In it’s February 28th edition, TIME magazine highlighted “19 Kids Changing the World.” On the cover, Kid of the Year, eleven-year-old Orion Jean, “Ambassador for Kindness.”
Academy Award-winning actor and special envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees recently interviewed Jean. Here are some highlights from the conversation.
“When the pandemic began,” Orion began, “I saw a lot of things happening; people were losing their jobs and losing access to food and homes and all of these essential things. And I knew right then that I wanted to do something to help, but the opportunity actually came around when my teacher suggested that I enter into a speech contest. And I won the prize money that came with the contest, that means I could start a kindness initiative to help these people.”
“What is a kindness initiative?”
“Well, to me, it can be a number of things. And the one thing that I started was the race to kindness. The race to kindness is not just a series of events, but also a call to action. It’s a way to get people involved in the community . . . and when they see something happening now, they can go and do something about it.
“Kindness is a choice,” Orion expanded, “and while we can’t force others to be kind, we can be kind ourselves and hope to inspire other people. . . Someone told me that you have to find something that breaks your heart for you to really get out there and make a difference in that area. And I want others to know that they can start today. If there’s an issue or problem or something that they can see that they want to solve, all it takes is really just knowing deep down inside that it’s something you care about, and you can go out and get started.”
“You really do have a gift of sharing this warmth and this kindness. Do you ever feel sometimes overwhelmed or sad when people are unkind or you see cruelty?
“Absolutely,” Orion said. “I think that one of the things about being kind is that you perk up when you hear other people being unkind or when you hear about people that aren’t doing the right thing. And it makes you sad inside. And like I said, kindness is a choice, you can’t force anyone else to be kind. You hope that by inspiring other people to spread kindness that they will somehow see it and, you know, change their ways and be more kind in the future.”
“It feels better to be kind, doesn’t it?” Jolie said. “It’s just a nicer way of communicating with each other.”
“I think that kindness sometimes can just be as easy as not being mean to someone. Not talking about someone behind their back or posting that mean comment on social media. That’s what kindness can be, it can just be as simple as not being cruel to someone.”
“That’s great advice. A lot of adults are sitting around these days thinking, I wish there was better leadership. I know you’ve even written a book on leadership. Do recognize that you might be a leader one day? You already are, at 11. But do you think of your future and what you might want to be?”
“I hope that whatever I do, I will be able to be a leader. But one of the reasons I was so excited to write that book is because, from a young age, I told you, I have loved reading. And I’ve always wanted to write my own stories and be an author when I grow up. But just knowing that, with all that I’ve been able to learn, maybe one day I might become a country or world or state leader in whatever career that I may take. I hope that right now I’m able to be a leader and inspire so many other kids to become leaders as well.”
“Whatever you choose to be in the future,” Jolie added, “I have no doubt you will accomplish many things.”
I was amazed by the focus, determination and inspiration one 11-year-old boy can demonstrate.
Here’s to Orion, the others on TIME’s list, and thousands more who, by their actions, inspire us to do better, be better.