LITERACY MISSION: With his tour across the nation, Acts of Love founder William E. Hall hopes to improve the lives of urban kids one book at a time. (Photo by Amanda Edwards)
How do you measure the impact of an act of kindness? Is it by the words that are spoken or perhaps by the response that you elicit? Or is it something subtler?
For William E. Hall, pastor and founder of Acts of Love, the measure of his organization’s effectiveness comes by counting the number of smiles he sees each time he hands out books to children.
Based on the mantra “Extending a Hand and a Heart to the Next Generation,” Acts of Love is a community-based, non-profit campaign founded with the goal of collecting and distributing 1 million books to marginalized and underprivileged youth. “Our ultimate hope is to improve the reading and comprehension skills of students across the nation,” said Hall.
Birthed four years ago on DePaul University’s Chicago campus, Acts of Love is an outgrowth of Hall’s civic outreach organization, Communigize. Along with several of his closest friends, Hall launched Communigize as a community program centered on educating, mentoring, and inspiring urban youngsters.
Hall was born and raised in the Chatham neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. He grew up like any normal teenager, having fun and exploring the city and all that it had to offer. But he discovered early on how random acts of kindness can transform a person’s life.
“For me, it was always about how can we make lives better, for real and that’s no cliché,” he said. “As a kid, I saw so many examples of that right next door. My grandma and grandpa would wave or talk to strangers walking down the street and make their day.”
Hall added that his grandfather was especially interested in encouraging young people. “He just lived to see young people walk by, and encourage them by giving them pencils and raisins, and little cookies for afterschool treats.”
He carried those ordinary examples of kindness with him as he grew into adulthood. Now as a youth pastor, one can see how those principles have helped shape his ministry.
WORDS OF LIFE: At urban schools around the nation, Hall shares with young students about the importance of reading, learning, and making good choices in life. Here he meets with students at a Chicago grade school.
At DePaul, Hall always had those principles in mind as he pursued his studies as an economics major. While on campus, he was instrumental in starting several student organizations that shared that focus. Groups like Soul Food and Communigize were organizations designed to positively impact students’ hearts through the Word of God.
But Hall quickly realized that by only working with kids while in classroom settings, his outreach was limited. He remembered a specific field trip where he and his friends took several students to Navy Pier.
“As a youth pastor, we used to bring young people up and would allow them to run around on campus. We would just mentor them and expose them to places they probably wouldn’t see. When driving past [Chicago’s] Navy Pier, one of the kids in the car did not know what it was, and looked at the big Ferris wheel and was like, ‘What’s that?’ And that’s when I knew how important it is to really love young people and to really help them.”
Over the course of the next four years, he would yearn to do more. Hall realized that although he had touched the lives of numerous young people, God had placed a greater mission field in mind that would extend far beyond his reach with Communigize and the city of Chicago.
He completed his bachelor’s in 2007, and then went on to further his studies at McCormick Theological Seminary, where he received his master of divinity degree in 2011. It was during his years in school that he says God inspired him to take the message of love and inspiration across the country.
“I told my friends, let’s do this. Let’s organize and begin to look at ways we can strategically build something to help young people,” Hall said. And that’s how Acts of Love was born.
“[We are] living out what’s required of us as Christian people created by God, and that is to love others,” he said. “When we do a kind act, that’s really saying to someone I’m giving you the joy and happiness that comes from God, abounding love.”
This summer, Hall and his team of volunteers hope to inspire 700 or more adults to join the “Love Young People Tour” in going door to door, visiting some of the nation’s poorest communities in cities like Chicago, Gary, Detroit, Miami, and Washington D.C., and handing out 7,000 or more books to elementary, middle, and high school-aged students.
THE POWER OF BOOKS: Hall loves counting the smiles that come as he and his volunteers hand out books to young people. After getting their books, these young students in Columbus, Ohio, were eager to start reading.
Hall says he wants to make love tangible, and wants young people to “fall in love with knowledge” and the wisdom that can be discovered on the written page. He believes that when a difference is made in a young person’s life, the world can be changed. That’s why he and his staff of volunteers have partnered with Chicago aldermen Pat Dowell and Roderick Sawyer in hopes of counteracting literacy rates in the Windy City. And he hopes to duplicate this in other communities around the nation.
He added, “We never know how the seeds of knowledge that these kids find in books or just in the art of reading will impact them 10 or 15 years from now.”
In addition to the ambitious goal of collecting a million books, Hall also plans to join with other community partners to provide new books for urban libraries, build 50 reading rooms centered on growth and development, and supply 50 urban schools with a comprehensive extracurricular reading curriculum to aid them in improving student reading skills.
With more than 6,000 books already collected and nearly 500 people that have already pledged their support, Hall and his team are seeking additional supporters willing to make the commitment of sowing a seed of knowledge into the lives of the next generation.
“I want people to understand the power of love, and the need to love young people,” he said. “That’s what I was created for. We want a million people to make that commitment; to take that pledge, participate, and pass the word.”
If you would like to partner with the Acts of Love campaign or the Love Young People Tour 2012, please visit the www.millionactsoflove.org for more information.
THE OTHER RUNNERS: Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells take a victory lap after finishing second and third in the women’s 100-meter hurdles during the London 2012 Olympic Games. (Photo by Image of Sport/Newscom)
When Olympic hurdler Dawn Harper added a silver medal in the 100-meter race to her 2008 gold yesterday, she celebrated like she had won first place again. It was only later that she and her teammate Kellie Wells, who won bronze, expressed their disappointment that media attention has focused so heavily on Lolo Jones, the teammate they both outran and who took fourth place.
In an NBC interview that aired immediately after the race, Harper and Wells both expressed their gratitude to God for having made it to the games and to the medal stand. Last night Wells tweeted, “God has gotten me to this point. he brought me to my coach, my fam, friends, support systems. I am forever astonished by his wonders.” And, in an undated post published by Athletes in Action, she said, “I’ve been through a lot of stuff in life and could have ended up in terrible places if it wasn’t for God choosing me, and choosing my life, and placing me in a good environment. So I just trust Him, and I love Him. I know I haven’t always been this – I haven’t always been good. Everybody makes mistakes, and everybody sins. But I realize how good God is to me, when He doesn’t really have to be. He set a plan for us, we have a book (the Bible) that tells us exactly how to live, and how life is supposed to be. It’s really hard to follow all the time. But God keeps me when I haven’t kept myself. And that’s an amazing feeling.”
Wells was sexually abused and raped by her stepfather, according to news reports. Then both he and her mother were killed in a car crash. “I know my story is very common to a lot of people, and it’s swept under the rug a lot,” Wells told The Telegraph. “If I can help at least one person and show you don’t have to be a product of your environment, you don’t have to keep secrets, and you don’t have to hide, that would be amazing.”
Harper talked about her faith journey in an interview with Beliefnet blogger Chad Bonham and explained the gospel’s importance in her life in a video produced by Athletes in Action. But when she and Wells were asked by NBC Sports this morning if they were getting enough respect for their accomplishments, Harper said that after her 2008 win over Jones, she felt as if she and her story had been pushed aside in favor of Jones’. “That hurt. It did. It hurt my feelings. But I feel as if I showed I can deal with the pressure, I came back, and I think you kinda got to respect it a little bit now,” she said.
“On the podium tonight, the three girls that earned their spot and they got their medals and they worked hard and did what they needed to do, prevailed. And that’s all that really needs to be said,” added Wells.
Lest one think Harper and Wells are poor winners, ESPN’s Jim Caple said today that it isn’t so and concluded that Harper’s assessment is correct. USA Today, for example, headlined and led its article on yesterday’s race with Jones’ “heartbreak.”
“Despite losing the gold medal to Australia’s Sally Pearson by two-hundredths of a second, Harper was about as happy as an athlete can be after her race. She joked, she laughed, she smiled. She spoke proudly of her performance: ‘I was pretty darn fast today.’ She talked about enjoying the entire Olympic experience rather than focusing so much on the medals that she lost track of everything else. She even talked about throwing a party for her hometown,” said Caple.
Harper told him that her public relations agent advised her not to talk about the preferential media attention given to Jones, but she wanted to “be real” with her fans. “I’ve put so much out there and sacrificed so much, I feel like my life/story has kind of been trampled on for the last four years,” said Harper, who, like Jones, overcame “humble beginnings” and injury to become an Olympian.
However, asked in a pre-race interview with The Washington Post if all the attention focused on Jones’ was frustrating, Harper cited her faith, saying, “At one point, it was. I don’t want to lie and say that it wasn’t. . . . I have dropped to my knees and just prayed about it and said, ‘I know that I’m blessed just to be here.’”
Jones, meanwhile, was dealing not only with her loss, but also with hurt feelings from a scathing New York Times article about her that was published August 4, just days before the race. “They should be supporting our U.S. Olympic athletes and instead they just ripped me to shreds,” Jones told the Today show this morning. “I worked six days a week, every day, for four years for a 12-second race and the fact that they just tore me apart, which is heartbreaking. … I have the American record. I am the American record holder indoors, I have two world indoor titles. Just because I don’t boast about these things, I don’t think I should be ripped apart by media. I laid it out there, fought hard for my country and it’s just a shame that I have to deal with so much backlash when I’m already so brokenhearted as it is.”
What do you think?
Should these Christian women do a better job of publicly supporting each other no matter what draws the media spotlight or is Harper right to complain?