Embracing Our Future Over Fear: Remarks at the 2018 Creative Change Awards

by Alan Jenkins, The Opportunity Agenda

So, it’s been a rough year for social justice and, you know, humanity. But I now see a path forward and a light ahead. And it’s a bright one.

That’s why the theme of tonight’s event, and of all our work this year, is Future Over Fear.

A promotional image of the 2018 Creative Change Awards honoring W. Kamau Bell, Astrid Dominguez, and Lola C. West

We see the future over fear in the thousands of people and communities that we work with throughout the year.

The fearless young people who are speaking out and putting their bodies on the line for a roadmap to citizenship and human rights for themselves AND their families. Those who advocate for freedom from police violence and basic accountability from Sacramento to St. Louis to here in New York City. Workers who fight for decent wages and respect in the workplace. And youth who march for commonsense gun safety laws in Florida and around the country.

We see the future over fear in the rising leadership of the people who live with these challenges every day—formerly incarcerated leaders, and undocumented leaders, and survivors of violence, and teachers, and everyday workers. These are people who have solutions to offer that are rooted in personal experience and facts, instead of mean-spirited bigotry and cynical politics. And we see it in the artists and entertainers and athletes who are using their creativity and their platform—and often risking their careers—for racial justice and gender equity, and Queer liberation, and human rights.

This is how we lead at The Opportunity Agenda; we lift up the voices and hopes and dreams of communities on the front lines of change.

At The Opportunity Agenda, it is our privilege and our mission to lift up those voices, to fuel those movements and to work together to change the narrative and to tell a new story.

Over just the past year:

  • We trained almost 1,000 rising leaders and activists as spokespeople and media figures, with a focus on young people and people directly affected by the issues. The folks whose voices have so rarely been heard, but who are crucial to our future over fear.
  • We placed hundreds of stories in broadcast, print, and digital media, reaching tens of millions of Americans around the country with that new narrative of opportunity and human rights. Stories that would never have made their way into a crowded and chaotic media landscape without our help. (Take that, Cambridge Analytica!)
  • And we worked with a growing creative posse of artists, performers, and athletes who are reaching huge new audiences and telling new stories for the cause of social justice.

This is how we lead at The Opportunity Agenda; we lift up the voices, hopes, and dreams of communities on the front lines of change. People who have been demonized and shut out of our national discourse for too long, and who embody our country’s future over fear. We are leaders at the vanguard of change not because we grab the spotlight, but because we point the spotlight toward others. To borrow from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that’s our drum major instinct – to ensure that new drummers, new musicians of all kinds, are able to join and lead the band.

That is why you will often hear it said that The Opportunity Agenda is the most important organization you never heard of. Ok, we’re usually the ones who say that, but it’s an important part of our identity. And we take some pride in that role.

But, as you might imagine, being the most important organization you never heard of is not the best way to raise money. And that’s why all of you are so important. We count on you because you understand that narrative change doesn’t happen on its own. No one organization or leader can achieve it in isolation. It takes collaboration, innovation, vision, and trust. It takes the ability to work with people from every walk of life, every background and ideology –  from the halls of power and the highest court in the land to neighborhoods and communities where hope and opportunity are under siege.

That’s what The Opportunity Agenda is all about. That’s what leadership means to us.

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