Devastating hurricanes that have taken lives and left untold numbers without power, food and water. A catastrophic earthquake in Mexico that left hundreds dead and thousands more homeless. Deadly fires leapfrogging across regions in California that included populated neighborhood streets, destroying everything in its path. These are just some of the stories of human toll in 2017. Perhaps even harder to grasp are the deadly rampages that cut short the lives of too many people across the world. Add to these truly horrific events that destroyed lives, property and precious natural resources, the revelation that across industries and across continents, sexual harassment and abuse, some targeting the young and vulnerable have run rampant. The political news of our day only adds to an already discouraging sense that the world is aflame.
It’s no surprise that people, even those not personally affected by the events, are struggling to make sense of it all—trying not to let hopelessness or despair set in.
However, to characterize 2017 exclusively from this perspective would be a mistake. There are true rays of hope that shine but are often not given light amongst the more dramatic news of our day.
As we have moved beyond the holidays—known to many as “the season of light”—we would do well to turn our eyes to the inspiring stories of individuals across the globe whose selfless and fearless actions lit a path to bring hope and inspiration in the midst of darkness. And, as this New Year dawns, recognize the heroes all around us. I have written about some of the signs of hope that I saw in the responses of citizens to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and am always inspired by the way that citizens continue to answer the call to provide aid and support when times are tough.
Take, for instance, the courageous and selfless actions of celebrated chef, José Andrés, who upon learning that the island of Puerto Rico was experiencing power outages and food and water shortages, set out to make a difference. José is no stranger to disasters. Since his experience with providing disaster relief following the 2010 Haiti earthquake, José has mobilized an army of chefs ranging from local to world-renowned, as he scaled World Central Kitchen (WCK) he founded, to deliver millions of meals to date, in settings and regions others feared to go. In 2017, WCK delivered 3.1 million meals to the people of Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria, provided 35,000 meals to Californians impacted by this Fall’s fires and over 100,000 meals to the people of Houston in the wake of Hurricane Harvey while also supporting the first responders and National Guard personnel in the field. The New York Times called WCK “the largest emergency feeding program ever set up by a group of chefs.” WCK has also improved health, increased education rates, provided career skills and has helped to create food businesses in regions where it operates.
When José was asked to give a commencement address at George Washington University in Washington, DC, he told the moving story of coming to America from Spain with just $50 in his pocket. He spoke of coming to the country in pursuit of the American dream. Then he continued: “Today you are doing something much more important,” he said. “You are shaping the new American dream. It’s not about having high paying jobs, big houses, fast cars. There is nothing wrong with that, but the new America Dream is bigger. It’s about how to achieve your success while also making an impact in the world. What you create for yourselves you must also create for others.”
And José is not alone as he embodies a #BeFearless spirit and works tirelessly in times of crisis. You can see that same spirit in the volunteers who mobilized as California’s fires raged, including two women who jumped into action to help rescue 150 horses left behind when their owners had to flee fast moving fires in Northern California; the small business people like “Mattress Mack” who opened his mattress stores to provide shelter those who were forced out of their homes when Hurricanes hit; heroic citizens, like concertgoer Jonathan Smith, who helped others escape America’s deadliest mass shooting in modern history while incurring severe injuries themselves; and even Frida, the trained rescue dog who worked alongside the Mexican Navy following the 7.1 quake that rocked the nation, as she helped save numerous earthquake victims and symbolized the Mexican volunteer citizen rescue groups from working class families that were founded after the 1985 earthquake and now aids in disasters worldwide. I am also inspired by those young individuals like Amanda Nguyen of RISE, who used her own experience as a rape survivor to get unanimous passage of the Sexual Assault Survivors Bill of Rights in Congress.
These are just a few of the lights I see shining through the darkness as we turn the calendar from 2017 to 2018. And I look forward to hearing, seeing and featuring more of these positive and inspiring stories throughout 2018. Day by day, across the nation and across the world, it is the fearless and selfless acts of citizens taking action that can inspire hope and allow us to confidently look to the New Year with optimism.