04/25/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

"Is Anybody Listening?" Teen Video Gains National Attention And A Presidential Visit

This is the 7th installment of an on-going series titled, "Impossible To Inevitable: Dare To Dream Big."

Let's talk about the power of community in helping forward our impossible dreams.

This is a story about a group of teens that feared their futures were already being foreclosed. What they did about it put them on the national news and resulted in a personal visit from President Obama on his recent trip to southern California.

This story cuts to the chase of what millions of American families are going through today.
It illustrates the ability of human beings to come together in difficult times, dig deep within themselves to find what's real, and lend a hand to someone, even if their own is nearly empty.

This story will both break your heart and make it sing. And it asks a very elementary question: "Is anybody listening?" Some background:

Michael Steinman teaches Advanced Placement Language Arts at Village Academy High School in Pomona, CA. During a class discussion of The Great Gatsby, the conversation turned towards the American dream and how it's changing.

Steinman wondered how his students' lives were going, so he asked them to write anonymous essays about the impact of the current economic crisis on their families. Their responses "were riveting", he said.

They poured out stories of parents losing jobs, homes being foreclosed, the possibility of becoming homeless and having little to eat. They expressed concern about their futures and voiced fear that they wouldn't be able to go to college because their parents needed them at home to work and help provide income for the family.

After reading their stories, Steinman encouraged his students to make a video expressing their concerns. He promised if they did, he'd help them get it to the president. Their video is called, Is Anybody Listening?

They uploaded the video to You Tube and incubated their dream. Five months later, President Obama sent a message that said yes, he heard them, he was listening, America was listening, and his administration would not rest until their parents' jobs and their homes were secure.

This is an important story, one we need pay attention to, because it pulls back the curtain on our current economic crisis and allows us not only to see, but to feel, the impact of the crisis on our young people. We adults imagine teenagers today to be oblivious of what's going on around them. We think they're like generations of teens who came before, self-centered, focused on how they look, who's hot, who's not. Well, not so with this group of teenagers. The playing field has been leveled. They're all down. And they know it. But they're not down to stay. And they know that too.

Correspondent John Larson, with PBS affiliate station KCET, in Pomona, CA. reports this story, broadcast on the Nightly Newshour with Jim Lehrer on March 19, 2009. Below is a video of the broadcast.

This video grabbed my heart and made me weep. But what happens at the end of this story made my heart sing. Settle in for this, there's important footage here. Be ready for your heart to crack open.

Here's the best part: here's the part that gives me hope and inspires me to keep writing about people going for their dreams. These young people used their voices to speak their dreams and their desire to articulate those dreams to the President of the United States. They did this in the face of no evidence, none whatsoever, that what they were about to do would produce the desired result. But they came together and did it anyway. The outcome turned out to be far beyond what any of them had imagined.

Sometimes, what we think is impossible is child's play for the universe.

Five months after they shot the video, just last week, President Obama came for a visit. You'll not want to miss seeing their joy and enthusiasm on the day he arrived. Notice the light in their eyes and their sense of "mission accomplished." They now know that if they could pull off a visit from the POTUS, they can do anything! Nothing is impossible!

I spoke with their teacher, Michael Steinman, on Monday, to get an update on how all the publicity has impacted the students. Here's what he said, "The kids' dream has been fulfilled. This has given all the kids in this school and community such a sense of pride. They saw something come to fruition, they have a sense of accomplishment, a sense that they can do things. They got to experience democracy in action." And then he said, "The American Dream always used to be about having material things. It's now become about the right to dream, the right to opportunity."

A huge shout out to Michael Steinman and his students who hopefully, will be reading this post in class together and leaving their comments below as well. We want to hear from the students directly: what do you now see possible for your own life, given what you accomplished through this project?

In our series on Impossible To Inevitable: Dare to Dream Big, (previous posts can be found here, here, here, here,here,and here ) we've come to the next point in getting from "here" to "there":

Create a community of committed supporters as witnesses to your declaration

To go where you've never gone before in pursuit of a dream or a goal, you need a team of people whose energy is aligned with yours, who will stand for you, remind you of your greatness when you forget, and bring a fresh perspective and new resources to your endeavor.

Left to their own devices, chances are these teens would not have pulled this project off all by themselves. But together, and with the strong support of a teacher who stood for them, they accomplished far more than they ever dreamed possible. They even started their own food bank and clothing distribution center to make sure no one in their community went without. The power of T.E.A.M.: Together Everyone Achieves More!

There is nothing like having a witness or a group of them who will remind you of your vision when you get off track. This is my intention for the Impossible Dreamers group on Facebook. Anyone can join, so bring your friends. This is your community of witnesses for whatever dreams you choose to declare.

For the teens in this story, there's no guarantee that just because the president visited them one day, their immediate situations will turn around and they'll magically be on the road to prosperity. But Sonya, one of the students declared: "This is our defining moment. We're the generation that's going to turn things around and bring a change in the world." If this mindset is indicative of the current generation of young people, these difficult times will have produced an extraordinary new crop of leaders for the future.

Think about that for a moment. Who would you rather have coming up in the ranks of leaders? People who've been seasoned by hard times and became bigger than their story, who became resourceful and creative because of the challenges they overcame and rose to the top, or people who had everything handed to them and rose to the top because of who they knew or what university their father graduated from? I'm betting on this generation of young people.

Anyone interested in lending support to the teenagers in the video, can visit their website here or mail donations to The Village Academy High School c/o The Village Project 1444 E. Holt, Pomona, CA. 91767. Steinman shared that donations have been pouring in since Friday and the kids intend to share them with those less fortunate than they. They are very committed to making a difference in their community.

As Elizabeth Gilbert said in her marvelous Ted Talk lecture "Ole!"

Ole!, to the young people in this story, Ole!, to Michael Steinman, Ole!, to The Village Academy High School and Ole!, to Pomona, CA.

Coming up next, stories of people achieving their impossible dreams, or going where they never thought they could go -- and I'd love to include yours. Of if you have a dream and wonder if anybody is listening, we're here. And we're listening, here and on Facebook. The floor is all yours.


Please share your comments below and let us know you were here. You can also correspond with me at This is the place to send me your personal stories, if you'd like them to be shared in future posts. I endeavor to reply to as many of your comments as possible so be sure to check back here if you want to see my reply.

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