Operation HOPE has participated in the bridge-building Leon H. Sullivan Summits since 1999, when Chairman Bryant and party traveled as a HOPE first traveled as a Summit delegate to Accra, Ghana. Since then HOPE has supported the legacy of Rev. Leon Sullivan and his mission to bring together the world's political and business leaders, academia, national and international civil organizations, and members of academic institutions in order to focus attention and resources on Africa's economic and social development.
Summits are organized by the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation and held biennially in an African nation to highlight key issues and best practices, stimulate discussion and define opportunities, promote private enterprise and foster partnerships at a high-level.
I was honored to represent Operation HOPE along with my colleague, Jena Roscoe, and support our mutual missions to boost the spirit of partnership, opportunity and empowerment. These methods fit so neatly inside of HOPE's own mission to eradicate poverty by creating coalitions from government, community and corporate alliances, our support is natural.
Traveling to Africa as a HOPE delegate of the Leon H. Sullivan Summit gave me an unparalleled opportunity to interact and influence Africans. There were some 1,100 delegates from the U.S. and other countries outside of Africa, another 3,000 from Africa. I soon discovered that many had been on several (and a significant number) or all eight summits. Because of this, many approved the trip with individual 'goals'. Many had brought extra clothes to donate hotel and business staff who served us. Many personally took on funding the costs of student's school tuitions.
No doubt, this kind of generosity made us popular as a group, but also long before we had boarded the plane; the city of Arusha had started making way for our visit. In the words of the welcome letter they said, "Welcome to Arusha, we have been looking forward to your visit with as much anticipation as you are looking forward to your presidential election." I felt it was a line that seemed to characterize their enthusiasm, naïveté, genuine spirit and openness as a people.
Tanzanian President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, had christened it, "The Summit of A Lifetime", and it lived up to expectations. As I soon discovered, the whole town had been swept up in the preparation for our arrival. I also learned that hosting the Summit would bring so many positive changes to Tanzania. To make way for an event for this significance and size, the roads would have to be extended some new inroads would have to be built. (FYI, dirt roads count too in Africa!) The police force was beefed up, the hospitals were stocked with supplies and new staff were trained and hired in just about every hotel, and major store in the town. And a giant tent was erected in a field by the Mountain Lodge that could hold over 3,000 people – awesome! On our side, we didn't disappoint; at every turn the delegation made changes in the lives of all we touched.
A water-well was drilled in a village outside of town; over 500 trees were planted, $100,000 was donated to the United African Alliance Community Center, during the presidential dinner, civil rights legend Jesse Jackson and Amb. Young our own Global Spokesperson started a call to action which raised more than $140,000 – on the spot – for a local village school in addition to all the individual donations, pledges and tourist shopping.
I learned that 'silver rights' isn't a noun, it's a verb. This was, to borrow a phrase I've heard Operation HOPE Founder, Chairman and CEO John Hope Bryant say often, was 'silver rights' in action.
The touch has now been passed to Rwanda. The next summit will take place there in 2010 and no doubt the bar has been raised. In Africa, our presence is a viewed as a blessing; an opportunity, as good luck. This conscientiousness becomes an occasion you rise to – a responsibly to help someone up whose chances don't begin to compare with your own, a chance to change the world by changing one life. In Africa, everything you do there matters, and each moment must be measured and every action must be of purpose and every dollar, shilling or bank notes spent are an investment. It's not that it's any different here in America; you just feel the gravity and respect of it when you're in the motherland.
I didn't land in Africa with tears in my eyes, like so many people had told me stories about, I cried when I left.
Sherry John is a leader within the Operation HOPE Communications Department at World Headquarters in Los Angeles, California