This past Saturday morning it was announced by the media that Van Jones had resigned as the White House advisor on Green Jobs. To those that had come to know Van exclusively through the non-stop media drum beat of the past few weeks and months, they might have come to the conclusion that this was simply "the right thing for Van to do." Knowing Van Jones personally as I do, as a fellow member of the Forum of Young Global Leaders, and as a friend, I simply thought it was unfortunate, and typical of modern-era Washington, D.C., where the product is power, advancing fear is often called leadership, and the recognized currency is proximity to the President of the United States. Moving Van Jones aside wasn't so much personal to Van Jones, per se, as the unfortunate new business of the opposition party not in power at the time (at the moment, the Republican Party).
Van Jones may be many things, but a communist or a socialist are not descriptions I recognize in him. Frankly, after knowing Van for more than 5 years, I cannot recall a single conversation where the man actually talked about himself. He is always, and I mean always, talking about helping those "less than," wanting to be their voice, representing their interests, and moving our world forward.
Upon reflection, it is indeed possible that Van's greatest sin was simply believing that a non-profit, grass roots activists with a dream for a nation better, and bestselling author of a new idea focused on empowering the poor with a hand up and not a hand out (i.e. "green jobs") — that this man could simply arrive in Washington, D.C., serve the most powerful man on the planet, and be judged solely on the merits of the job he did, and the authenticity of the cause he sought to back.
I met Van Jones for the first time in a quaint village in Switzerland several years ago where he, I and more than 200 accomplished yet idealistic members of the Forum of Young Global Leaders gathered (at the invitation of the World Economic Forum) with only one aim — to become global citizens wit shared interests in the future, and to help improve the state of our world. The first time I saw a room of grown men cry (from around the world and more so, from places where men DON'T cry) was after Van Jones spoke at our inaugural meeting of and for YGL. Fast forward to the present.
I could say so much more, but let me say this; Van has resigned, Van will turn this page, and Van Jones will be fine. Do not be surprised if all of this actually makes Van, and the legitimate causes he supports, including green jobs, even better — stronger, faster. Loss does create leaders, and through loss we learn invaluable life lessons. I am sure Van is paying close attention to this one.
I mentioned to Van when we spoke last (Saturday morning) that his story actually reminded me of a story of and about my all-time personal hero and mentor, civil rights icon Ambassador Andrew Young. Andrew Young was the most senior aide to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was and remains a passionate advocate for the poor, authored several important books at that time, and had gone into government service as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. During his term Ambassador Young was very publicly asked to resign as UN Ambassador, for speaking with the Palestinians. Ambassador Young never set out to have a meeting with Palestinian leaders, but when they asked to see him, he saw no harm and did not deny them. That was reason enough for some to ask for Ambassador Young to resign his post. Soon thereafter, Ambassador Young did resign his post, and didn't even have enough money (or support) to move his family back to Atlanta. Needless to say, things did not look good back then. Ambassador Young had made headlines around the world for his work with Dr. King, and now he was making headlines on his own, for something that most described as an absolute career killer — the resignation from a high profile Presidential post under a cloud.
In the time since, two things have become clear;
1. Ambassador Young was removed for talking to the Palestinians. For anyone who seeks peace in the Middle East today, one thing all reasonable people tend to agree upon is that there must be dialogue with the Palestinians in order to have peace.
2. Ambassador Young is better today, an icon even, than he ever was as UN Ambassador, at or before the time he resigned (but in reality was fired from his post). 100 honorary doctorate degrees, Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, co-chair of the Atlanta Olympic Games, namesake for the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University and another international school at Morehouse College, and, well you get it. I refer to Young today as our "domestic Nelson Mandela." Rainbows, after storms.
My message is that God's light will find a way to shine, that you (in the long-term) never go wrong doing good and right, and being authentic, and that rainbows only follow storms. That you cannot have a rainbow without a storm first. No one simply awoke in the morning and decided to start a cancer foundation. For the majority who start cancer foundations, their life was somehow impacted by cancer (either through their own experience, or because someone they loved and was close to was impacted by cancer). That pain had to go someplace, and these individuals channeled it into a positive vision for themselves and for others. Loss created a leader. Rainbows, after storms.
In the final analysis, this is not really a failure of the opposition party, because Americans allow this silliness, and we even allow it be called a substantive debate, and leadership too. The opposition party is doing what they believe rewards them. Our job is to give them a better and different way to lead. One that rewards love leadership, and not fear.
We surely should not be disappointed in our President nor his Administration. President Obama did not create the system in which he is forced to operate, and it will take time for him or anyone else to change it. Repairing a ship set to sea is a difficult proposition at best. Having to make seemingly impossible decisions, where almost everyone is guaranteed to be angry with you in the short-term, is simply part of being President of the United States. He is still the great man the people elected. We should give him time to prove it, and more so, we should all make it our business to insure that he is successful. As Young told me when President Bush was in office, "John, assume the President is basically a good man, with bad counsel. Go in there and give that man good counsel, wait for the political opportunity, and then help him succeed. If he succeeds, then we all do. If he fails, we all fail too."
Finally, we should feel for our friend Van Jones, but quoting Van himself, "we should not feel sorry for Van Jones." We should find our voice, and use it for good. Be that sharing a different face and story of the committed community leader, activist for good, and friend that I call Van Jones, writing your government leaders, and leaders in the media, and demanding a change in tone and culture, or simply taking positive action for change right in your own local community.
Van is brilliant, and in time he will find his new voice. I believe that. Again, just look at the amazing life and legacy of one Andrew Young.
We should though be frustrated with the process and the status qua called Washington, D.C., and we should seek to actively remold it, once again, into that noble and sacred place where doing good is the true calling, and where people with a desire to serve others, and want to advance the public good, people like Van Jones, indeed want to "sign up and show up."
Even when our jobs in the public space are under-paid, under-appreciated, critical targets for the frustrations of others who many times have not committed themselves to the field of positive change, we must do them (the job of public service) anyway.
Where would be without the Ambassador Andrew Young's, and yes, the Van Jones of our world; who put themselves, their families, and their livelihoods, at risk for us all? I can just see Van Jones now in a classroom with inner-city kids, post resignation, actively encouraging them to go into public service, to do good, to help others, even "if you get attacked as you do it."
No good deed shall go unpunished, but doing good deeds in spite of, if not because of, is what makes a great leader great. Loss really does create leaders.
Go Van, go.
Onward with HOPE
John Hope Bryant is the founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE, the vice chairman of he U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Literacy, a Young Global Leader for the World Economic Forum, author of the new book LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World, and a friend to Van Jones.