By Whitney Johnson

Dr. Michael McAfee’s keynote address at the 2017 Science of Hope Conference begins and ends with the strong assertion that the hope we find within ourselves is a strength. This strength is a kind of resilience earned through past trials and from the inspiration of intimately linking our professional and personal work (and success) with the population we wish to serve. This is both a bold challenge and a common inspiration for those of us working in sectors of care and support, including those at nonprofit and philanthropic organizations. What makes McAfee’s address audacious and distinctive from other hope-based messages and the motivations of servant leadership is the specificity and directness of his challenge: it is not enough to be “simply publishing documents and holding convenings” and call that the work of equity, justice, or service.

As a fan of publications and conferences that focus on health and equity, McAfee’s statements led me to think about what the “work” of health equity actually is to me, and what the effectiveness of the things I’m responsible for actually is in producing measurable, meaningful change within my own institution and in the communities and systems we work in. Also, and perhaps more importantly, what does it mean for me to be consistent and authentic in my own work for health equity in spaces and with people that may have conflicting, inconsistent or active barriers to that progress?

McAfee invites us to think about how hope is already manifested in us, to be “crystal clear” to the population we want to hold up in our work, the results we want to make that work, and how we will measure progress to those results. The former I believe he would suggest strengthens us for those future challenges and conflicts we know will occur in the work, and also keeps us consistent with the efforts inherent in the later. For example, when I’m clear on what strengthens me – the transformations that I want to see in the world, it is easier to be clear on how I want to live out my values and what results I want to see as part of my work.

Additionally, such clarity should help us in what is often the hardest parts of the “real work” – working in collaboration and in the process with others on identifying and moving institutions towards indicators of greater equity, justice, health, and well-being. It allows us to be more consistent and efficient partners and more transparent to all in how we marshal the resources accessible to us in our labor and in support of the labors of others (and the successes and failures in that process). As Michael puts it – “I’m awake right now because I’m extremely vulnerable. Because every day I have to link my fate with those that don’t have to listen to me. I’m only as good as the value that I bring.”

I invite you to listen to Michael’s speech and think about what the work is to you, and how you currently show up in that work versus how you want to show up. What do your feelings of hope tell you?