Written by Audrey Lin
"I just had to share my experience at our school with you today! We kicked off kindness week yesterday at the school-- and today we arrived with a special art project for some of the younger kids of the school. I was a little apprehensive because I am not sure how this week is going to go given the unstructured nature of summer school, but I am greeted by a smiling assistant principal at the door. Then as I walked farther into the hallway, a group of third graders gave us hand-drawn "happy" cards telling us how awesome we are, plus delivering cold bottled water and a treat! As I walk down the hall I hear your music "planting seed " wafting from one of the classrooms…"
Last week, we are lifted by this soaring email from LeAnne Stevens, a dedicated Bridgepointe volunteer who's been planting seeds of kindness at the Academy of the Americas, an elementary school in Detroit, MI.
This past Monday, we walk through the Academy of the Americas gate and are instantly greeted by colorful, hand-crafted with love "Welcome Nimo and Friends" and "Be Kind" posters. Arriving a bit early with a posse of five, we run into LeAnne in the entryway. She is lining the walkway with bright, heartwarming stones painted with by the students. Principal Brown greets us and we stand in a circle of introductions. He guides us through the Harry Potter Hogwarts maze of a school, up a few flights of stairs to the top floor school gym. We meet Mr. Ramirez, a passionate, edgy, full-of-heart kindergarten and 3rd grade teacher. Over the next half-hour, Nilam Aunty, Ajay, Roopal, Anjali and Audrey splash the wall and gym chairs with Empty Hands ambiance. Someone arranges the hand-painted rocks into a heart. Sue from Bridgepointe and a few elementary-aged kids carry up a wide butcher-paper poster that reads, "I Am Thankful For…" and poster to hang as a backdrop.
As the clock strikes 9:30, students are lined up in the stairway and hall with a post-it in hand, with a description of an act of kindness they've done during the week. This is their entry "ticket"-- Nimo stands at the door, collecting and reading each post-it, high-fiving the students as they file into the gym. He later comments that over half of them are about helping mom or helping out around the house. One post-it even said, "I helped convince my friend not to commit suicide." With a couple hundred invisible and young "love warriors" like that in the audience, the assembly gets underway.
LeAnne shares a bit about Nimo's journey and passes around a roll of streamer paper that everyone holds to represent our interconnectedness. Students come up and share acts of kindness they've done throughout the week. And our lovely Bridgepoint volunteers along with Nilam Aunty, Ajay, and Anjali stick the post-it notes into the shape of a large heart. Nimo offers the song "Planting Seeds" and introduces Anjali to share about the school that she built and currently runs with children and a slum community in India. Nimo sings "Being Kind", the school Mariachi Band performs a couple dazzling songs, and LeAnne gifts every student a handcrafted with care kindness bookmark as the younger children file out.
The older students scoot up and Nimo introduces the idea of meditation and we ground ourselves in a couple minutes of silence and stillness. From there, he offers the Gujarati-English rap, "Ode to Women" in honor of all the service mothers offer, and all the post-it acts of kindness that were inspired by helping moms in their small and large acts of everyday love and service. Then, Roopal interactively shares our dear brother Ajay's story about redefining success through his journey with Gandhi Ashram-based NGO Manav Sadhna, Bridepointe member Diane Powers (who co-produced the documentary, ONE) shares a stilling story of loneliness and connection, and Nimo offers a rendition of "Grateful". As the event comes to a close, students jump to help put away folding chairs, take down posters, and pack up our PA system and gear.
We then make our way to visit Mr. Ramirez's 3rd grade summer school class, where we learn about their collective acts of kindness and hear their reflections on it-- from passing out water bottles to the school staff to writing nice messages for people and giving compliments or expressing gratitude, and how each student brought in a dollar for a collective class act of kindness. Mr. Ramirez tells us the story of "Kindness Ambassador" student Nina, who had noticed how all the whiteboard markers had dried up for summer school and brought in a pack of markers for him to use. He also shares about their class discussions-- and the pre-conceived notions of what a rapper looks like. They engage in a dynamic Q&A-- "What is your favorite song and why?", "Do you like to sing?", and Nimo offers a performance of "Dear God," which happens to be Mr. Ramirez and several students' favorite song on the album.
The conversation then flows to Anjali, who offers a bit more detail and stories about her school and building it from the ground up-- literally from children and adults clearing trash off the land, building walls with scraps of cement, rock, and chicken wire fencing, and all the small ways community members have offered their support in time and service to the school that today sees 40 students on a regular basis.
Time seems to evaporate as students surprise Nimo with beautiful handmade thank-you cards. As the class files out for lunch, Nimo instantly stands by the door, offering a warm, big brotherly hug to each person.
After a few hours with such a warm-hearted crew of volunteers, educators and students, we leave feeling the closeness of family, the refreshed faith of seeing kindness in youth, and a sense of gratitude for the opportunity to see, witness and contribute to a space of nurturing love, kindness, and hope in the next generation.
More photos below: