I have been talking for years about citizen philanthropists, and now we have 70 citizen philanthropists in Detroit. The best thing about all of them is that they are completely ordinary. And that is what makes them extraordinary. You see, I have a problem with heros. Or more accurate, I have a problem with what we make of our heros. We make them larger than life. We put them on a pedestal. We treat them different. And therefore think they are different than us mere mortals. And that is crap.
Heros are not extraordinary; they do extraordinary things. Gandhi mobilized a nation against an empire. Martin Luther King Jr. stared down racism, hatred and ignorance. My mom worked every day as a public school teacher, instilling knowledge and values in the students at Lyons Township High School. These three individuals continue to influence the world. (Okay, my mom influenced a town, but I still run into friends who say she they owe their success to her.) I read Gandhi regularly to remind myself that positive change does not come from violence. I re-watch King's speeches on YouTube to remember that hope is eternal. I call my mom for the strength to live a life of service because in the end, it is without a doubt the most rewarding path.
But heros are all just people. They get out of bed every morning and put on their pants, skirts and saris like everyone else. Gandhi and King had a thing for the ladies and my mom doesn't always recycle properly. For a long time, I resented their flaws, lamenting, "Why did rumors of King's infidelity come out -- does that mean 'I Have a Dream' was an inauthentic speech?!" Or, "Mom didn't recycle this cardboard box, does that mean she's a fraud!" No. Not at all.
The more I thought about heros, the more I liked them imperfect. Why? Because I can tell my 3-month old son that he can do extraordinary things. He can be a hero even though he is just like everyone else. By bringing our heros down to earth, we increase the likelihood we all will do something worthy of Gandhi, King and my mom. We no longer have to think that because we are just the average Jane that we can't go out and do something extraordinary.
And that is how I see those 70 citizen philanthropists in Detroit. They all wake up every morning. Go to their job or classes. But somehow, some why, they find the time, energy and passion to do one small, but extraordinary thing for Detroit. Brittni is bringing music to homeless children at COTS. Shamsuddin is lighting Chadsey-Condon to make it safer with ACCESS. And Joan is proving Detroit youth with the toolkits necessary for construction work with SER Metro. And the list goes on and on. All 70 of them are just average, everyday people doing what they can to help people and make the community they love a better place. It's simple. And extraordinary. They are all examples to my son, myself and you that yes, mere mortals can do the extraordinary. And more importantly, heros don't belong on pedestals, but need to be right here on the ground among you and me getting the job done.
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