• October 2020
  • Vol. 21, No. 7

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Vision as an Action Word

Written by Jerry Milner and David Kelly

A vision without action is just a bunch of words. There can be art and poetry in those words. Words can express values and stir emotion, and history tells us that vision is necessary to inspire action and provoke meaningful change. History also tells us that vision alone, without action, cannot achieve or sustain a transformation of great proportions. Transformation requires more. It requires comfort with discomfort, thinking, and acting differently. It requires owning one's contributions to the problem and letting go of what is not serving those we serve. It requires fidelity to a clear purpose of doing and being better.

Successful social transformations do not take pause to convince the skeptics or wait for all the support they may need to solidify. Rather, acting on a clear vision, they set out to demonstrate what can be done, and when this occurs, transformation is possible. Successful social transformations are not about disruption for disruption's sake or destruction. They are about creating with purposeful intention, divestment in what is not working and more investment in a just alternative that is inclusive of antecedent value but exceeds it. They are about striving to achieve a vastly different and better state—a new state, something that is doable if we work hard and smart enough in a unified fashion.

Transformation is possible when we, collectively, are compassionate enough to go after conditions as opposed to people, when we realize that our efforts to "fix people" after they have experienced trauma will never be enough to overcome history and ameliorate systems and structures that perpetuate poverty, disparity, and harmful cycles of family instability. We must, instead, see inherent value in preventing trauma—and aggressively prosecute its root causes. Failure to do so is to endorse and enable suffering. We can create the conditions for strong and thriving families where children are free from harm. We can demonstrate that children are safer when families thrive. We can and will show the power of community in supporting families and keeping them healthy and well. We can make a national commitment to well-being, grounded in thriving families and safer children.

We recognize that no one agency, organization, or system can create the conditions families and communities deserve, the conditions that make clear the inherent worth and dignity both possess and nurture that worth and dignity. To do so, we are committing more boldly, transparently, and collaboratively than ever before to do right by families. The core partnership we have entered into with Casey Family Programs, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and Prevent Child Abuse America is an invitation for public accountability. We invite all to watch and keep each partner honest and focused on this essential work. We cannot afford to fall into familiar patterns of distraction or allow the effort to become diluted. Staying true to our intention is integral to our success.

Success will not foreclose our need or dedication to being as effective at healing as we possibly can be at all times; however, it does require a commitment to well-being as the best and most compassionate strategy for lessening the occurrence of trauma and the ensuing need for healing.

Results will not be immediate, but learning will be and has already begun. The work is unlikely to be flashy or sensational—we may not grab the headlines. We are not beginning with large, new investments or miraculous cures in mind or hand.

Our greatest tool is humility.

Humility grounds us in the understanding that we are not the sole, or best, proprietors of knowledge about what families and communities need. In fact, humility provides us with awareness that the wisdom we need to be most helpful can only be found in families and communities. Humility leads us to measure what matters to families and communities—and captures strengths and resiliency instead of deficits alone, measures that harness what it means to thrive. To be sure, we will offer, adapt, and align the resources and learning we do have in unprecedented ways, and we will continuously push for more support to do what is right.

We will create evidence in partnership with families and communities as opposed to imposing it on them. When we share and shift power in such fundamental ways we will create fundamentally different conditions and achieve more equitable and humane experiences and outcomes.

Transformation is possible if we make vision an action word.


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