A teacher asked me how I describe leadership yesterday. Dozens of faces flashed to mind – not belonging to adults behind podiums – but to kids wearing athletic shoes and t-shirts. These days I characterize leadership via soccer and basketball, frisbees and 5Ks, dodgeball and dance-a-thons.
I picture Zachary Killimann, age 22, from Colorado who organized a 3v3 soccer tournament to help refugee youth feel empowered and included. Zachary says: “The best part about the experience was the relationships built between members of different teams and different cultures.”
I see Esperanza, age 11, from Hyde Park, MA who used basketball to help create a space for every kid on the playground to feel safe, included and active. Esperanza says: “You should try anything you can, even if you have never done it before! Lots of girls on my team played basketball for the first time and loved it.”
I see Oren Lieber-Kotz, age 18, from Chevy Chase, Maryland who has combined his Israeli-American roots, language skills in Hebrew and Arabic, and love of Ultimate Frisbee by organizing an Ultimate Frisbee Tournament and Friendship Tours to Washington, DC for Ultimate Peace Leaders-In-Training from the Middle East. Oren says: “I’ve strengthened my respect for the power of sports to close even the deepest divisions. Now, as Ultimate Peace is growing faster than ever, I relish the Positive Tracks U23 Challenge opportunity to contribute as best I can.”
Last year, Positive Tracks helped to activate hundreds of similar stories. Each becomes a touchstone for youth, something they return to because they feel valued as creators and contributors. The thing is: kids, too—kids especially—want to help when times get tough. Youth crave meaning and purpose in their lives just like adults do. Generation Z, in particular, wants to claim and assert who they are by how they relate to global challenges they see daily on their phones.
Now, more than ever, youth deserve opportunities to make sense of a world that’s in a constant state of disruption – to address global issues with their own voices and muscle. All kids deserve to dream big, and to make dreams a reality for
themselves, in addition to people and places who benefit from youth vision and sense of urgency to help.
Positive Tracks plays a critical role in helping youth build these personal narratives. Kids identity a problem, develop a solution, organize and rally their peers, and make it to the starting line. Positive Tracks helps youth every step of the way, but more than anything, we believe in youth power, savvy and vision.
Positive Tracks is on a 5-year measured trajectory to help 115,000 youth turn 500,000 miles (that’s around the world 23 times!) into $16 million for hundreds of causes that shape their world. But we’re just getting started. Our end goal is to reach one million children in all corners of our country with the knowledge that Positive Tracks is poised and ready to help them find a starting line.
How will we get there? Perhaps honored civil rights leader and congressman John Lewis prescribes the best course of action: “Get your body in the way and do it with love.” This resonates with me. Live the heck out of the body you’re living in, and make your heart pound as hard as it can. Working hard for something – for anything – is important in and of itself. Sweat is yours. Sweat is tangible. It’s proof of having skin in the game, of setting a goal, of getting to a starting line. Sweat helps you learn who you are.
So does love. Love the heck out of anything and anyone as hard as you can. It’s good for you and good for the world to love big. Loving proves you matter.
Get your body in the way and do it with love. Then accept and relish the consequences, because you’ll never be the same.
Nini Meyer, Positive Tracks Founder & CEO
Me In 140 Characters Or Less: Philanthletics Passionista; Pugs Not Drugs; Nothing Rivals The Power Of Family, Fun, Gratitude, and HOT DAMN.