Good People Doing Good Things – Jamal Cole

Every Wednesday morning I go in search of the antithesis of the people I typically write about.  We become so mired in the day-to-day venom that defines our social and political climate today that we forget … there are a lot of good people out there who are busy doing things to help people and the planet.  I am always amazed at how many such people pop onto my radar on Tuesday nights when I am writing these posts, and it helps to restore my faith in the human race.

While the ‘man’ in the Oval Office has picked on Chicago, calling it a ‘disaster’ and ‘out of control’, Jahmal Cole was spending his time doing things to help make things better in Chicago.

Jahmal ColeJahmal’s life, like so many others in Chicago, began in 1983 on the poor side of town, growing up in a home with parents who were drug addicts and split up more than a few times. Cole said his parents’ struggles with drugs and their frequent breakups would send him off with his father to live in Fort Worth, Texas.

“We didn’t have any money; we slept in the back of a U-Haul truck, but indirectly that was my vacation.”

He said those breakups showed him the country in a way other kids on his block had never seen, and his parents’ drug issues taught him responsibility.

“I was always the person my dad gave the money to — even at 12 years old — because I was the responsible one.”

Getting out of Chicago from time to time, seeing other parts of the world, fostered in Jahmal a determination to go to college.  He stole a college guide from a teacher who refused to give one to him and settled on Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. That decision had his mother saying he was “acting white,” and got his jaw broken by other kids on the block.  But none of that stopped Jahmal.

His father stole a rental truck to drive him to college, and they maxed out Cole’s credit cards to get the gas to get to the Detroit campus. Others might have given up, faced with such challenges, but Jahmal Cole does not give up.

Jahmal graduated with honours and used his skills and talents not to go into the business world, but to go into the world he had recently left, the streets of Chicago.

He strives to make the community a better place to live as he inspires and helps teens and young adults to rise above their present circumstances and upbringing.

He started out volunteering at the Cook County Jail. Working with young inmates, the thing he heard from all of them was “my block, my hood.” These young men had never known anything other than the boundaries of their neighborhoods, so Jahmal came up with a plan – take groups of young people and show them what the city looks like outside their own neighborhoods.

And this gave birth to My Block, My Hood, My City, a nonprofit dedicated to helping students find out what the outside world looks like. Many had never seen a taxi, rode in an elevator or been in a glass building. This simple idea of expanding the geography of at-risk youth could give them something to strive for besides the violence and poverty of their neighborhoods.

The mission of My Block, My Hood, My City as stated on their website is …

“To help teenagers overcome the poverty and isolation they face by boosging educational attainment and opeing them to opportunities that make a difference in their lives.”

My Block, My Hood, My City provides underprivileged youth with an awareness of the world and opportunities beyond their neighborhood.  We take students on explorations focused on STEM, Arts & Culture, Citizenry & Volunteerism, Health, Community Development, Culinary Arts, and Entrepreneurism.

Core Values:

  • Interconnectivity

  • Empathy

  • Hope

  • Civic Responsibility

Recently, after a xnowstorm that blanketed the Chicago area, Jahmal put out a tweet …

Jahmal tweetSuch is this man’s reputation that not 10 people turned up for the effort, but 120!  And not only that, but people from all over the country, people who couldn’t show up in person, donated money and other items to My Block, My Hood, My City.

Jahmal-snowBut this organization is not all Mr. Jahmal Cole does!  An advocate for education reform in Chicago, Jahmal is passionate about improving schools and is a frequent speaker at colleges in the Chicago area. Jahmal is the author of The Torch of Decency: Rekindling the Spirit of Community Organizations, “Athletes & MC’s” and “50 Excuses: to not Follow your Dreams”, as well as his latest book, “Exposure is the Key”.

Jahmal Cole has not spent his 35  years sitting around bemoaning the crime and violence in his community, but instead has worked tirelessly to change the environment.  There is only so much I can write here, but if you’re interested in learning more about Jahmal Cole and My Block, My Hood, My City, there are a few links at the bottom of this post.  Meanwhile, I applaud this man and the difference he is making in the lives of so many young people in Chicago.


Links to further reading:

Kids on a New Block 

Being Homeless Changed This Chicago Organizer’s Life — For The Better

Amazon Author Highlight  

Good People Doing Good Things — Dr. Daniel Ivankovich

Every Wednesday, I go in search of good people who are giving of themselves to others.  They are not hard to find, but so often go unnoticed because they are busy taking care of business and do not have time to toot their own horns as others may do.

It seems that we only hear about the bad things in Chicago:  the crime, drugs, gangs and violence.  But there are some really good people doing their best to help people survive and thrive.  Meet Dr. Daniel Ivankovich.

IvankovichIn 2010 after seeing so many in the Chicago area who were left without the ability to pay for medical care turned away, Dr. Ivankovich decided it was time to do something positive.  He and his wife, Karla, started the nonprofit OnePatient Global Health Initiative, a non-profit “designed to establish sustainable programs of outreach, prevention and patient education at multiple locations throughout the disparate areas of Chicago.”

Today, Ivankovich runs three clinics in Chicago and performs more than 600 surgeries a year. He says more than 100,000 people have benefited from the program.

“I know I can’t fix everybody. My goal is to be the battering ram to help break down the barriers to get these patients the care and the resources they need.”

In an interview last year, Dr. Ivankovich was asked why his mission is to help people without insurance.

Ivankovich-2“Many people who are uninsured or on Medicaid are forced to ignore their health issues. So when they can’t put it off anymore, they use emergency rooms as their primary source of medical treatment and aren’t able to access any follow-up care, which could potentially cause a basic injury to become life-threatening.

Oftentimes when a patient’s finally made it to our clinic, they tell me they’ve been hung up on by 10 or 12 other physician providers because they don’t have insurance. It’s heartbreaking when you hear the struggles that the patients have to go through for the basics.”

Patients are never turned away from the OnePatient clinics for lack of insurance or inability to pay.  But Dr. Ivankovich’s good works don’t stop there.  After the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Ivankovich and his team airlifted thousands of tons of medical supplies to the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince. He collaborated with Team Rubicon1 USA to set up mobile forward-assist surgical teams (F.A.S.T.) to treat hundreds of Haitians with severe injuries. For his work in the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake, Ivankovich was named one of Chicago magazine’s 2010 Chicagoans of the Year, and the National Association of Social Workers Illinois 2010 Public Citizen of the Year.

Haitian earthquake victim

Dr. Ivankovich with victim of earthquake in Haiti, 2010

Now, a few coincidences came into play at this point in my research.  First, among Ivankovich’s several nicknames, he is often called Dr. Dan (the others include Chicago Slim and Reverend Doctor D).  Remember my black history persona from Monday, about another Dr. Dan — Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, who founded Provident Hospital, the first interracial hospital in the nation?  Well, guess where Dr. Dan Ivankovich practiced from 2002 to 2007?  Yep, none other than Provident Hospital!  Not relevant, but I thought it was an interesting coincidence.

While at Provident Hospital, Dr. Ivankovich was a bit of a rebel, apparently, criticizing the hospital for spending too little on patient care and too much on administrative salaries and non-patient costs.  He and two other like-minded doctors were dismissed in April 2007.

Ivankovich bluesDr. Dan knows how to lighten up and have some fun, too, and he is a founding member of the Chicago Blues All-Stars.  Ivankovich provides vocals and plays electric guitar. He has played alongside many Chicago blues and rock musicians, such as Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley.  Check out the short clip (1:11) … Dr. Dan is the one in the light-coloured shirt and the dark hat.

I frequently criticize the medical industry, for that is what it is becoming, an industry, rather than the humanitarian field I once thought it was.  But medical professionals like Dr. Ivankovich are the exception and deserve to be in the spotlight.  In short, we need a lot more like him.

1 Another coincidence — I wrote about Team Rubicon in a ‘Good People” post last October!

Good People Doing Good Things — Four To Love

Every Wednesday morning, I go in search of those people who are selflessly giving of themselves, whether it be in the form of money or time, to make the world just a little bit better place by doing good things for others.  This is one of my ways of stepping back for just a brief time from the dark place that seems to define not only the U.S., but much of the world in this, the 21st century.  I find that I never have trouble finding those good people … they are everywhere, though they go largely unnoticed, for the sad reality is that bad news sells much better than good.  Shining the light on these people should give us all a reminder that there is yet hope for the cause of humanity in the world.  So sit back, if you will, and take just a few minutes to hear about these good people doing good things.

Raymond Suckling

Sewickley,  Pennsylvania, is a suburb 12 miles to the northwest of Pittsburgh.  The borough’s population is under 4,000, with only about 950 families.  Until his recent death, Sewickley was home to Raymond Suckling.  Raymond was just an average guy.  He never married nor had children, but he had a lifelong companion, Betty Hallett, who died in 2002. Raymond had worked hard all his life, a WWII veteran and a mechanical engineer at Koppers Company in Pittsburgh.  Raymond lived in a modest home, drove a Subaru and liked White Castle hamburgers.  An average Joe, right?  But when Raymond died, he made the second largest donation ever to the Pittsburgh Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to addressing a wide variety of issues in the community.  How much, you ask, did he donate?  $37.1 million!

Suckling-1This man, who had lived simply and frugally all his life, mowed his own lawn, always gave to various charities throughout the year, had wealth that nobody, not even those close to him, knew a thing about.

Suckling-2The money will be divided among Sewickley Public Library, the Heritage Valley Health System in Sewickley, and nonprofits and programs in the Sewickley region that help low-income youth and families.

Thom Hallett, one of Betty’s sons, said, “I recall him saying — and I think he meant this as a teaching moment for us — that having wealth also means having the responsibility to do good works.”  This was a man who lived up to his words.

Paula Garcia

In 2015, Paula Garcia of Vancouver, Canada, and a group of friends decided to do something about the plight of the homeless in downtown eastside of Vancouver.  They formed a small non-profit called Small Steps  and every Tuesday evening, they prepare sandwiches and load up with other essentials and hand deliver them to those in need.  The organization is small, its scope limited, but these are people volunteering their time and resources to help people.  Just think what the world would be like if every one of us dedicated just one evening a week to helping people.

Will Lourcey

FROGS Dinner Club has, to date, prepared over 175,000 meals for hungry children through Tarrant Area Food Bank, packaged 50,000 backpacks for the Backpacks for Kids Program and helped serve 10,000 families through Mobile Food Pantry.

Pretty nice, yes?  But … wait for it … the founder of FROGS is none other than 12 year old Will Lourcey whose motto is “See a need, make a plan, gather friends, and change the world”. I think we could all stand to take some of Will’s advice … I know I sure could.

will lourceyFROGS, short for Friends Reaching Our Goals, is a community outreach program that gets young children together to plan fun events that raise money, awareness and help feed hungry children.  If you have two minutes to spare, please watch Will tell you in his own words about FROGS … I guarantee you will fall in love with this young man … I did!

Lourdes Juan

One of my pet peeves is food waste.  Just ask Miss Goose about my fussing and grousing when I clean out the fridge and have to toss some moldy cheese, or a container of something unidentifiable, but growing a layer of fuzz on top.  Grocery stores throw out thousands, if not millions of dollars worth of food every week that could have fed hundreds of families.  My next good person is doing something to combat food waste and help feed those who might otherwise go hungry.

Lourdes Juan, of Alberta, Canada, says, “My cousin and I saw how much food was going to go to waste if we weren’t there to rescue it.”  Juan founded the non-profit group Leftovers Foundation, which rescues perishable food from stores and restaurants — things food banks often can’t handle.

Lourdes JuanEvery week in Alberta, 1,814 kilograms (4,000 lbs) of produce, day-old bread, pastries and prepared meals is saved.

“Food that is a bit spotted, is close to expiry, but not yet expired — so food that is destined for the landfill, we come in and rescue that,” Juan said.

Two-hundred volunteers in Calgary and Edmonton pick up food from about 55 businesses, seven days a week. The volunteers use their own vehicles and pay for their own gas.  The rescued food is then distributed to a number of agencies throughout Alberta.  One of those agencies is Home Mission, where spokesperson Robin Padanyi said, “To be able to have — not just food, but healthy food that’s going to be able to replenish some of the nutrients that our guests really need is important to us.”

All of these people … Raymond, Paula, Will and Lourdes … have given of themselves to help those in need.  Isn’t it wonderful to see that there are people like this in the world?  These people are not so self-focused that they cannot see the plight of others, and they are willing to give of themselves, their time, money and energy, to help others.  My hat is off to each and every one of these good people doing good things.

Good People Doing Good Things — Inspiring Youths

Yesterday I wrote a piece about integrity, and bemoaned the fact that we seem to have lost ours along the way.  Today, I would like to shine a spotlight on some young people who still have their values, who still have integrity, who still believe in helping others and making a difference.

Campbell Remess

Meet Campbell Remess, age 13. Campbell, nicknamed Bumble by his little sister, lives with his family in Hobart, Tasmania.  (Tasmania, for those who might have thought it was only the fictional home of the Tasmanian Devil, is an island state off the southern coast of Australia.)  So what, you ask, does Campbell do?  He makes teddy bears!  Yes, you heard me right … he sews teddy bears in, according to his mum, almost all of his spare time.

Campbell RemessIt all started when Campbell was nine years old and asked his parents if he could buy Christmas gifts for sick children, for he wanted to do something to brighten their spirits. His parents had to turn down his request, for Campbell is one of nine children and … well, money, y’know?  Still, Campbell was a determined young lad, and so he found a pattern for a teddy bear online and with a bit of help from his mom, managed to craft what would become the first of more than a thousand such bears.

So, what does Campbell do with the bears?  Well, every week he hand delivers some to sick children at the Royal Hobart Hospital near his home.  He also sends his bears to sick children all over the world, and has a special bear he makes, the Winning Bear, for cancer patients to hold onto during treatments and at those down times.  He has even sent bears to victims of terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris. But it doesn’t end there …

campbell remess 2.jpgMore recently, Campbell started auctioning some of his bears on eBay, and donates all proceeds to charity.

“I put them online for auction for people to buy and all money goes to charity. My top bear sold for $5,000. On eBay they sell for about $1,000 to $2,000.”

Campbell says he lost count of how many bears he has made, but estimates it is somewhere between 1,200 – 1.400.  His goal is to make a bear a day, or 365 per year.  What I liked most about this young man is his attitude, his heart, when he said …

“Everyone can do something like this, it isn’t too hard to do it. I think the world would be a lot happier if everyone was kind and helpful and not mean, and if everyone had a teddy bear.”

Ryan Hickman

We are often amazed when young people start their own business, perhaps fresh out of college, or shortly thereafter.  But I believe Ryan Hickman may qualify as the youngest person ever to start his own business.  Ryan Hickman started his business at the ripe young age of 3½, and now, at age 7, is the CEO, manager, and sole employee of Ryan’s Recycling Company in Orange County, California.

Ryan HickmanWhen he was 3½ years old, Ryan Hickman visited the rePlanet recycling center in California, and found his life’s mission. The next day, standing in the family’s driveway with his dad, he pointed down the street and made an announcement: “My new business! I’m going to pick up all the cans and bottles from everyone in the neighborhood.” And that is just what he did!

To date, according to Ryan’s website, he has collected over 290,000 cans and bottles for recycling, and from his profits has donated nearly $6,000 to Pacific Marine Mammal Center.  He has also managed to save some $11,000 from his profits, which his dad, Damion Hickman, says will go toward college.  Ryan, however, has other ideas:  he wants to buy a full-size trash truck and eventually become a garbage man.  Any bets who wins that argument?

Ryan Hickman 2Last year, Ryan was invited to appear on the Ellen DeGeneres show, and Ellen then surprised him with a mini golf cart to help him with his recycling business, and also gave him a check for $10,000! When Ellen asked him why he likes recycling so much, he replied, “It’s because bottles get to the ocean and then animals get sick and die.”

He’s only seven years old, so it’s hard to predict what path this young man’s life will take, but one thing is for sure … he is doing good things and his heart is in the right place.

Haile Thomas

How many kids eat mostly healthy food?  Probably not a lot, but 16-year-old Haile Thomas of Tucson, Arizona, is on a mission to change that.  Haile’s mother began teaching Haile how to cook when she was only five years old.  At age ten, after completing a Girls Making Media workshop, Haile was greatly inspired to share her cooking adventures with other kids and thus was launched her online cooking show, Kids Can Cook.

Haile Thomas Al RokerHaile Thomas does not just cook, but she COOKS!  She puts me to shame, and I am fairly adept in the kitchen.  In 2013 she appeared on the Today show and cooked black bean and corn quinoa salad with garlic shrimp and avocado, a dish she had previously cooked up for first lady Michelle Obama as part of the first Kids’ State Dinner.

“I started asking questions about where my food comes from and what I was eating.”

She signed up for the youth advisory board of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which aims to combat childhood obesity, and from there started working with local chefs doing cooking demonstrations.

“The alliance and the chefs really inspired me and got me to where I am now.”

Her show, Kids Can Cook, teaches kids how to prepare nourishing meals for themselves, with recipes that call for simple ingredients.

Haile Thomas.jpgAnd if that’s not enough, Haile travels around the nation talking about her mission and has been awarded several grants for her service programs, HEAL (Healthy Eating, Active Lifestyle) and the Healthy Girl Club. She is the founder and director of the Tucson-based HAPPY Organization, Inc., which serves to improve the health and wellness of Arizona youth and families.

“I hope to make a difference by inspiring other kids to embrace a healthy lifestyle, and become educated about how good and bad food affects their bodies, overall health and quality of life.”

And she’s only 16.  She has most of the adults I know beat for understanding, practicing and teaching good nutritional values.  Imagine what a difference this young woman will make.  Move over Emeril!


I have two others, but I have already surpassed my self-imposed word limit, so I shall save them for another day.  Friends … we see so much pure evil every day in the news, and I spend the bulk of my time writing about that evil.  Every now and then, it does us all good to pull ourselves up out of the dark places and look around us, for when we do, we see that there are many, many people out there countering the evil, doing good things for others.  These three young people serve as an inspiration, give us hope that perhaps all is not lost, and that there is still conscience and integrity in the world.  My hat is off to these three and all the others out there doing good things.  Until next Wednesday … SMILE!

Good People Doing Good Things — Mama Rosie

You probably don’t remember, but back in mid-October, I mentioned that I had started a piece about ‘Mama Rosie’, who was definitely a good candidate for this feature, but that she had done so many wonderful things that I couldn’t finish the piece in time for that week’s post.  At the time, I thought I would feature her the following week, but who-knows-what came along and distracted me, and I never did return to finish that one.  Mana Rosie is back on my radar this week, however, because apparently I am not the only one who thinks she is worthy of notice.  Mama Rosie, aka Rosalia Mashale, was one of CNN’s Top Ten Heroes of the Year for 2017!  So without further ado, please allow me to introduce … Mama Rosie!!!!

Mama RosieIn 1989, Mama Rosie was a schoolteacher who had recently retired and moved from the Eastern Cape to the township of Khayelitsha, in Westerna Cape Town, South Africa.  Khayelitsha is a poor and overcrowded township of approximately 15 square miles, and a population density of more than 26,000 people per square mile.  The unemployment rate is 54.1% and Khayelitsha is afflicted by the largest HIV/Aids epidemic in the world. Many days Mama Rosie noticed children scavenging for food in a nearby dumpster, and one day she invited them in …

“I called them in, and we sang rhymes, and I gave them bread and something to drink. And that was the birth of the daycare center.”

Mama Rosie enlisted the aid of other women in the community and by the end of the first week, 36 children were being cared for.

Mama Rosie had run the free daycare center for over a decade, and was thinking of retiring when one morning she opened her door to find a child who had been abandoned on her doorstep.

“He was between the age of two and three. He was naked and full of sores. He didn’t even know his name.”

She did what anybody would do, and took the boy to the police, who, knowing her reputation of caring for children, told her that she should care for him!  And that was the beginning of the orphanage!  Before long police and social workers were bringing orphaned and abandoned children to Mama Rosie, and hospitals were calling her to pick up babies whose mothers had died in childbirth. She never turned a single one away.  By the end of the first year, she was caring for 67 children in her own home!

“I didn’t have the heart to turn anyone away. Young girls and boys and babies were in every part of my house.”

Baphymelele.jpgIn 2001, she established Baphumelele which means “we have progressed”, and boy have they ever … progressed …

“We have a medical clinic for children and another facility for adults. We care for those who have HIV/AIDS and other chronic diseases, such as cancer, tuberculosis, diabetes, and (we) operate a hospice for children.”

Baphumelele has developed into a thriving community project over the years. In addition to the Children’s Home and Educare Centre, Baphumelele has expanded to include the Adult Respite Care Centre, Child Respite Centre,  Hospice in the Home, Child Headed Households, Fountain of Hope, and Rosie’s Bakery/Sewing Project.

Baphumelele takes care of more than 5,000 orphaned, abandoned or sick children in desperate need of loving homes. Some have lost their parents to Aids, while others are themselves HIV-positive.

When the children in Mama Rosie’s care grow up, she helps them find jobs, or else gives them work in the bakery.

Mama RosaBut Mama Rosie’s efforts don’t begin and end with only the children!  She founded a women’s group, Sakhulwazi Women’s Organisation where women come together to learn skills such as sewing, beading and growing food … skills that will help them earn a living in the community.

At the CNN 2017 Hero of the Year awards ceremony last month, Mama Rosie gave a speech, where she said …

“They always say it takes a village to raise a child. Please join us to raise more orphans.”

I give two thumbs up to Mama Rosie for all her tireless efforts on behalf of the people of Khayelitsha!


Sadly, Mama Rosie did not win the CNN Hero of Year award, but one of my previous ‘good people’ did!  Amy Wright of Wilmington, North Carolina was named Hero of the Year. 

Good People Doing Good Things — Kat, Chris, and Jahkil

I had some help with this, my first Good People post of the new year, 2018.  About once a month, I receive an email from President Obama with news of what Barack, Michelle and the girls have been doing, etc.  This month, his letter was about optimism, good things that are happening in the world, and specifically three good people doing good things.  One of the three good people, Chris Long, I highlighted in a good people post back in October, but the other two were new to me.  I liked President Obama’s letter, its positive, hopeful and upbeat tone, and I adored the three good people he highlighted, so I thought … what better way to start the new year than with this message of optimism and three good people who give us reason for hope?  Without further prattle from me, here is President Obama’s letter:

I’ve always liked counting down to the new year. We get to reflect on what we’ve been through, and prepare for what’s ahead. There’s something inherently optimistic about that.

I know optimism isn’t always fashionable. Certainly not when we’re fed a steady stream of cynicism on television and through social media. We face some extraordinary challenges, but consider the long view. If you think about it, by almost every measure, America and the world are better than they were fifty, twenty, even ten years ago.

I was born at a time when women and people of color were systematically, routinely excluded from huge portions of American life. Today, women and minorities are rising up in the ranks of business, politics, and everywhere else. That’s just one of the significant shifts we’ve seen. And when you measure it against the scope of human history — it happened in an instant.

Around the world, we live in a time when fewer people are dying young and more people are living not only longer, but better. More girls are in school. More adults can read. More children get the vaccines they need.

These are good things. And none of them are lucky accidents. They happened because countless people, toiling for many years, fought to make this progress.

More than anything, that’s what’s needed now – the engagement of everyone who wants to see a better future for our children. The kind of collective action that has always driven human progress. And even in the face of cynicism and division, it’s those kinds of stories from 2017 that I’ll remember.

Kat CreechWhen Kat Creech, a wedding planner in Houston, Texas, saw a rapidly strengthening hurricane approaching her state, she and a couple whose Labor Day wedding she was planning decided to postpone. At Kat’s suggestion, that couple instead invited their wedding party, family, and friends to join together and volunteer to support those affected by the flood. Inspired, Kat kept going. She started a Facebook group to help connect and coordinate with fellow residents who wanted to volunteer. That became Recovery Houston, hundreds of volunteers strong. They helped clear more than 120 homes in a single week. Asked what she hopes others will learn from her story, Kat said, “You can move mountains and really make a difference in someone’s life.”

That’s a story from 2017.

Chris-LongIn the wake of this summer’s violence in Virginia, Chris Long, a defensive back for the Philadelphia Eagles, gave his first six paychecks of the season to fund scholarships at the high school he attended in his hometown of Charlottesville. But, like Kat in Texas, he wanted to do more. He decided to give away the rest of his paychecks for the season as well. An entire season’s salary. “Be that contagious light that spreads energy to other people,” Chris told a group of high school students this year. “Be contagious in your energy.”

That’s something else that happened in 2017.

jahkil-jacksonAt just five years old, Jahkil Jackson had witnessed the struggles of Chicago’s homeless families when his aunt took him to Lower Wacker Drive to hand out food to those camped there. He found himself restless, wanting to do more. With a spark of inspiration and the help of his family, Jahkil created “Blessing Bags” — kits full of socks, toiletries and snacks that he could offer to those in need. Now, as a 10 year old, through his organization Project I Am, Jahkil has enlisted the help of his school and community to pursue his goal of handing out 5,000 Blessing Bags, all because he wanted a simple way to help his neighbors. Just yesterday, with the support of his friends, Jahkil reached his goal.

A 2017 story.

Kate, Chris, and Jahkil were all living in the same country, during the same time, as you and me. They chose not to be daunted by challenges, but to stand up and make their world better.

I saw that spirit all across America in people who chose to get involved, get engaged, and stand up not only to defend their rights, but more importantly, the rights of others. People who rejected cynicism and pessimism and pushed forward with a relentless, infectious optimism. Not a blind optimism that ignores the scale and scope of our challenges, but rather a hard-earned optimism rooted in the stories of real progress.

It’s a belief that each of us can make a difference, and all of us ought to try.

You only need one person speaking with conviction, speaking with courage, and yes, with optimism, and you’re going to change some minds.

Those folks won’t just be convinced — they’ll be motivated to go out and spread the message that swayed them. They’ll be its best ambassadors.

And on it goes, one conversation at a time, until you’ve got yourself a movement. A movement that can change the world.

I’ll believe that as long as I live. So go keep changing the world in 2018.

– Barack

Good People Doing Good Things — Coach Sam Greiner

No matter how much angst we see in the world around us, no matter how many we hear and see who have naught but hate in their hearts, I never have a problem finding good people to write about for this weekly feature.  It always boosts my spirits to write about people who put their humanitarian values ahead of greed and self, and I hope it boosts yours to read about them.  I found a gem today … a man who … well, read on …

The place is Harding University High School in Charlotte, North Carolina.  The story begins back in August, 2015 when Harding High hired a new football coach, Sam Greiner, to try to revive their struggling team, one of the least successful in the area.  Coach Greiner was given a list of several players on his team whose poor grades had put them on the “ineligible to play” list.  One of those students was a young sophomore named Braheam Murphy.

Braheam had lived a tough life.  His mother had died of a brain aneurism when he was just five years old, and his father later remarried, but when he and his new wife had a daughter with cerebral palsy, there was no longer any place in the household for Braheam and his older sister, Dominique.  Braheam and Dominique began staying wherever they would be welcomed for a night or two, usually on the couches of friends.  In essence, they were homeless and somehow fell through the cracks in the child welfare system.

When Coach Greiner told Ibraheam that he would not be able to play that year, Ibraheam cried and said, “Coach, football is all I’ve got”. Ibraheam remained on the team, but unable to play.  Coach Greiner saw something special in Braheam and began giving him rides after school, sometimes to his job at a local convenience store, other times to one house or another, never the same house two times in a row.  He finally asked Braheam exactly where he lived, and the answer was, “I stay wherever my sister goes.”

Grenier-BraheamThe more Coach Greiner learned about Murphy’s circumstances, the more it disturbed him and one day he decided enough was enough, and in March of 2016, after consulting with his wife, Connie, as well as the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Greiner asked Ibraheam to move in with him and his family.  By the end of 2016, Ibraheam’s grade point average (GPA) had risen from 1.8 to 3.7 and his eligibility to play football had been reinstated.

Then came May 2017, when Braheam received a scholarship to attend US Military Academy at West Point next year. Quite a leap from the homeless kid with failing grades.

Sam and Connie Greiner didn’t just provide food, clothing and shelter for young Braheam, but they gave him something even more important:  a sense of belonging, a sense of family. In speaking of the Greiner’s two small children, Charli and Journi, “They love him. That’s their brother. They don’t look at anything else — that’s their brother,” Connie Greiner said.

Murphy gets emotional when he speaks of the Greiners:  “They’re my family. And I can’t imagine where I would be without their support.”

Remember how I said that in 2015, the Harding High football team was among the worst in the area?  In 2015, they had won only one game, lost 10.  Just as Braheam’s GPA came from a limping 1.8 to near-perfect 3.7, just this week, the Harding High football team came from 1-10 in 2015 to 11-1 in 2017, and won the state championship!  And you know who earned the winning run?  You got it … none other than quarterback Braheam Murphy, sprinting 95 yards for a touchdown in the final minutes!

What Coach Sam Greiner gave to Braheam Murphy goes beyond a home, even beyond a family, for it may well be that Coach Greiner game Braheam a chance at life that he might never have otherwise had. And what is really impressive is that Greiner says it wasn’t he and his wife who gave to Braheam, but that Braheam was the one who gave them so much more.  I suspect both are true, and my hat is off to Coach Sam Greiner and his wife Connie, for being willing to take a chance on one homeless young man and give him the leg up he needed to go on for life, for greatness.

Good People Doing Good Things — Condensed Version

Good people sometimes pop up where you least expect them. What, for instance, do a major league ball player, an elderly man, and a police officer have in common?  Good hearts.

Sometimes it’s just the little things …

I don’t know the man’s name, but I know his heart is good.  His home looks to be modest, he is not wealthy, and he is not tooting his own horn, for we know about him only because his neighbor told us.  Outside his house, the man has a pine tree, and every year he ‘decorates that tree with gifts for people in need … clothing, shoes, grooming supplies, and food.  That is all I know about this man, but it is enough to tell me that his heart is in the right place.


And sometimes it’s the bigger things …


His name is Cole Hamels, and he is a pitcher for the Texas Rangers major league baseball team.  Cole and his wife Heidi have made a donation to a camp, Camp Barnabas in Southwest Missouri, that provides a unique camping experience to people with disabilities and chronic illnesses.  What did the Hamels donate, you might ask?  They donated a home … but not just any home …

cole-hamels-homeThis is a 32,000-square-foot home located near Table Rock Lake, and accompanied by 100 acres of land.  The home and land are valued at some $9 million.  The Hamels initially built the mansion to be their home (though personally I don’t know why anybody would want such a big home), but once he signed with the Texas Rangers, they decided to make their home in the Dallas, Texas area.

Cole hamels 2Cole and Heidi had been so impressed with the works of Camp Barnabas that they decided to donate their home, rather than sell it.

“There are tons of amazing charities in Southwest Missouri. Out of all of these, Barnabas really pulled on our heartstrings. Seeing the faces, hearing the laughter, reading the stories of the kids they serve; there is truly nothing like it. Barnabas makes dreams come true, and we felt called to help them in a big way.”

But sometimes, both big and little come together …

He is just one man, a police officer on the Little Rock, Arkansas Police Department, but this is one man, one cop, who is making a huge difference in the lives of those he touches.

Meet Officer Tommy Norman.

tommy norman 5

He spends a part of every day with the community getting to know each member of the area he patrols and they get to know him. It helps create a trust between him and the community. The concept is known as Community Oriented Policing (C.O.P.) Community Oriented Policing is not a new concept, and actually dates back to 1829 in London, but in the U.S., it has been around since the 1980s.

tommy norman-4


C.O.P. is used in many communities around the nation, and no doubt there are other success stories, but Officer Norman happened onto my radar, and this video of him interacting with the neighborhood kids so touched my heart that I focused on him for today’s post.

Isn’t this a breath of fresh air after all the recent stories we have heard about abuses of power by police?  I give Officer Norman a huge thumbs up for his good work, especially with the youth!

I apologize for the brevity of today’s Good People post, but like all of you, I am having a busy, hectic, and exhausting week, so I hope you will forgive me and still find hope in this post, hope for the future of humanity.

Love ‘n hugs to you all!

Good People Doing Good Things … Three Amazing Kids

Have you ever noticed that for some reason, people seem kinder around this time of year?  People just seem more willing to open both their wallets and their hearts during the Christmas season, and I don’t see it as a religious thing, for many of the most generous people are not Christians.  There is just a certain magic that comes from the lights, the scents, the sounds, that makes people feel better.  This week’s ‘good people’ post begins with a young man who shows us his “Christmas Spirit”.

Jayden Perez – age 8

His name is Jayden Perez and he is 8 years old, living in Woodland Park, New Jersey.  Not long ago, Jayden told his mom that he wanted to donate all his Christmas gifts this year to the children in Puerto Rico who lost everything to Hurricane Maria in September.  But his mom, Ana Rosado, gave him the idea of taking it a step further and starting a toy drive to collect toys for the children of Puerto Rico, and that is what Jayden, with a little bit of help, did!  His mom helped to get the word out by posting about the toy drive on her Facebook account, and the response has been overwhelming!

  • A man in Pennsylvania donated a trailer-load of toys
  • NBA manager Brandon Eddy sent 11 large boxes full of toys
  • And of course people from the neighborhood did their share, too

Jayden was even featured on ABC News’ Good Morning America.  Jayden and his mom will be flying to Puerto Rico to distribute the toys to several small cities that were hit hard by Maria, and also to an orphanage that needs help.


There are many good people in this story, but it all started with a little boy who wanted to give away his own Christmas presents to help others in need.  Thumbs up, young Jayden … keep up the good work!

Jameshia Attaway – age 14

Jameshia Attaway of Indianola, Mississippi turned 14 years old this month.  Since her birthday is so close to Christmas, she has a unique way of celebrating … she gives all her gifts away — and then some!  It all started six years ago when Jameshia was eight years old and in third grade.  She noticed that a girl in her school wore shoes with holes in them. “Children made fun of her,” said Jameshia. “I told my mother that I wanted to buy her a pair of new shoes.” She then realized that many other kids were in need of help, too, while every year she was “overwhelmed” with birthday gifts. So she decided that she could “put on a smile on my face and theirs” by giving her gifts away.

In the six years since that first philanthropic deed, Jameshia’s project has expanded and she now begins preparing in November for the huge birthday bash she throws for local children in need. She writes letters to local businesses and civic groups to garner donations of toys and food, and contacts agencies that provide services for people in need. She also asks family and friends to make gift boxes, teachers to read to children who attend the party, and her mother’s friend to dress up as a princess.

JameshiaThe hardest part, Jameshia said, used to be finding a place large enough to hold the party, but the mayor of her town now allows her to host the event in a city-owned building. She estimates that about 40 local families benefit from her project every year. In addition to her annual party, Jameshia participates in a wide variety of community service projects with her school’s PTA, the Indianola Youth Council and a mayor’s diversity council.

Two years ago, Jameshia was awarded the Prudential ‘Spirit of Community Award’,  at a national award ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Remember, if you will, that this young woman is only 14 years old!  She has already accomplished, in the past six years, barely half of her young life, more than many of us accomplish in an entire lifetime! I don’t know about you guys, but I am humbled.

When I began this post this evening, I had a direction in mind … people giving because of the holiday spirit.  But, as sometimes happens, the stories had a mind of their own and took me down a different path than I first saw, and I stumbled across so many young people doing good for their communities, that the piece changed focus without my realizing it.  So often we despair about the youth of today, wonder what the world will look like when this next generation with their droopy drawers and ‘all about me’ attitude is in charge.  But if these young people are any indication, I think we will be just fine.  Read on …

Deoshanic Petaway – age 15

Homicides hit a ten-year high in the small town of Lima, Ohio last December, much due to an increase in gun violence.  Enter Deoshanic Petaway, age 15, who wasn’t about to sit idle while young people were being killed in her community.

deoshanicDeoshanic started working with an organization called CeaseFire Lima, hoping to help find a solution to the violence at its root cause, so that violence and conflict could be resolved before becoming a life or death situation. What Deoshanic and the group discovered was the story that we are hearing across much of the U.S. today … many community members felt that individuals were arrested or hassled by police without cause.

To help create communication between the police and community members, Deoshanic created a community dialogue space for youth and police to discuss their perspectives and build understanding of one another.  Imagine that, folks … a 15-year-old girl advocates for communication as a solution … darn, why didn’t we adults think of that???  Working together with the Chief of Police, City Council members, and her peers, Deoshanic began raising money for body cams for the police officers and for awareness of the safety issues within the community for both police and community members.

To create safe spaces for youth, Deoshanic hosts events, including a Halloween event. For the holiday season, Deoshanic planned a Christmas party in partnership with the Walmart Foundation, United Healthcare, the Lima Police Department, the Lima Public library, a local church, and other youth groups that provide food and toys to children in need. Under the guidance of the West Ohio Foodbank, Deoshanic and Ceasefire Lima’s youth group created Lima’s first youth-led food pantry, the only pantry that has weekend access.

Deoshanic additionally helped establish the Lima Junior City Council so that youth can have a voice in policies that affect their community. By collaborating with other community groups, Deoshanic has demonstrated that change has a greater impact when everyone comes together.

All three of these young people deserve our respect and a round of applause.  They obviously come from families with true values, not the faux values of those whose words do not match their actions.  And all three of these kids are going to make this world a better place, mark my words.

I began with a story about a young man who wanted to help the displaced youth in Puerto Rico, and I would like to end with a reminder, and perhaps even a plea.  In September, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico with a vengeance, doing far greater damage than any of the other devastating hurricanes this year.  More than 60% of Puerto Ricans remain without electricity or running water.  This will be a bleak Christmas for the residents of Puerto Rico, and especially for the children.  I ask that you remember them, for they have been largely forgotten by their own government.  And if you can find it in your heart, if you can find a few spare dollars in your wallet, please do what you can to help make Christmas just a little bit brighter for these children.

Thank you all, and remember, my friends, the majority of people on this planet truly are “Good People” … they just get overshadowed by the other variety. Hugs and Love from my home to yours.

Good People Doing Good Things — Ollie Cantos

Yesterday, I went in seach of Good People for this post, and as always, found some really impressive examples of Humanity at its best!  And I had planned to spotlight 3 or 4 such people, but then I found … THE ONE!  It happens that way sometimes … something just crosses my path and I say, “Eureka!!! That’s it … that’s the one!!!” This story, this man, will blow you away …

The Cantos triplets, Leo, Nick and Steven, attained the rank of Eagle Scout this past October, the highest rank in the Boy Scouts of America.  They met every requirement, including zip lining, whitewater rafting, knot-tying, first aid and archery skills. It is an achievement accomplished by only about 4% of all scouts, so it really is a big deal, but for the Cantos triplets, it is an even bigger deal, for they have all been blind since birth.

Cantos-Eagle scoutsLeo, Nick and Steven were born in 1999, each weighing only about a pound, and each with a disease called retinopathy of prematurity, a disease that occurs in premature babies and causes blindness.  The boys got off to a rough start.  Born in Colombia, they moved to Arlington, Virginia, at age three when their father took a job at the Colombian Embassy in Washington, D.C.  But only a year later, the father left them high and dry, moving back to Colombia, and the boys were left to be raised by their mother and grandmother, never seeing their father again.

The boys’ mother, Ceila Gracia, was working two jobs trying to support her family, and had little time for them.  Teachers and Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind volunteers took turns helping them have experiences common to others their age, such as ice-skating and trick-or-treating, and they went to a weeklong CLB day camp five summers in a row. But by and large, Leo, Nick, and Steven didn’t stray much from their routine.  During the week they went to school, on Sundays to church, and the rest of the time they were housebound. They heard other children laughing and playing outside their apartment windows, but were never allowed to join them.

Enter Ollie Cantos, a lawyer with the U.S. Department of Education in Washington D.C.  Ollie Cantos had heard about the brothers from a friend in church, was told that they were having a rough time and being bullied. Ollie Cantos would qualify for the “Good People Doing Good Things” hero of the week, even if he had never met Leo, Nick and Steven.  Allow me to share a few brief highlights from his biography:

CantosOllie got his start at age. 20, holding positions of responsibility at the local, state, and national level within the National Federation of the Blind. Subsequently moving into the cross-disability arena and in spite of significant obstacles, he became a civil rights attorney and worked at the Disability Rights Legal Center in Los Angeles. Following a three-year term there, he was recruited to relocate to Washington DC to become General Counsel and Director of Programs for the now-130,000-member American Association of People with Disabilities. That led to him serving as a leader in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice as Special Assistant and later Special Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General.

But, Ollie’s work spans far beyond his leadership in the public arena. He has served as a long-time attorney mentor for the American Bar Association Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law and was once a member of the Commission as well. For almost 20 years, he has been a Big Brother mentor to a kid who was once in a Los Angeles-based program, who has since grown to adulthood, and who has just honorably completed six years of military service as an airman with the United States Air Force. In addition, Ollie has mentored African-American foster children living in Washington, DC while serving on the board of a local non-profit organization providing social services to the local Latino low-income community.

Ollie has also spent years on disability-related issues including assistive technology, civil rights, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, employment, entrepreneurship, parenting, special education, transportation, veterans’ issues, and independent living.

With a uniformed equivalent rank of Lieutenant Commander, he was the first blind person in history to serve as “District Staff Officer – Legal Parliamentarian” in the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary.

There is much more, but I am limited by time and space, but as you can see, Ollie has let no grass grow under his tireless feet.  Ollie hopes to run for Congress some day … I sincerely hope he does!  And so, Ollie meets Leo, Nick and Steven, hoping to be able to help them. I will let Ollie tell some of his own story …

Cantor-Ceila“In spite of whatever personal and professional milestones I had reached, absolutely nothing could have prepared me for what was to come. What began as a mentoring relationship quickly grew into something far more powerful. I spent much of my spare time with the boys, taking them places and showing them how to travel more independently with their canes. I facilitated them in making age-appropriate decisions such as selecting and ordering their own food at restaurants and picking out items at convenience stores, where they learned to speak to the cashiers directly. I did homework with them.

One day, when I took Leo to the store, something happened that I will never forget. The co-owner asked me if Leo was my son. Before I could explain that he was one of the kids I was mentoring, Leo put his arm around my shoulders and said, “Yeah, that’s my dad.” His answer caught me off guard, and a whole range of emotions swept over me all at once.

Outside the store, I bent down to his level and placed both my hands on his shoulders. Facing him, I asked, “Leo, with what you said, do you know what that means?”

“Well,” he said, “you take us places, protect us, do homework with us . . .” He shrugged his shoulders and said matter-of-factly, “Sounds like a dad to me.”

I wish I could let Ollie tell you the entire story, but I hope you will be encouraged and read the rest.

Ollie ended up adopting the boys, with the blessings of both their mother Ceila and grandmother Margenia.  Ceila remains very much a part of the boys’ lives, as did Margenia until her death in 2014. Although at first, having a limited education and limited exposure to other blind people, Ceila did not believe the boys could ever lead ‘normal’ lives, she is now convinced that they can be and do almost anything they put their mind to.

Cantos-graduationThe boys have now graduated from high school, all three have jobs and are involved in community service projects, and all three will be attending four-year colleges, thanks to Ollie. Leo hopes to become a computer programmer, while Nick and Steven plan a career in law.  What might have become of these young men, had Ollie not come into their lives when he did?

You know why you’ve likely never heard of Ollie Cantos until today?  Because he is not out at rallies screaming about how bad things are today, he is not complaining about who uses what bathroom, or abortion, or how refugees are taking jobs.  Ollie is quietly putting his shoulder to the wheel and getting a number of important jobs done.  Ollie is doing what we should all be doing … working to help people.  Ollie Cantos is among the best of the best … he is what makes me have faith in humanity once again.  Thank you, Mr. Cantos.