One of my many ongoing projects, the Be the Change series highlights fascinating who people I meet during my travels. These are folks who are doing the hard work of changing the world for the better by living our their passions and sharing their gifts. Subjects are chosen by me with no committee or proposal process, so if you know of a person or project that you think is doing something that is making the world a more just, compassionate and peaceful place feel free to let me know.

During the last election cycle here in San Francisco, I had the privilege of being part of the John Avalos for Mayor campaign team. While we were not successful in getting John behind the Mayor’s desk, I was inspired by the people that I met. At every turn I met another passionate and talented young person – and yes, most were indeed younger than I – who was committed to following a path, not based on wealth and status, but on changing the world. No “pie in the sky” types here, these were folks who were branging it in many different areas. One of the people that I met was Heather Box, who along with Julian Mocine-McQueen, are part of a new project called The Million Person Project [WEBSITE | FACEBOOK].

Here is my interview with Heather.

Can you tell me a little bit about what you are doing and introduce The Million Person Project.

The Million Person Project is an international project about love, globalizing relationships and supporting change makers to share their stories and make their voices heard. Julian and I have been on the road now for five weeks and we have conducted fourteen workshops with change makers from over twenty countries including: Vietnam, Nigeria, Lesotho, Peru, Australia, Indonesia, the United States and many more.

In this workshop people learn to share their personal story in relationship to the work they do in order to inspire others to join their cause.  It is a public speaking technique that was develop by Harvard professor and long time community organizer Marshall Ganz.  The technique was made famous by Barack Obama’s 2004 Democratic National Convention speech. Pulling from curriculum’s developed by Green For All and the New Organizing Institute, Julian and I have made adjustments to the curriculum to ensure that it is relevant to people from all over the world and most importantly that the curriculum allows the space and time to really dive deep into your history and to share and connect with other participants.

It isn’t everyday that we really get into conversations with strangers about what it is in our past that have influenced us to be the people we are and do the work we do. It is a powerful experience to go through with a group over eight hours. We have done the workshop with 17 to 75 year olds and the feedback we get across the board is wow, that was a really powerful process. Many note that it was intimidating to share your story in front of the crowd but it felt good.

I understand that nervousness. In the life mapping portion of the workshop I share my story almost everyday and every time my hands shake and my heart pounds a little especially when I share the part about how saying goodbye to my grandpa made me realize that relationships and love are all your left with at the end of the day so I better not spend my life behind a computer stressing about grant proposals. And I see the same thing happen to Julian every time he gets in front of a room to share his story. Be it in front of a room full of San Franciscan non profit leaders, Vietnamese students or African farmers when he gets to the part of his story when he learned that his two cousins, who were him and his brothers best buddies growing up, got sentenced to fourteen years in jail his voice shakes and he has to stop to take a deep breath. Story telling is a powerful tool it has been a dream come true to travel around the world facilitating these workshops.

Taking this workshop on the road has, I think I can safely say, been one of the most incredible undertakings I will ever do in life. We have heard stories form across the world of people who are deeply committed to their communities and are using this lifetime to really make a change.  We hear stories of people who grew up the war torn African country of Burundi and found their healing through protecting the environment, to a young Vietnamese man who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and is using his time left on this planet to speak up and make his voice heard in the global climate change movement, to a young Kenyan woman who has found her power in telling skeptics who tease her and call her a tree hugger that she will in fact be the next Wangari Maathai and they can just sit back and watch until it’s her time to get the noble peace prize.

It is our role is to help these young people hone their personal story and be able to share publicly in order to engage more people in their campaign or project. It’s fascinating, empowering and inspiring to see how much all of us have in common and how much power we get from sharing our stories.

How did you get involved in the Million Person Project?

The MPP was developed by me and Julian Mocine-McQueen out of a simple shared belief that the work that needs to be done to address the needs of our environment and our communities will only be possible if we begin to develop relationships across borders, across areas of work, and across cultures.

In 2010, I was working for, an international climate change organization to help support organizers who were participating in the day of action on climate change on October 10, 2010. That night when the tens of thousands of photos were flooding in from across the world, from East Timor, to Uganda to Bolvia, to Canada to Mongolia I was struck by the overwhleming potential of global community through this network. I had worked with tree planters in Indonesia, Australia, Sri Lanka and Nigeria, with people installing solar in Burma, Nevada and Uruguay and bike organizers in South Korea, Bejing, Mexico and Morocco. It was the most inspiring display of global unity I’d ever seen. I commited that day to doing everything I can to help share those stories and build realtionships between change makers across the planet. So that is what the Million Person Project is all about! 🙂

In 10 years, what do you hope people will be saying about The Million Person Project?

In 10 years I hope that there will be people around the world that have friendships and relationships with people across the world because of the Million Person Project. I also hope that thousands of more people have shared their personal story publicly and it has helped to grow the support of their projects.

How can people get connected to and support The Million Person Project?

People should visit our website, check out the stories being shared on the site and donate to help keep this work going! Also, if you are interested in having us come to your classroom, work or community group – let us know!

Pay it forward a bit . . . what are 2-3 projects, companies or people that you think are doing some good work in the world these days?

  • Growing a Global Heart . . . is a project close to my heart. Two incredible leaders Belvie Rooks and Dedan Gills started this project to heal the wounds of the past — in the present– while creating a sustainable future. They are working with grassroots organizations in Africa and the US to plant trees along the slave route in Africa and the Underground railroad in the USA.
  • 5 Gyres . . . is an organization that is traveling the worlds ocean in a sailboat studying the plastic pollution in all 5 gyres. They invite journalists, scientists and activists on board to conduct the research and help raise awareness about how plastic pollution is affecting our oceans, our planet and all of us on it.
  •  . . . is doing an incredible job of helping to unite and support the global climate movement movement to solve the climate crisis. They have thousands of volunteers in 188 countries and are truly committed to a grassroots model for global change!
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