Many of us have the notion that making a positive impact on the world is something that is bigger than us. Orion Jean proves that anyone can make a difference—even an elementary school kid can have a positive impact on hundreds of lives.
When the pandemic first started in 2020, Orion Jean saw struggle he’d never seen the likes of. Due to cut work and childcare, people were struggling with finances, even food, and he wanted to help somehow. His teacher suggested he enter the National Kindness Speech Contest for kids where he would not only spread joy through his words, but have the chance to win $500 he could donate where he pleased.
Orion Jean for Time. Credit: Justin J. Wee
“At the time that I wrote the speech, COVID was really beginning to pick up,” Jean said. “The world seemed like it had shut down and hope was like–it was like, Where is it? Where is the hope? Where’s the love? Where is the kindness?”
Jean not only made it to the next round, he won the grand prize. Instead of treating himself with a game system or goodies, Jean spent 500 toys to the Children’s Health Hospital in Dallas for an initiative he called the Race to Kindness. He calls experience of giving to these kids in need “a reward in itself–” wise words from a child who was nine at the time.
“…it can be a number of things,” Orion Jean says about his Race to Kindness. “And the one that I started was the Race to Kindness. The Race to Kindness is not just a series of events, but also a call to action. It’s a way to get people involved in the community, you know, and when they see something happening now they can go out and do something about it.”
Orion Jean’s race to kindness didn’t come to a close there. Jean’s family published a website for his Race to Kindness where others could donate to Jean’s following initiatives. Next came his food drive, where he delivered 100,000 meals to families in need in Dallas-Ft. Worth. As his platform grew, so did his goals. His current initiative is even more lofty: as an avid reader, Jean is in the process of collecting 500,000 books for kids at bookstores across the country.
After a year of incredible deeds, it’s no wonder Orion Jean was selected as Time’s Kid of the Year for 2021. In an interview with actress and humanitarian Angelina Jolie, Jean discusses his inspirations, his Race to Kindness, and his future.
Credit: Orion Jean
A portion of the Time interview with Angelina Jolie
“I did not do this by myself,” Jean says, “it took a whole team behind me: my parents, my family, all of the generous corporate donors and organizations that we partnered with and strangers that I’ve never even met. They are all donating because they feel compelled to help those in their community.”
In spite of that, Jean says he hasn’t really discussed with his friends all he has been working on. He hopes his friends will see him on the news, say “Hey, I know him!” and be inspired to go out and make an impact on their own terms. Jean sees himself as a “vessel to spread kindness” and help others do the same.
With all of this under his belt before the age of 11, Orion Jean is set up to become something great. But even in being such a busy kid, in extending kindness to others, James reminds others to show themselves kindness through self-care.
“If you want other people to be able to take care of themselves and have all these necessities, then you have to take time for yourself as well, and just every now and then know when to take a break and step back.”
Orion Jean for Time. Credit: Justin J. Wee
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