Dr. King would be proud: a young African American from Oak Bluffs is working alongside young people of color from around the world, who all started their new year with a vision and a plan for how they would build a better world.
Nineteen-year-old Jesse Boswell is a second year African American Studies major at Bates College; she plans to be a lawyer. On New Year’s Day she traveled to Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands to attend a youth summit for sustainable development.
There, young leaders from urban, suburban and rural communities learned about sustainable development, personal and professional, community and global. The three-day summit was followed by three days of community action.
The summit was conducted by the Stone Soup Leadership Institute whose mission is to train young and emerging leaders to build a better world.
Founded on Martha’s Vineyard in 1997, the Stone Soup Leadership Institute developed its first youth-community initiative here while Marianne Larned wrote the book Stone Soup for the World: Life-Changing Stories of Everyday Heroes. The institute’s educational curriculum was piloted by Massachusetts’ schools and YMCAs. In 2000, the institute held its first Celebration of Heroes event with Walter Cronkite, honoring people for doing good deeds.
At age 12, Jesse was the youngest recipient when she received the institute’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award for raising funds to help free child slaves in the Sudan. Nominated by Oak Bluffs Principal Laury Binny, Jesse was promised to attend a future institute.
At the youth summit, Jesse shared her story and inspired others to develop community service projects to carry on Dr. King’s legacy. “When I saw the disparities for Sudanese children on TV, I was devastated,” she said. “There was no reason for them to go hungry with so much food in the world. Right then I decided I had to do something.
“At first I gave my allowance, but that only was only $10. I knew that wasn’t enough,” she explained. “With the help of my mother I opened a bank account, grabbed the telephone book and started with the A’s. When asking for money, I felt the heat of the No’s and was relieved by the Yes’s from those ready to give. Over time the funds in the bank account started to grow. Then something happened, even without my phone calls, people walked into the bank and started giving money. That amazed me to see the power of the heart in action. The feelings I had while watching others give and giving myself have stayed with me through high school and college. It’s a constant force in my life.”
Jesse also mentored aspiring future lawyers to create a plan to realize their dreams. “The youth in Virgin Gorda helped me learn about myself,” Jesse said. “It was refreshing to see how avid they are about making positive changes in their community.”
Dr. King’s message of Each One Teach One is a core principle of the Institute’s trainings, creating a multiplier effect for future generations. At the summit these youth leaders designed the institute’s social networking tool (something like Facebook). This Global technology initiative aims to connect youth leaders with the institute’s contacts in 120 communities. Last November Bob Tankard represented the Vineyard schools at the institute’s planning session in Boston; he is now working with Laurie Halt, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction and continuing education at the high school, and with ACE MV adult education program founder Lynn Ditchfield, to explore a partnership with UMass Boston to provide distance learning for teachers and adults.
Next month Jesse will speak to the high school leadership group to start planning the Vineyard youth summit. “The Institute’s Youth Summit inspired me to move forward with our message, to continue to help others, to continue to be the change I want to see in my own community,” says Jesse. “I’ve always believed that if you put time into the youth of a community, the community will flourish.”
Stone Soup invites any individual or organization to become a sponsor of its youth summit in Martha’s Vineyard and support the institute’s mission of training young and emerging leaders to build a better world. You may send tax-deductible donations to P.O. Box 5324, Larkspur, CA 94977. You also may donate or get more information online at soup4world.com