By Nicole DeJacimo, Staff Writer
“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
John Hope Bryant, Founder and CEO of Operation Hope, repeated this sentence to the audience dozens of times on Tuesday, February 27th when he spoke in the CUB ballroom. Operation Hope’s mission is to “equip young people and adults with the financial tools and education to secure a better future,” because 70 percent of America lives paycheck to paycheck.
Mary Hagerty Ersham, class of 1990, has worked for Bryant for 15 years and is his Chief of Staff and Head of Operations for Operation Hope. She told the Gettysburgian that Bryant helped her formulate her life purpose into a career. Ersham and Drew Murphy, class of 1984, met at a conference, and then introduced Bryant to Gettysburg College not long ago.
Bryant is the only person in the history of the United States to rename a building on White House property. One of the treasury buildings was named The Freedman’s Building after President Lincoln’s Freedman’s Bank: a bank to educate freed slaves about financial literacy. Surprisingly, Bryant said that he didn’t know about the Freedman’s Bank until about 15 years after he founded Operation Hope. It went so well with his current mission that he couldn’t help but try to continue Lincoln’s legacy.
“I cried today,” Bryant said to the crowd. He went on to describe his day at Gettysburg that both tore him up and inspired him. Bryant asks the audience to feel everything. That it is better to feel sad or angry or hate than to feel nothing at all. “Radical indifference” and apathy is the worst thing in the world. The second we stop caring about something is the second the world stops improving. He told us to find something that we hate about this world and to become an expert in it and destroy it.
“Commit to something,” said Bryant. Ersham informed the Gettysburgian that the goal of this speech is to push the campus towards greatness.
“Realize that you’re in a place where you can do anything,” Ersham urge. The speech was intended to shake up the college and to help students make their own connections and innovations. A few times throughout the night, Bryant reminded the audience that the campus community does not only read history out of books but lives in history. He implores students to take inspiration from the stories around us every day.
In closing, the floor was opened for questions from the audience. One student, in particular, caught his attention and Bryant even asked the audience to applaud this Gettysburgian.
“How do we conquer the thoughts that block our intuition?” he asked. Bryant responded saying that we need to quiet our fears. That we need to stop thinking that we weren’t happy before because of reasons X,Y, and Z, or that we’ll be happy when something else happens to us. Be vulnerable and aware of how you feel right now and you can change your life for the better. Bryant noted that this is a lifelong process that some people never finish but it is easier the earlier we start towards that path of greatness.
Tuesday night’s event was funded by the Hanson Lecture series and hosted by the Economics Department and the Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation Initiative. Bryant’s full speech can be accessed on Facebook @JohnHopeBryant