Kathy Eldon changes lives through her roles as acclaimed lecturer, writer, activist, journalist, television and film producer. She is a self-professed "revolutionary" who seeks to enlighten people to the power they have to change the world around them for the better. Born and raised in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, educated at Wellesley College, she married an Englishman and moved first to London and later, with her husband and two young children, to Kenya. Her 22-year-old son, Dan Eldon, was murdered by a mob in Somalia in 1993 while he was on assignment for Reuters News Agency. Inspired by Dan's short life and tragic death, she has worked tirelessly to make a positive difference in the world. She and her daughter, Amy Eldon Turteltaub, co-founded Creative Visions Foundation, a global organization that supports "creative activists" who use their talents to change the world around them. Their foundation has assisted more than 100 artists, filmmakers, playwrights, leaders of social movements on five continents who use media and the arts as vehicles of social change. She lives in Malibu next to the Dan Eldon Center for Creative Activism, a meeting place and creative crucible for individuals who seek to make the world better for us all. Learn more about Kathy Eldon at www.KathyEldon.com, and about her foundation at www.CreativeVisions.org.
The idea of "vision" obviously is important to you: your Creative Visions Foundation for example. Help me understand what "vision" means to you and how your vision of the possible has been a force for you.
Everything in my life has started with looking beyond what I could see. Whether it was seeing the Iowa cornfield and trying to envision what could lie beyond it, to later, as a somewhat stifled housewife in London, trying to imagine that there could be something more in life and envision what that could be.
Later I actually awakened with a vision of what I was meant to do in this world. So the concept is very important to me. I believe everything starts with a vision. Then it's a question of making that vision a reality. You have a vision but then you put up that scaffolding and the bricks and you build the reality out of something that began as a sort of illusion.
What are the roots of that thinking for you?
I was profoundly influenced by a simple little book called "Living in the Light." It's by Shakti Gawain, who also wrote "Creative Visualization." It shifted my view of reality and how we interact with reality. Her belief was that you could actually attract things to you. I don't know the scientific basis of that, but I believe that by applying energy to what we visualize, that's what will manifest, because we're directing energy and focus to it.
Of late, I haven't been doing that because I've achieved all of the obvious visions that I've had. So I've felt a little bit of "Oh my gosh. What am I supposed to be doing next?" I'm trying to figure that out.
A lot of people talk about "vision" in an ethereal sense. But it seems that for you, vision has to lead to action. Is that correct.
Yes, it's critical. Vision is terrific, but then you have to work backwards and always ask what you'll need to do to achieve this.
I started off knowing I was supposed to communicate something that mattered. I didn't really know yet what mattered. I started writing books for children. And I became a journalist in Kenya. And then I realized that in order to touch a larger number of people, you really need to do it with film. It can be a much more efficient way to communicate. I knew I needed to meet somebody who could teach me how to use film as a vehicle for communication for social change. I managed to envision and materialize a producer. He became my mentor and great good friend. We produced a film together and launched Creative Vision Productions.
It was alchemy; it was mystical and magical to me that I brought to me what I needed. It started on a very practical basis. I knew what I needed. I've been so lucky. I did envision exactly the man I wanted. [Amy] and I wrote a book, "Love Catcher," [about finding the right person] and I materialized this incredible man [Michael Bedner, founder of design firm Hirsch Bedner Associates]. He was renting the house next door to his to another fellow, a director, Jon Turtletaub. My daughter would come out every other weekend. She met Jon, and fell in love with him. I married Michael. This is fairy story stuff, I know.
Has the strength you've brought to your work surprised you, given the sorrow that was one of the turning points of you life?
Out of the greatest sorrow has come the greatest force to do good. After Dan was killed, there was a memorial service in Kenya for the four journalists who were killed. I went up to Mark Wood, the editor-in-chief of Reuters, and I said, "We have to do something to give these lives meaning. We have to transform this horror into something positive." From that horror came a greater awareness of the risks that journalists face in peace and war. That led to an enormous movement that hadn't existed before. That was an example of focusing energy and getting people onboard, and it took off.
It's hard for me to comprehend the impact that we've had the privilege to make. But I stand back and realize that each individual we're working with will have a great radius of impact. These activated souls are having an influence on millions of people around the world. Once we calculated that the projects inspired by Dan and parts of our network have touched 100 million people.
How do you keep track of all the many projects with which you and your foundation are involved?
I would be a fool to think I had any role to play in all 68 projects under way under the umbrella of Creative Vision Productions. I work with incredible people who run the programs. We now have a president-CEO, Trevor Hall, who is running the organization, and I'm adjusting to sleeping at night because the nuts-and-bolts responsibilities are with someone else.
I have a new book that came out in September called "In the Heart of Life." That's very important for me. It's a very honest book. People know me one way, but they're going to know a whole lot more about me. I'm sure it will be shocking to some people to learn where I've come from in my life: who I've been and what I've become.
And then we're doing a feature film, Journey, about Dan, so my energy now is going to be focused on communicating our belief in the importance of an active soul. I've got a new website, www.kathyeldon.com, about what really inspires me.
But I really want to get out there more with corporations to talk about corporate responsibility and how they can get involved in activating souls and changing the world around us. I want to talk about how they can be positive forces.
I asked earlier about the strength you found to move on when Dan was killed. But there's a different strength you must have now that lets you focus on what you have achieved rather than on all that's negative and yet-to-be-changed in this world. What keeps you from despairing?
It's a good question and I suppose the answer is that I do not look back; I really am only obsessed with what's ahead.
If you could only focus all your energy on making one change in the world, what would it be?
Tough question. And, you know, I think it would be education for women. And that's a surprising answer for me, actually. But I believe women are the key. There's a wonderful program called "Girl Up" from the United Nations Foundation that has statistics to show what happens when you educate girls. So yes, it would be getting education for girls.
Do you have programs focused on that area now?
We just started a gender-equality program and we're going to be meeting with [actress] Geena Davis to talk about the issues of gender equality in the media, which is something that intrigues me. But as I say, I surprised myself by choosing education for girls as the one thing.
So maybe it's better to say that the one thing I'd like most to focus on is empowering people to be the change they wish to see. Women's education is a part of that but what we do is bigger: It's getting people to believe that they can be the power and the tools and the resources to be that force for change.
You see "revolutionary" as a positive role, don't you?
Oh yes. The On Revolution is turning people on to the power they have to change the world around them for the better. Inside "revolution" is "evolution" and I always want to make the "evolution" part big and prominent. The revolution we lead is a peaceful, positive revolution. And why can't revolution be peaceful?
In the words "creation" and "inspiration" and "activation" is the word "on." That's why we call it the On Revolution. Dan Eld-on. Creative Visi-ons! "On" is in everything where we are.
Some people are frightened by the word "activist" but creative activism is the most powerful thing imaginable! We have to get over our fear of revolution if it's going to be a revolution for good.
Would the Kathy Eldon who grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, have expected that one day she'd be a revolutionary in any sense?
Gosh. My grandparents worked with Community Chest and my parents were pillars of the community and very middle class, but they gave and gave and gave. They probably would have been horrified by the idea of my speaking about revolution, though, because that would have been a hard idea for them to follow. I just knew I wanted more. In those days, girls could only aspire to being nurses, social workers or teachers. Those were the options, but I didn't necessarily want to be any of those. Then I went to Wellesley College and that was a mind-bending experience. Everyone was way brilliant and I felt totally inadequate. But the world opened up a little: a woman could be an assistant to someone in publishing or go work in Washington, like Diane Sawyer!
But it was really only being out in the world after I moved to Kenya that I realized the possibilities for me. There was so much to be done there. It was still in the nation-building time. In Kenya, my mind just blew up with possibilities. I've tried to bring that mindset, that belief in possibilities, back here.
And now you say you're at a crossroads again?
I really am. I saw the Ai WeiWei film, Never Sorry. He's an activist, a dissident artist who is standing up for the rights of individuals in China. He's so brave. I feel like maybe I need to be braver in my life.
Maybe now that I've handed over the reins of the foundation there are things that I can be a bit more courageous in pursuing. I'm trying to figure out what that's going to be. I want to learn what matters enough to me for me to be really courageous. What story would I be telling? I don't know what it is.
Maybe it's finding a new language for the shift that I see coming. I believe it's happening. I believe it's coming all over the world. There are pinpricks of light coming together, finding each other. And when there's enough light, there will be no darkness.