I want to set people on fire—ignite their leadership ability.  I do this through a community leadership school that I created in 1995.

 I want to set people on fire—ignite their leadership ability. I do this through a community leadership school that I created in 1995.

I grew up in New York City in the ‘70s surrounded by crime, concrete, and people wearing mean expressions. That’s how it seemed then—like the Charles Bronson movie “Deathwish,” where roving packs of criminals hunt fellow New Yorkers. Looking over my shoulder, wandering Brooklyn’s graffitied and decaying streets, I knew that there were joyful and safe people out there—I would visit them on vacation.

I began to wonder why some people suffer and some don’t; why some have much and some little or nothing; why some are happy and some angry and sad. Injustice set a fire in me to work for change.

In Philadelphia, I worked with a drug dealer named Jim who turned around his life. Jim led a neighborhood group that transformed a violent crack house into a thriving church. Jim inspired me. The change in his heart became the center of a sweeping tide healing his community.

The powerful spark inside each person is what moves me—their often untapped flicker of creative leadership. It’s a small voice within that says, “I can change this world.” I believe this energy flashes from “that of God” in each person, as Quakers like to say. I am humbled by God’s transforming love and grace. I want to set people on fire so their life-giving spirits will light up the world.

This essay and portrait is part of a community-art and leadership project called “wdydwyd?” Tony Deifell (KNLP-16) invited his colleagues in the Kellogg Fellowship to reflect on what motivates them to follow their personal and professional paths by answering the question, “Why do you do what you do?”

“wdydwyd?” has reached over 1.5 million people worldwide and it has been used for team-building at Google, Twitter, many colleges and universities, nonprofits and K-12 classrooms. And, according to Wired Magazine, “In Silicon Valley, that question has been the hottest team-building meme since Outward Bound – and it’s spreading.” For more information: http://wdydwyd.com/leadership.

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