FOR USE IN SCHOOLS AND LIBRARIES ONLY. The president of the IF Hummingbird Foundation and the founder of Ideas Without Borders present an inspirational call to action that recounts the stories of 14 young social activists and visionaries whose charities and non-profits are safeguarding their communities and the world. Reprint.
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Jill W. Iscol is president of the IF Hummingbird Foundation. She is an educator and sociologist who has a life commitment to supporting domestic and international efforts to strengthen democracy and the social, economic, and educational inequalities that threaten it. Jill Iscol is active in the philanthropic, educational, and political worlds. Hearts on Fire is her first book.
Peter W. Cookson, Jr., is the founder of Ideas Without Borders, an educational consulting firm specializing in twenty-first-century learning and human rights. He is a sociologist and the author of numerous books on education and inequality.
i am writing this book to share with you the joy and excitement I have experienced meeting and becoming friends with some of the twenty-first century’s most innovative and compassionate visionaries. These extraordinary and life-affirming activists have enriched my life; whenever I am in their presence, I feel optimistic about the future of our planet and its people.
Where others tear at the social fabric, they mend; where others see the world in shades of gray conformity, they see the world as a kaleidoscope of possibilities; where others avert their eyes from the suffering of others, they fearlessly look at the world the way it is—and how it might be.
What are the personal experiences that shape the lives of today’s activists? What are their hopes for the world? What are their dreams of the future? What are their fears? How are they changing the world one step at a time? What drives them to put aside comfort and safety to join hands with those most in need?
A new consciousness is sweeping the globe. Columnist and -bestselling author David Brooks describes it as the New Humanism; Bill Shore, founder of Share Our Strength, describes the natural human desire to be part of something “bigger and more lasting than ourselves.” I think of today’s visionaries as thoughtfully and actively guiding the world in the direction of greater justice and a deeper humanity, where the birth lottery does not determine life chances.
Nobel Prize–winning author Toni Morrison, at a recent graduation speech at Rutgers University, beautifully expressed the personal importance of pursuing something bigger and more lasting than ourselves: “Personal success devoid of meaningfulness, free of a steady commitment to social justice, that’s more than a barren life; it is a trivial one. It’s looking good instead of doing good.”
Whatever words we use to describe this new consciousness, the reality is simple: It is fundamental to our nature to join with others to enhance the condition of the human family. In Jacqueline Novogratz’s inspiring words, “The time has come to extend to every person on the planet the fundamental principle we hold so dear: that all human beings are created equal.… Our collective futures rest upon embracing a vision of a single world in which we are all connected.”
This book is a call to action. I am both motivated and humbled by the many people in our lives who serve without the expectation of reward. I have been fortunate to be close to people from all walks of life who feel it is a privilege to roll up their sleeves and extend a helping hand to others. Together we can make a real difference, today and tomorrow. If this book can, even in a small way, help you define and refine your dreams and plans for a better world, then it will have accomplished its mission.
In 2010 and 2011, my colleague Peter Cookson and I filmed each of the visionaries featured in this book. Their stories are told in their own words—directly, honestly, and passionately. The chapters that follow emerge from the lightly edited transcripts of our interviews. The stories you are about to read capture what we believe is often overlooked: Behind every story of service is a very human and heartfelt journey—signified by yearning, struggle, happiness, and fulfillment. These vignettes allow us to see how purposeful imagination and solidarity with others can transform the world and in the process transform the lives of those who serve.
Peter and I have known each other for many years; both of us are sociologists and educators. Not long ago, we discovered we were working in parallel and decided to collaborate on a book that would bring to public attention new and courageous leaders who are reshaping the world. This has been a truly happy collaboration.
The title Hearts on Fire is drawn from an expression used by Andeisha Farid to describe to us her life’s journey from childhood in a refugee camp in Iran to her present work, founding orphanages in Afghanistan. She movingly explained to us how the ashes of her heart were turned into a heart on fire when she started her first small orphanage in 2003.
The origins of this work have deep roots in my family. My husband, Ken, and I believe that from those to whom much has been given, much is expected. Our children, Zachary and Kiva, share our determination to help make a world where justice is the norm, not the exception. We founded the Iscol Family Program for Leadership Development in Public Service at Cornell University as a way of promoting and supporting visionary leadership. I am indebted to all my colleagues at the Clinton Global Initiative and to President Clinton himself for showing the way forward to a world where our shared humanity is celebrated and giving back is expected.
The symbol for this project is the hummingbird. Fifteen years ago, a family friend gave me a painting of a hummingbird as a gift, because he thought it captured my sense of urgency about those things I care deeply about. Recently, I learned that the hummingbird is considered sacred by many Native Americans, who believe it to have life-giving magical powers—a very fitting symbol for the work of the world’s visionaries.
Because our mission is to awaken and support your sense of commitment, we have included sources of information about employment, internships, grants, and sponsorships as well as educational and professional development opportunities in the growing service movement and some suggested further reading.
So, welcome! I sincerely hope that when you meet and get to know these women and men of vision, you will feel refreshed, optimistic, and ready to find your own path of connection, compassion, and constructive problem-solving. Please be in touch with us at www.heartsonfirebook.com and join the conversation—together we can make a real difference!
Jimmie Briggs has been called “a gentle giant.” It’s not so much his impressive stature, which fills the doorway; it is his dignity, his quiet sense of purpose, and the almost innocent quality that suffuses the entire room.
When I first met Jimmie, he needed some guidance with fundraising. I was motivated to help because I believed that whoever would meet him would be as taken as I was with his chosen mission: stopping violence against girls and women.
Jimmie has gone through a lot in the year since we first interviewed him: He suffered a major heart attack, which led to complete kidney failure. Since then he has been in hemodialysis three days a week, four hours per session. Yet he remains steadfast and totally committed to ending violence against girls and women. Jimmie loves life deeply. When I asked him about how he had gotten through his ordeal, he spoke of his family and friends and the community of caring he continues to be part of every day. His positive outlook is inspiring. I have learned so much from Jimmie; in his words, “social change requires working every day, every week, every hour—never turning off.”
Jimmie has many fans and was the winner of GQ magazine’s Better Men Better World Search. As he stirs hearts with his urgent quest to protect women and girls in this country and around the world, I hope he will stir yours too.
Imagine if we drew a map of the world where our unit of measurement was violence against women. It would be a geography of pain. We would see continents of buried suffering, mountain ranges of violence, and arid deserts of neglect. We would see a world where rape is used as a weapon of war (nearly 500,000 women were raped in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide alone), a world where one out of three girls reports being sexually abused and where one girl in four has experienced violence in a relationship. Worldwide, the leading cause of death and disability for women between fifteen and forty-four is violence.
Violence against women is a complex set of destructive, primarily male behaviors that include psychological and emotional abuse, forced marriage, son preference, honor killings, sexual harassment, trafficking, and violence against women in armed conflict.
Jimmie is the founder of the Man Up Campaign, a global initiative to stop violence against girls and women. He didn’t start life expecting he would dedicate himself to mobilizing the world’s youth in the cause of basic justice for girls and women.
But that’s what he did. And this is his story.
An Unlikely Journey
“I have to say my journey’s been a very unlikely one. It is not the path I thought I would take with my life. I grew up in a rural Bible Belt community just outside of Saint Louis. My mother was a teacher and high school guidance counselor. My father was an electrician. I have a younger brother; we were very much a middle-class family.
I grew up in a community that was predominately white, very conservative. In elementary school and high school I was one of the few African American students. I endured a lot of taunting—a lot of racial epithets—playing sports, in assemblies, and in the hallways of my schools.
It wasn’t an easy time to be growing up. But I found strength in my family and community. The seventies and eighties were not times of innovation and change. My parents were very devout Baptists. A lot of my upbringing was tied to the church—fish fries, the Sunday socials, the clothing drives, the Christmas sales in the wintertime.
I was influenced by the elders of the church. It was not a wealthy church. Most church members were working-class people from the Deep South who had achieved a certain degree of security. They were very proud people.
It was an environment of affirmation. When I would do well in school or win certain contests or get on the dean’s list, I vividly remember members of the church—many of them have passed away—discreetly handing me a crump...
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