Every year I pick a word. One single word to define my year. A word for that year that symbolizes what I am about. What I will be focused on. What my calling will lean its energy against. What will be core to my centered energy. What will define me and many of the decisions that I will make that year. In past years, it has been words such as Authenticity. Intentionality. (To) Curate. My word in 2017 will be STRENGTH. But maybe not Strength, as you might otherwise understand or presume to define. I am not talking about a bragging strength. I am not talking about a Strength that needs to scream, to be loud, or to boast to be heard. I am not talking about a Strength that requires grandstanding, or even 'telling you how so-called strong we are.' When you have to tell someone you are strong, typically you are anything but. The kind of Strength I am talking about is a solid, under-stated, almost quiet Strength. To quote my best friend Rod McGrew, "when you have the power you don't need to use it." I am talking about a Strength that is more interested in giving power away than accumulating it for more power's sake. A power that sees you, rather than steps on you. But there is another important aspect of this word for me. This type of -- Strength. It is. It simply is. It is not trying to be. While most fans at a basketball game are screaming for their favorite player, quiet Strength notices the man or woman in the corner, gently leaning their shoulder against the wall in a stadium suite. Or maybe they are at row 40, simply purchasing a hot dog from a vendor, paying with a few dollars like everyone else. That person -- is the owner of the team. And the stadium. Quiet. Strength. For many, many years, I was a merely a dreamer. At one point, even a homeless one -- age 18 in Los Angeles, California. Almost no one took me seriously. I decided that that was okay. For years after that, at age 26, I was a dreamer with a platform and a program, yes, but my inspiration was viewed as more compelling than say, my results and my credentials. I wanted to be a change agent for good. 'A positive disrupter'. For years after that, I was told I was 'a dreamer with a shovel in my hand,' and this was a compliment ~ but truth be told I was not where I wanted to be. Where this movement for systemic change needed to be. I was still in large part on the outside looking in. Real power alluded me for more than a decade. The one constant in all of these phases is that I was selling. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with selling. Most of the biggest successes in life have been brilliant marketers, like innovator and disrupter Steve Jobs. Even moral leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were brilliant marketers. But respectfully, I did not want 'inspiration, selling and marketing' to be my calling card in life. I did not want this to be my brand. At the 22 year mark of my mission, or in and around 2013, I made the bold decision to place it all at risk. The entire enterprise. I decided that my old business plan was noble but effectively dead, and it was time for a bold new in its place. It was time for a software upgrade of sorts on my own work, mission and mandate ~ or alternatively it was time for me to step aside. Go big, or go home. That was the year I introduced what we now call Project 5117 at Operation HOPE. It was our software upgrade. It was a game changer. After 22 years of running Operation HOPE, I had a total of 11 offices in 2013. Today, after a mere 24 months time, we have orders for more than 400 HOPE Inside locations alone. We are opening more than one office a week in 2017, and in December, 2016, the American Banker named us their 2016 'Innovator of the Year.' This is a first for the American Banker in almost 200 years of the American banking industry. In 2017, we are no longer selling the vision. We are simply presenting it. Offering it. Refining it. Executing on it. Consolidating, centering, focusing and growing a first-ever, best-in-class national delivery system for financial literacy, financial inclusion, economic empowerment and financial freedom. Finishing what President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass had in mind in 1865, when they launched what was called The Freedman's Bank, chartered to 'teach freed slaves about money.' Continuing the work outlined by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Andrew Young with the Poor People's Campaign of 1968. Our mission and mandate? To create and stand up the best-ever mechanism for sustainable, systemic, transformational change for the poor, the underserved and the struggling middle class - at scale - that the free world has ever seen. Operation HOPE is now focused squarely on becoming the 'Starbucks of Financial Inclusion.' This is the Silver Rights Movement, and it is rooted in a quiet, focused, gathering Strength. It can be seen in the eyes, hearts and minds of the growing network of HOPE Financial Coaches and Operation HOPE team members. From a business perspective, 2016 was the most stressful, overwhelming, taxing and pressure filled year of my professional career. It was also my most successful. Rainbows after storms. Loss creates leaders. Iron, sharpens iron. In many ways, life is about how you manage pain. I am better, stronger, calmer, more centered, more resilient, and more prepared than ever -- precisely because of where I came from, and what I have come through. What about you? Welcome light into your life. After all, darkness has no meaning without being defined by light. It's time for HOPE at Strength. Let's go... John Hope Bryant
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