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How far that little candle throws his beams!
So shines a good deed in a naughty world.
-- William Shakespeare
In the late summer of 1968, I watched from my bedroom window as police in riot gear battled protesters and bystanders in Chicago's Lincoln Park. Earlier that spring, I'd heard my parents talk in hushed voices about the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The jungles of Vietnam burned nightly on our TV screens, and the aftermath of Richard Speck's murderous rampage -- eight nurses killed right in my neighborhood -- continued to dominate the front pages of the newspaper.
Those were turbulent and violent times, especially confusing for a fourth-grader. But I was fortunate, because what I recall most vividly from my childhood are not these violent images, but the stories of bravery, generosity, and heroic endeavor shared by my parents and their friends around our dinner table. It was there that my siblings and I heard about a white manufacturer who refused to build a factory in the South with two separate sets of water fountains and bathrooms for "coloreds" and whites, and a woman who left her sorority in protest because they opposed her having a Japanese boyfriend. I sat spellbound as a Jewish visitor told us how a Christian family rescued him from a war-torn Poland, raised him, and then returned him to his mother's arms after World War II was over.
Stories like these (and there were many more) showed me how courageous, honorable, giving, and fair people could be even -- perhaps especially -- in bad times. Hearing these tales, I imagined myself in the shoes of the people described, confronted by similar challenges, and I hoped I'd make similarly courageous choices.
I was ten when I got the idea of starting a "good news" newspaper, filled strictly with news of good works. I realized even then that real-life stories of sacrifice, heroism, and courage make great copy. My good newspaper would trumpet the best of humanity and provide a counterpoint to the "if it bleeds, it leads" ethic that buries good news in the back pages.
I grew up, and my dream of a good news newspaper got tabled, as dreams sometimes do. But even as I went on to a career in journalism and a family of my own, the idea stayed with me. The chance to realize this childhood dream came in the mid-nineties, when two friends, the accomplished filmmakers Jeanne Meyers and Rita Stern, approached me about My Hero.
They were mothers of young children at the time, as was I, and like most parents, eager to make the world a better place for their kids. Specifically, they were concerned that traditional heroes were conspicuously absent from the great grab bag of popular culture offered to our kids, eclipsed by superheroes, pop stars, and celebrities. Jeanne and Rita's point was that heroes were still all around us, but they weren't getting airtime.
Their solution: a web site called myhero.com, which would celebrate heroes and heroism. Here children and their parents could read and post stories of courage and inspiration to share with people around the world. This truly was my good news newspaper -- only better.
The mission of the My Hero web site is to spotlight real-life stories that "Celebrate the Best of Humanity." That's what visitors have been doing since 1995. My hero.com now welcomes more than a million visitors each month. Clearly we weren't the only ones starving for some good news!
The stories we receive from visitors to our web site testify to the fact that heroism comes in many shapes, sometimes unexpected. They also remind us of the boundless generosity and goodwill of our fellow men and women. Kids often write about their favorite sports idols, civil rights leaders, musicians, and movie stars. Yet there is also an unending stream of tributes paid to unsung heroes: neighbors, grandparents, nurses, or that special teacher, and, in one instance, a sister who had declared a temporary cease-fire in a particularly bitter sibling dispute -- just long enough to donate her kidney to the brother who'd have died without it.
One of the privileges of working on the web site is to have a ringside seat at a steady stream of stories about remarkable heroes. Reading these sparked a question that was the catalyst for this book: "Who inspires the heroes who so inspire the rest of us?" From what reservoir do our heroes draw their strength and inspiration?
As you will see in the pages that follow, we have gathered a broad spectrum of contributors. Included here are military heroes, first responders, and sports greats, Nobel Prize recipients, legendary artists, and world-class scientists; world leaders and ordinary people who have done extraordinary things. Our contributors come from all walks of life and from around the globe, but if they have one thing in common, it's this: Because of them the world is richer and brighter. These are the people who have inspired us and others, by word, action, and deed. In this book, they share stories about the people who inspired them.
If we have learned anything from the stories collected in this book, it's that a single stone thrown in a pond can produce ripples that will extend farther than anyone can imagine at the moment of impact. An act of heroism isn't quantifiable; there's no measure of the lives it will touch. No matter who our contributors chose as heros, or why, their choices reveal how their own paths were illuminated, and by doing so shed precious light on our own.
for The My Hero Project
Copyright © 2005 by The My Hero Project