that our students are the change agents that our nation desperately needs right now. I find hope in knowing that they are our future leaders and that they too have a voice to use.
There will be many more moments in the next four years when I feel tempted to fall back into a sense of hopelessness. As policies change and individuals are appointed, it will be increasingly difficult to picture an America where there are equal opportunities for all people and where each individual is seen and accepted for his or her inherent value and worth. It is not easy to choose hope right now, but it is essential.