As I rode my bike home through Regents Park last year, I often slowed down to look at the nativity scene near the Science Museum. I looked at the cold, open stable, the shepherds in their torn clothes, the soon-to-be parents, and the place in the setting where baby Jesus would lay come Christmas day.
Now reflecting on 2016, I am reminded of the parallels that exist in the story of Christmas and in so many of the events of last year. For many, 2016 was cold and bleak and full of rejection and fear – not so dissimilar to the early emotions of the nativity story. And whilst the story of Christmas at times appears hopeless, there is an underlying persistence, commitment, and faith in the goodness of what’s to come – there is always hope.
This year, whether your hope is signified by Jesus lying in a manger, or whether it be something completely different, I suggest you hold onto it, since it’s what we need to get through challenging times.
The challenging times of last year have made me all the more grateful for our wonderful partners and the work they do to make this world a more hopeful place – I am thankful to them, and for many of the experiences that shaped my year.
I had the incredible honour of meeting Anthony Ray Hinton – an innocent man, who was kidnapped from his front lawn and then held on death row for 30 years. Late last year Anthony Ray was again a free man, released from prison after enduring unimaginable suffering. Meeting Anthony changed me and changed my outlook on the world – he’s an inspiring, beautiful, and kind man who after all of the wrongs perpetrated against him, is still full of hope and love.
Anthony’s story is one to cherish, yet also one to scream about, since the battle to end the death penalty suffered many sad setbacks this year – US election results further supporting the death penalty in California, Nebraska and Oklahoma. To me these setbacks highlight the depth of the fear and anger running through the veins of so many people – they also speak to me as a call to action. They reinforce that the work Virgin Unite is doing to bring an end the death penalty must be pursued harder and smarter than ever before. Because if Anthony Ray has hope, so can we.
Another incredible experience was taking part in the Virgin Strive Challenge – a strenuous activity that not surprisingly pushed me to my limits, both physically and emotionally.
The Big Change team (who are behind the Strive Challenge) constantly remind us about the importance of assuming a growth mind-set, of being willing to learn, of being happy to make mistakes and of being eager to experiment – these lessons were important as I took on such a physical challenge, but are also essential for everyday life. The challenge reminded me of the many people who are pushed to their physical and emotional limits every day – not by choice, but by circumstances
The Strive Challenge also brought together many of Virgin Unite’s partnerships and passions. The leg of the swim between the tip of mainland Italy and Sicily saw Richard and Ocean Unite partner with Adrian Grenier and his organisation, Lonely Whale to raise awareness for ocean health as part of the #makeasplash campaign. I feel truly blessed to have taken part in such a wonderful event and to have been surrounded by some of the world’s most passionate ocean conservationists.
As I look to 2017, I am thankful that we have much to be excited about. I look forward to The Elders 10th birthday and to celebrating a decade of having them in our lives. My team and I will continue to look for new ways to find the next generation of leaders that this planet so desperately needs and we will continue to build a community of change-makers, bringing together extraordinary people who are taking their passions and channelling them for good.
I hope you’ll join us. Have a wonderful and hopeful start to 2017.