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.
RUNNING FOR HIS LIFE: Lopez Lomong. (Photo by Paul Merca)
During these exciting London Olympics, there has been a little something for everyone: unexpected victories, unexpected disappointment, scandal, and comedy. That’s why we love the Games so much, right? Many inspirational and moving moments have emerged that encourage us to consider the strength, power, and resolve associated with the human mind, body, and spirit.
Countless stories will surface framing the many successes and failures of these competitors from all over the world. But three under-reported stories of hope that grabbed my attention this week were those of Lopez Lomong, a 27-year-old Lost Boy of Sudan competing in the 5,000-meter race for the U.S. track and field team; Afghani female sprinter Tahmina Kohistani; and 22-year-old judo champioin Kayla Harrison of the U.S.
A Lost Boy’s Discovery: Lopez Lomong
In an article posted at Christianity Today,contributor Cornelia Becker Seigneur tells the moving story of Lomong’s long road to triumph in her feature, “Lost Boy Olympian Lopez Lomong Runs to Save Lives.”
Lomong’s journey began in 1991, when rebels in the second Sudanese civil war attacked his home village of Kimotong. “I was 6 years old when I was abducted at church, which met under a tree,” Lomong said.
“They ripped my mother’s arm from me, throwing me and other boys into a truck; they blindfolded us, then drove us to a prison camp that trained rebel soldiers.”
Lomong and 80 other boys were beaten and forced into a life of fear and abuse. He speaks about his daring escape, when he and three older boys whom he calls his “three angels” ran for three days non-stop to safety.
“The savannas are very tough. [My] legs and feet were bleeding,” said Lomong. “When I wanted to stop, my angels carried me.”
Lomong never returned home to his mother or his village, instead he and the three other boys “hobbled into the United Nations-sponsored Kakuma refugee camp near Nairobi, Kenya,” where he remained for 10 years.
“They brought me from harsh wilderness to the Promised Land, then disappeared like angels,” he said. “They are my inspiration for what I am doing now. God was with them to help me.”
When Lomong turned 16, he heard of an opportunity that afforded 3,500 boys a chance to move to the United States, all they had to do was write an essay about their lives. Lomong wrote his in a style of a prayer to the Lord asking that He would guide his footsteps in the long journey that awaited him. Lomong was selected and relocated to the United States. There he was placed into the foster care of Robert and Barb Rogers of Syracuse, New York.
He had long dreamed of becoming an Olympic runner. After an impressive career at Northern Arizona University, where he won an NCAA championship in 2007, he would compete in the 2008 Beijing games and now in London.
After finishing 17th in his first ever-Olympic race in 2008, he formed his own non-profit organization called the Lopez Lomong Foundation. Now a Christian, he has also partnered with World Vision to form a new Sudanese charitable foundation called 4 South Sudan, which seeks to provide clean water, healthcare, education, and nutrition for the South Sudanese.
“When I run now, I keep thinking about the children who I had to leave behind, those who did not have the opportunity I had,” he told Christianity Today.
“Running is a talent that God has given me,” he said. “In the Bible when you are given a talent, you can put it in your pocket and not use it or you can use it. I am trying to use mine.”
New Vision for Afghan Women: Tahmina Kohistani
BREAKING DOWN BOUNDARIES: Tahmina Kohistani of Afghanistan. (Photo by Oliver Morin/Newscom)
Another compelling story of triumph is that of Afghani sprinter Tahmina Kohistani. In a post at Yahoo! Sports, reporter Les Carpenter writes about the hardships Kohistani faced on her road to the Olympics.
In a society driven by religious and cultural affiliations proposed by Muslim men, it is against societal rule for any woman to exercise, let alone compete in an athletic event. Kohistani is different because she resists her country’s traditional ideals and embraces more liberated ones. She is the only female competitor from her country participating in the 2012 games.
Carpenter writes that “in many ways [Kohistani] is the ideal of a new Afghanistan, one molded in the months after the initial U.S. invasion during which years of the Taliban’s oppression of women was washed away.”
“It’s difficult to be a woman in Afghanistan,” said Kohistani. “Every second 10, maybe more than 10 women are killed in every province of Afghanistan because they have a lot of illness,” which she believes is due to a lack of activity.
“Exercising is the best way to keep them healthy,” Kohistani said. Her uncle, Hasibullah Kohistani said that although he loves her “stubborn determination,” he’s proud of her accomplishments thus far and believes that she is fighting for something big, writesCarpenter.
Her father, who is an Afghan politician, didn’t approve of his daughter’s running at first, but after seeing how much she loved it, he became a supporter. Though he worries about his daughter’s safety and security, he also does not want her will to be broken.
According to Carpenter, Kohistani dreams of bringing other Afghani women out of their houses after this Olympics and into the nearest gym and recreation center. “She is going to get them running and exercising and living [the] lives they were told they could not have,” he writes.
Kohistani realizes that she stands little chance in winning the 100-meter race, however she believes that she’s doing something that will make a difference. Says Carpenter, the end result of her race is not what matters; what matters “is the message that will come with the simple act of settling into the starting blocks.”
Making History: Kayla Harrison
COMEBACK KID: Judo gold medalist Kayla Harrison.
One last story that represents true courage and perseverance is that of Olympic gold medalist, Kayla Harrison. Harrison is the current reigning champion in women’s judo and the first American ever to win a gold medal in the sport. In a remarkable match Thursday night, Harrison put on an impressive display of skills to subdue her opponent, crowd favorite Gemma Gibbons of Great Britain, in the 172-pound women’s final.
But Harrison has not always experienced a life of triumph. Starting at age 13, she was sexually abused by a former judo coach who is now serving a ten-year prison sentence. According to NPR reporter Karen Given, after Harrison’s mother found out about the abuse, “she saw judo not only as the means by which an abuser had gained access to her daughter, but also the means to her daughter’s recovery.”
In another article about Harrison’s historic victory, USA Today sports writer Gary Mihoces describes how at age 16 Harrison began working with a new coach, Jimmy Pedro, who began “lifting her spirit and honing her skill.” The result was a world championship in 2010 and a bronze medal the following year.
Harrison now credits her coaches and family for their support throughout tough times in her journey. She says her goal now is to help other kids like her realize their Olympic dreams. “I want to help kids overcome being victims. I want to help change people’s lives.”
If nothing else, the stories of these Olympic athletes should encourage us to remember the unwavering ability of the human spirit to dream, mend, and persevere. Lomong, Harrison, and Kohistani have proven that they were champions long before they set foot into a gym or onto a track.
When social media crash, do you crash and burn along with them? As a society so enamored with staying digitally connected and continually sharing our personal moments and thoughts online, what happens when our newfound forums are momentarily disabled? How do we function, and how do we learn to cope?
For me personally, I’m not exactly sure what to do. I confess: I depend on Twitter for various forms of communication, and I have found that it can be extremely frustrating when I want to send or read a tweet but can’t.
When something as constant as Twitter or Facebook goes down, it makes me think critically about the direction that our society is heading. When did we become so heavily reliant on social sites that share sometimes important or inspirational, but more often than not irrelevant, information about ourselves? And more importantly, what does that mean for us when a social media site is malfunctioning? Does our day collapse along with it?
In my search for sanity during yesterday’s Twitter crash, I ran across three posts that helped me process the situation.
Why is Twitter so addictive?
According to Forbes.com contributor Reuven Cohen, in his article “When Twitter Goes Down, So Does the Social Web,” Twitter has become “the beating pulse of the Internet.” Cohen reflects on the connection and relevance that Twitter holds in our lives. According to him, the site has become the central source of socially aggregated information.
For many users, Twitter serves as our confidant, our cheerleader, and fellow business partner. And when it fails or becomes unavailable, then essentially we do too — well, at least metaphorically.
Adds Cohen, “It’s the first place I look when there is a story worth following. The first place I look for opinions, and the first place I go to share. The instant Twitter goes down, there is an immediate and distinct sense of disconnection from my social graph.”
Yep. Disconnection describes that sinking feeling I had yesterday pretty well.
So after reflecting on why Twitter is so crucial to my day, I was left wondering what I should do in those exasperating times when it is not available. Or, put another way: What can we, the users, do while we wait for something as indispensable as Twitter to get back online?
Well, Dave Larson at the blog TweetSmarter suggests that users first and foremost realize that any problems related with the social media conglomerate will take time to fix. So we need to approach the situation as we would any emergency: stay calm and be patient.
In his post, “Ten Things You Absolutely MUST Know … When Twitter Goes Down,” Larson also advises using your mobile device as an alternative to the Web, during the momentary shut down. Larson recommends waiting before complaining to Twitter, and finally rescheduling any important tweets that need to go out.
A final thought that I was reminded of during my search for Twitter illumination was to always consider, or perhaps reconsider, other social media sites. Interestingly enough, one of the main ways many of us found out about the Twitter outage was through our friend’s status updates on Facebook. So if getting your frivolous or clever thoughts out to the social-media masses is an absolute must, consider Twitter’s larger (though usually clunkier) competitor. This is a major step for a Twitter diehard like myself.
Thankfully, though, Twitter is back up today — just in time for the start of the Olympics. So, there should be plenty to tweet about this weekend.
ALL THE KING’S MEN: (From left) Israel Houghton, Donnie McClurkin, Kirk Franklin, and Marvin Sapp.
Earlier this week, audience members of The View were given a taste of Sunday mornin’ on the ABC talk show, as urban gospel heavyweights Kirk Franklin, Marvin Sapp, Donnie McClurkin, and Israel Houghton blew the roof off in a Gospel Brunch-inspired segment. The multiplatinum Grammy, Dove, and Stellar Award-winning crew showcased their talents and their love for the Lord Tuesday, as they spoke candidly about their ministries, their struggles, and their recently announced tour, cleverly titled “The Kings Men.”
Franklin, who partnered with mega-concert promoter Live Nation to bring the tour together, said, “This is their (Live Nation) first time in history doing a tour like this, and so we’re calling it inspirational entertainment. So I had to go get my bros that I knew could really fill the vision, and I’m very humbled and honored that they said yes.”
View co-host Sherri Shepherd asked the quartet to weigh in regarding the tragedy and pain surrounding the shootings in Colorado.
Sapp, still grieving the recent deaths of both his father and beloved wife, said, “My position has always been in these types of situations the only thing that can really get us through is prayer. The Bible is right where it says, ‘If my people, which are called by my name would humble themselves and pray, turn from their wicked ways, seek my face, then I will hear from heaven.’ He’ll forgive our sin and heal our land.
“If we’re going to be healed, it’s going to take a corporate group of individuals that really have a clear understanding of prayer and really seeking God for direction and focus.”
Jamie Grace, a new up and coming Grammy nominated Christian Artist also performed her smash hit, “Hold Me,” and also shared her testimony as a youth on fire for Christ. The 20-year-old spoke about growing up as a preacher’s kid and singing at church, and the very real struggles she faced early on in life.
Diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome at age 11, Grace said that when she’s performing everything seems to settle. “When I was growing up it was difficult for me, but finding music was the best thing ever.”
She added: “Everyday when I wake up, whether I’m writing a song or whether I’m hanging out with my friends, or whether I’m doing a concert, I just pray that everything that I do glorifies God.”
Grace, along with Sapp, Franklin, McClurkin, and Houghton, turned The View set into a sanctuary of praise — and proved that although gospel music comes in many shapes and sizes, the message remains the same.
Every year college tuition rates continue to increase, making it more difficult for African American students and their families to find the resources necessary to meet the rising costs. Across the country, there are numerous companies and organizations willing to offer support and give scholarship money to qualified students, all that they ask is that you apply.
Companies and groups like Microsoft, Boeing, SallieMae, INROADS, and the National Association for Black Journalists (NABJ) are just a few of the organizations willing to give you money. However, a great deal of that money is being returned due to a lack of interest.
We know that college is expensive, and figuring out a way to pay for it all can be frightening, so we’ve decided to do some of the work for you, by providing this list of 25 underutilized scholarship opportunities and the link to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Take a few moments to familiarize yourself and then apply!