TIME’s 2021 Kid of the Year: Orion Jean’s race to kindness

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“In a time when it seems nothing is in order, one thing will always stay the same and that is kindness.”

It’s hard not to be inspired by these words from Time Kid of the Year 2021, 11-year-old Orion Jean who has touched the world, and his community especially, with his warmth, kindness, and thoughtfulness during a time when it is needed the most.

After seeing the crippling effect of the pandemic on the world and communities around him, Orion knew he wanted to help, only he didn’t know how. The opportunity he’d been waiting for presented itself as a speech contest his teacher encouraged him to submit to in 2020 – the “National Kindness Speech Contest.

“When the pandemic began, I saw a lot of things were happening, people were losing their jobs and losing access to food and homes and all of these essential things. And I knew right then that I wanted to do something to help, but the opportunity actually came around when my teacher suggested that I enter into a speech contest.

“At the time that I wrote the speech, Covid was really beginning to pick up. 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?”

“And if I won the prize money that came with the contest, that means I could start a kindness initiative to help these people.”

And he did.

With only 24 hours to the deadline he wrote, memorized, and submitted the winning speech which earned him $500, with which he created Race to Kindness – an initiative to support kindness projects in his community. Since then, he has been able to kick off a series of community service projects targeting underserved communities with meals, toys, and books for children.

“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.”

Two years later, through this initiative, he has collected and donated 600 toys for Children’s Medical Center Hospital in Dallas, Texas, provided 100,000 meals, and helped collect and deliver 500,000 books to those in need.

He has also authored a book on leadership: A Kids Book about Leadership which was published in 2021.

“I hope that whatever I do, I will be able to be a leader. But one of the reasons I was so excited to write that book is because, from a young age, I told you, I have loved reading. And I’ve always wanted to write my own stories and be an author when I grow up.

“But just knowing that, with all that I’ve been able to learn, maybe one day I might become a country or world or state leader in whatever career that I may take. I hope that right now I’m able to be a leader and inspire so many other kids to become leaders as well.”

Orion uses his platform to call other children to action, inviting them to join him on his kindness initiative in their schools, homes, and communities in what he calls, “universal message of peace.”

“I think that one of the things about being kind is that you perk up when you hear other people being unkind or when you hear about people that aren’t doing the right thing. And it makes you sad inside. And like I said, kindness is a choice, you can’t force anyone else to be kind.

“You hope that by inspiring other people to spread kindness that they will somehow see it and, you know, change their ways and be more kind in the future.

“It’s not about me. I’m just a vessel to spread kindness and to help others spread kindness in their communities as well.”

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