My office at TheDoGooder.com overlooks New York City's Zuccotti Park, the epicenter of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Usually leaving late at night, I weaved through the crowd on the way to the subway hearing the protestors' chants, beating drums and circles of participants debating issues. I initially thought these protests were only going to last a couple of days. However, once they became a staple in the neighborhood and legitimized in the media, I decided to visit the makeshift village myself.
Understanding that the anger over the growing income divide was real, I entered the nearly inhabitable park with an open mind, hoping to see a showcase of democracy at work. From what I had read in the press, I expected to show this demonstration to our school network as an example of how American voices can make real change in society like we had done for woman's suffrage in the early 1900s, The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and in the protests surrounding the Vietnam War. I was wrong.
"Who is in charge?" I asked. I assumed there had to be some sort of leadership planning and negotiating with the city for the group's demands. I was pointed to a guy no more than 22-years-old across the park who had camped out at Zuccotti since the first day of the movement.
"Nobody is in charge! We don't believe society's hierarchal paradigm that says one's injustice is greater than others' so we invite all to join," he said. What appeared to me that day was not a consistent movement tackling income disparity, which I read about in the media. I found a hodgepodge of groups arguing, sometimes with each other, about a variety hot button issues beyond income inequality. In 15 minutes, I heard arguments for and against abortion rights, labor outsourcing, environmental issues and drug legalization.
I left confused and believing that the media was trying to make a story out of something that wasn't there. How could the government and city leaders negotiate with the Occupy Wall Street protestors when they weren't asking for anything? Understanding that this could have just been my individual experience, the interaction helped me identify the Occupy movement as a missed opportunity to channel real anger into significant and valuable change. I have always liked problem solvers and not problem lamenters. I most admire people who face an issue and don't get down or angry, but get organized and fight back with intention.
Through our DoGooder Spotlights, we sometimes feature individuals who have faced unimaginable hardships (usually involving life and death consequences) and have built incredible movements with laser focus to find a cure to a disease or even just bring meaning to a loss. A DoGooder Spotlight example that many of us, including the Wall Street Occupiers, can learn from is Candi Fisher and the Kidz1stFund.
The wife of Florida State University Head Coach Jimbo Fisher, Candi suspected something might be wrong with their son, Ethan, on a family trip to Alabama. He wasn't feeling well, and she took him to an urgent care center to run some test. Ethan's blood plate count was abnormally low and after further investigation, the Fishers' worst fears were realized. It was revealed that Ethan had a rare blood disease called Fanconi anemia (FA).
FA is a rare genetic disease that affects one in 350,000 births and causes a defect in a cluster of proteins that are responsible for DNA repair. As a result, the majority of FA patients develop cancer, most often acute myelogenous leukemia, and 90 percent develop bone marrow failure (the inability to produce blood cells) by age 40.
The Fishers immediately tested Ethan's brother, Trey, to see if he first had the disorder, and if not, determine if he was a blood marrow donor candidate. Luckily, he didn't share his brother's blood disease, but was not a match. Overnight, the Fishers' lives changed forever.
Devastated, they found hope in a team of doctors from Minnesota who were making advances in understanding the disease. However, their research was underfunded, which jeopardized any progress in finding a cure for FA and ultimately Ethan. It was at that moment that Candi decided that she was going to focus all of her efforts to help her son and the many others affected by Fanconi anemia.
Leveraging Jimbo's spotlight as Head Coach at FSU's Football program, the couple became intrepid advocates in raising awareness about Fanconi anemia. They started Kidz1stFund to provide education and financial support for Fanconi Anemia research with the goal of finding a cure. Additionally, Kidz1stFund promotes individuals to register for the bone marrow registry, since bone marrow transplants are essential in treating FA and 70 other diseases.
"We started Kidz1stFund to fund research for Ethan and other people like him suffering with this little-known illness," says Candi. "Even though discovering Ethan's illness has put our family through a lot, the great joy that came out of this is being able to speak for those other kids with FA who can't speak to the media and get the word out themselves. It's about raising awareness and hopefully someday finding a finite cure."
Many of us will never face the devastating hardship of a sick child as the Fishers have, but their example teaches us the real life lesson: Instead of getting down about a problem, get organized about finding a solution. While many would have fallen apart with the possible death of their son, Candi and Jimbo walked through their grief and found purpose in raising money for Fanconi anemia, which reconnected them to life. Through the Kidz1stFund, they are empowered through a mission to find a cure for their son instead of waiting helplessly the inevitable to occur. Although my problems pale in comparison, their story teaches me not to just focus on the problem, but get organized and dedicate my attention to finding the solution.