Last night I had the privilege to introduce this year's Patrick McGinnis Community Hero Award to Dr. Nita Kulkarni. The award is given to a community member that has had a positive impact on both the Flint Boys and Gils Club of Flint and the community of Flint. Dr. Kulkarni has shown time and time again her dedication to the youth in this community. The award is a true reflection of her time, her hard work, and her heroic leadership. Preparing for the introduction, I struggled with what I would say and how I could lead up to Nita's speech which was no doubt going to be a great one. With the help from Nicole, my wife (and ghost speech writer) I decided to use the story about the children drowning and the villager that was brave enough to walk upstream (see last week's post). While that certainly was the right choice and I thank Nicole for the suggestion, I do want to share my original introduction.
...There is a story of two friends walking on the beach enjoying the summer breeze. They were laughing, talking about their families, and feeling grateful for everything they have in life. As they soaked up the sun they noticed a few starfish that had been washed up onto shore. One of the friends, noticing more laying across the sand, turned around and said, "Check out all of these starfish, there must be hundreds. No sane person could ever think they could save them all." As the two walked the shoreline, the other one bent down, grabbed a starfish and threw it back into the ocean. The other friend stopped and asked, "Why did you do that? You know you can't save all of these starfish." "Yeah", the one that threw the starfish back said, "but I saved that one!".
This story (or poem) is told many times and often is told to depict the person throwing the starfish back as a hero. I myself have always wondered how might the story be changed so it reflects true heroism. See, heroism goes beyond kind acts, doing good things for others, and saving a starfish. True heroism involves a risk, a sacrifice, and challenges people to look outside themselves to better the current conditions of the status quo. While the friend did save a starfish, where was the risk? Where was the sacrifice? With one starfish back in the water, how was the status quo changed for the better? The two friends continued their walk, continued having the conversation about their own lives, and were able to enjoy the sunny day.
Nita Kulkarni is a true hero. If she were walking that beach she would have stopped walking, stopped talking about her own life and would have started throwing every starfish she could get her hands on back into the ocean. She would not have stopped there. Her friend, watching her throw the multiple starfish back, would see the determination and the courage she had to save them all and would have no choice but to help. Dr. Kulkarni, just as she recruited key people for the HERo program at The Boys and Girls Club, would then run up and down the beach looking for anyone that could help save the starfish. The day would turn to night and if more had to be saved, Dr. Kulkarni would find the resources and the people to help. In doing so, she would sacrifice her walk in the sun, a good time with a friend, and ultimately would meet resistance from people telling her the task is impossible. That is true heroism.
Dr. Kulkarni did not settle for saving one young lady from making bad choices in their life, but built a program to save them all. The HERo Program was open to all girls ages 13-18 at the club and proved to be a powerful way to build self esteem and self awareness for the girls. Dr. Kulkarni set the vision and the mission right way to point to empowering these young women to believe in themselves and to see themselves as heroes. The HERo Program not only threw the starfish back into the water, it gave the starfish the skill-sets and mindset to remain in the water and live healthy, successful lives.
(Matt Langdon, Jason Roy and I from H.C.C. helped write the Hero Curriculum for this program)