By Andrea Price
I was only seven years old when Rev. Jessie Jackson gave the now famous, “Keep Hope Alive!” speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention. I vividly remember the speech because I heard a voice through the television screen that had the cadence of preachers I’d heard in churches in the backwoods of Arkansas. His phraseology and his message of hope resonated with my seven-year-old self in ways no one else on the big screen had ever done. He was familiar.
By the time I’d heard Rev. Jackson, messages of hope were already imbedded in my psyche. My ancestors used hope as a tool for survival with mantras such as “trouble don’t last always” and “all I got is a hope and a prayer”. They passed these tools to me. At church, I’d dragged songs such as “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing” which explicitly speak about hope. I’d heard prayers that started with ”Oh, God my help in ages past, my hope for years to come.” I knew early that hope is present, but also future.
I can’t recall ever thinking about Rev. Jackson’s speech since 1988, but today was different. The phrase, “keep hope alive” is on repeat in my mind, so I had to read the words to understand why my mind has traveled back twenty-eight years. In one part of his speech, Rev. Jackson says:
You must never stop dreaming. Face reality, yes, but don’t stop with the way things are. Dream of things as they ought to be. Dream. Face pain, but love, hope, faith and dreams will help you rise above the pain. Use hope and imagination as weapons of survival and progress, but you keep on dreaming,
After reading this, I knew why my mind went back to 1988. My optimism (a prerequisite for hope) for social progress became distorted in a way that I’d never experienced. That optimism drifted to painful pessimism and I had to understand why.
I’ve been naïve to think that love and respect, as elements of human decency, are universal. This year was the first year I’ve worked with people who verbally professed disdain for the people they serve. I soon learned that there is a difference between a public service career and caring. This realization was disheartening, but real. I’ve seen young men and women gunned down and bombed in the streets with no repercussion for the perpetrators. Violence seems to be equated with victory. I’ve experienced a Trump supporter disparage my family and others in a barrage of profanity while we enjoyed dinner, and I’ve witnessed the president elect be himself. Words and works matter. Is this small sampling of my life’s experiences the worst occurrences? Relative to the pain in the world, no, but for some reason my hope in humanity, my hope in great expectations for a brighter future dissipated.
Rev. Jackson’s call to action was to “keep hope alive.” This phase indicates that there is a possibility that hope can die. Hope has to be renewed. It’s not static, but a dynamic, complicated way of life rooted in imagination and freedom. When there is no hope, there is no freedom. When there is no freedom, there is death. Not physical death, but eternal pessimism and fear. I’m not ready to die. I have to take time to hope again, to imagine again, to once again believe that though tomorrow isn’t promised, what I do today represents my hope for the future.
Hope is renewed through reflection. I had to dig deep and understand why my hope waned. For me, reflection is a prerequisite for imagination. Hope is renewed through reimagining. There is power in seeing things as though they should be, as though they are. Hope is renewed through rejuvenation. I had to step away from my work for a while to gain a renewed strength and a heightened awareness for what it means to truly serve. Hope is renewed through recollection. Rev. Jacksons’ immortal words “keep hope alive” renewed me and presented a challenge to me to work for the survival of hope.
Keep hope alive! Keep hope alive! Keep hope alive!