Early on in every generation there comes a defining moment by which those young people are judged and remembered for the ages. Much has been said and written—not always very flattering or positive—about the young people today, but little of it has been expressed by those young people themselves . . . until now.
A little over a year ago, I sought out 75 of the world’s most dynamic and amazing young activists, some of whom started their work as early as three years old and many have launched their own nonprofits and grassroots missions around the globe. I asked them to answer one simple question: What do you stand up for and why?
The resulting book—Stand Up!: 75 Young Activists Who Rock the World, And How You Can, Too!—is a rare glimpse into the imagination, creativity, inspiration, and sheer determination that propel this new generation of leaders ever forward. For the first time, the world gets to see a comprehensive portrait of the global youth movement, and how these young women and men are bringing their own brand of savvy compassion, hard work, and unstoppable courage to the crossroads of social entrepreneurship and activism.
Through the unique stories they have written, these young people have provided the blueprint and enduring calls-to-action through which they are making the world a better place for all living beings and the planet.
Five of these Stand Up! trailblazers have dedicated themselves to the iconic mission of Special Olympics:
- In “How I Found My Voice,” Susie Doyens, a Sargent Shriver Global Messenger with Down Syndrome, tells how she now leaves everyone else speechless as she travels the country, delivering speeches, and even starred in a national commercial to bring attention to the work Special Olympics is doing with people who have Down syndrome and other intellectual and developmental disabilities.
- In “Social Justice for All!,” Samantha Huffman, a Unified Partner and a former member of the National Youth Activation Committee for Special Olympics Project UNIFY, describes how she learned that her mission in life is to advocate for social justice for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities and others.
- In “Advocating Through Friendship,” Danielle Liebl and Kaitlyn Smith, Special Olympics youth leaders, write about how they are using their unique friendship to spread the inspiring message of Special Olympics.
- And, in “A Life Worth Living,” Frank Stephens, a Sargent Shriver Global Messenger and advocate for the Spread the Word to End the Word Campaign, poignantly recalls how he stood up to one of the world’s most famous political commentators when she referred to President Barack Obama by using the r-word. Frank fired back with a public letter to her that was read by more than two and a half million people in just the first 24-hours after it was posted, and nearly four million in the first month.
All the stories in Stand Up!, at their core, are about embracing compassion by using life’s many gifts and challenges to help others and the planet to move forward. The young activists in Stand Up! will take you on awesome adventures—from the world’s highest mountain peak to the rainforest; a ship at sea to a city full of puppets; digging in tasty school gardens to rocking the classroom in places like Africa, Pakistan, India, Peru, Colombia, Afghanistan and the U.S.; trick-or-treating with a mini Darth Vader to an iconic lemonade stand; building fresh water wells and soccer fields in developing nations to painting a unity mural and sleeping in a cardboard box in the snow; saving cheetahs, sea turtles and farm animals to honoring heroic soldiers; and so many other special missions of Olympic-sized proportions.
For me as a Generation-X writer, educator, and activist, Stand Up! is a book I was born to create—an extraordinary opportunity to extend my hand to another generation. Stand Up! is my gift and nod of admiration to the young people of today.
And while it is important to spotlight young people doing incredible things, it’s just as important for me and the Stand Up! story contributors to reach out to those young people, and others, across this planet who are feeling hopeless, confused, scared, and worthless—to those who have never been told that they, too, have gifts and talents.
To them, we say, You have so many gifts, you have so many talents! Discover what they are, and then stand up and rock this world with all you’ve got!
For more Stand Up! resources for teachers, parents, students, community groups, book clubs, and others, please refer to the Stand Up! Discussion Guide.
This guest post was written by John Schlimm, a Harvard-trained educator, activist, and the international award-winning author of numerous books. Copies of Stand Up!: 75 Young Activists Who Rock the World, And How You Can, Too! can be purchased online.