Brian Williams was supposed to be a high-powered, highly paid businessman. In college, he was ranked as the top business student in the country, as in the entire United States. Only, when he got out into the real world, he found he wasn’t crazy about some of the shadier practices happening behind the scenes.
Now, just to be clear, I’m not talking about Brian Williams, the former “NBC Nightly News” anchor. I’m talking about Brian Williams, the Kindness Ninja.
Long before Brian dreamed of earning six figures, he dreamed of earning his black belt. Along with learning to flip, kick and chop, Brian learned that kindness is the ultimate form of self-defense.
Brian moved back to his hometown of Reno, Nev., in 2007 when his father was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. Spending time with his family members, nine of whom are teachers, helped Brian re-evaluate his priorities and the impact he wanted to have on the world.
Brian took his expertise in marketing and began to plan. By October 2008, he was ready to unveil Think Kindness to a group of students at a school in Nevada. In that assembly, Brian issued a challenge: 5,000 acts of kindness in 15 days.
Today, he issues the same challenge all over the United States. Using jokes and martial arts and competition with other schools, Brian creates a revolution of kindness that spans the whole community.
Once Brian is gone, the Kindness Crew, a group of students that is in on the ground floor, works to keep the momentum going.
Brian says the impact is both external and internal. “When you ask a child to recognize every time they hold a door open or pick up a pencil, they will instantly begin to notice all the people who do those things for them.”
Because school hours are so limited with so much for kids to learn, the message fits the social and emotional learning standards (SEL), with a different kindness focus each day.
Students in the United States seem to be benefiting from Think Kindness (the schools report a 32 percent decrease in bully-related incidents), but young people on the other side of the globe are being affected as well.
That’s because when Brian takes his program to middle and high schools, he makes it personal. He introduces the students to kids like Grace. Grace lives in Kenya. She lost her mother and her father, and was sold into slavery by her grandmother at age 9. She’s 22 now and is pursuing a social work degree with hopes of running an orphanage someday. Grace was allowed to begin her education only because she was given a pair of shoes. No shoes, no school. No school, no education. No education, well, I think you can imagine how that would have played out.
Thanks to the wonder of the Internet, students in the U.S. can communicate on their own with Grace and other kids in her community. They become friends on Facebook, and all of a sudden the world becomes a whole lot smaller.
Brian says he is always touched by the tears he sees running down the faces of American teenagers, even the boys, when they learn about what their peers in Africa are facing. That’s when he issues the challenge: Find them shoes. Lots and lots of shoes.
The first time, he challenged three schools to work together to collect 5,000 pairs of gently used shoes. They ended up with 8,000. To date, 200,000 pairs of shoes have been collected. Brian has been to Africa with students and teachers nine times to deliver shoes and carry out global acts of kindness. Grace has gotten to visit the U.S. to meet some of her online friends face-to-face.
Based on how far Think Kindness has come since 2008, I’d say Brian is putting his marketing background to good use. I’m certain he would have eventually found a more suitable fit had he decided to stay in the business world, but as a parent and lover of kindness, I’m sure glad he didn’t.
Learn more about Brian’s mission at ThinkKindness.org.
Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.
Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s men’s head basketball coach Saul Phillips. Her column runs every Saturday. You can visit Nicole at www.nicolejphillips.com.