Chicago Ideas Week – Heroes Forum with Bill Strickland, Phil Zimbardo and Jerry Mitchell

I came to the forum on Heroes at the Museum of Contemporary Art because I needed a dose of inspiration and energy from people who take action on their beliefs. Each of the speakers brought the audience to their feet with their presentations about their work. I transcribed part of the forum knowing that even though the video would be available in a few weeks it would be valuable to be able to refer in print to the powerful words from a few of these speakers. The images they showed were a large part of the impact of their talks, but here, at least, are a few of the words of wisdom they shared with us.

Phil Zimbardo – psychologist, founder of the Heroic Imagination Project

(excerpt) Heroes make personal sacrifices for the good of others. What I’ve been doing is creating a program that tries to train, coach and produce heroes. In california I have a hero factory. Heroic action is behavior that is:

  • engaged in voluntarily
  • conducted in service to one or more people or the community as a whole;
  • involves a risk to physical comfort, social stature, or quality of life;
  • iniated without the expectation of material gain; and
  • is learned, taught, modeled, not inborn

Heroes become special by doing that heroic act. We believe heroism can be trained, coached, taught, especially with the next generation.  Each of us has the power to influence unknown numbers of people.  When we do the opposite we can become a model for evil.  We should be aware of the ripple effect we have. The important thing is to speak up.

Bill Strickland – President and CEO of Manchester Bidwell Corporation and its subsidiaries, Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild (MCG), and Bidwell Training Center (BTC).

Strickland is nationally recognized as a visionary leader who authentically delivers educational and cultural opportunities to students and adults within an organizational culture that fosters innovation, creativity, responsibility and integrity.

Throughout Strickland’s distinguished career, he has been honored with numerous prestigious awards for his contributions to the arts and the community, including the coveted MacArthur “Genius” award. The past several decades have been dedicated to maintaining successful relationships with prominent national foundations and political leaders who share his passion and vision for a healthier future. To see more

“Entrepreneurs are, by definition, visionaries. The use of art to change students’ attitudes is at the heart of my vision of education. I see a connection between the creativity instilled by a love of the arts, and the skills needed for business success. Artists are by nature entrepreneurs. They can visualize something that doesn’t exist, to look at a canvas and see a painting. Entrepreneurs and artists are interchangeable.”

(Excerpt) People are born into the world as assets not liabilities.  So, I built a training center for poor folks in my neighborhood. I wanted the kids to know that you could bring the world to you. I built a center with a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. The whole theory is if you want to get people to perform like world class citizens you have to treat them that way. This is my vision for what a center should like like for training poor people. (photos of beautiful interiors of the centers he has built)

In 26 years we’ve never had one act of theft or vandalism in the highest crime rate area of Pittsburgh. We have no metal detectors. Environment drives behavior. Beautiful environments create beautiful kids.

Children deserve fresh flowers in their life. I figured out the cure for spiritual cancer – it’s sunlight, flowers, hope. I manufacture hope in this center. We take poor folks and make them gourmet cooks in ten months. We bring in chefs from all over the world . We took the design from a kitchen at the Ritz Carleton. We’ve made a fascinating discovery…

It’s how you think about people that drives behavior.

We subsidize a gourmet lunch for people in the school every day of the week. This is our dining room and our idea for how to treat people. One of my goals in life is to build one of these in every city in America. You come to Pittsburgh and I’ll show you welfare moms who are doing logarithmic calculus.  I got the welfare moms growing orchids because it’s good for their spirits as well as their pocket books. We took first and second prize in the orchid symposium.

I believe we can create these centers in every major city in this country and I hope I’ve given you a sense of what dreams can do. To read more about Bill Strickland, find his book

Eddie Bocanegra – from The Interrupters and CeaseFire, Chicago

(Excerpt) We were fortunate enough to be filmed for a bit over a year. We allowed cameras to be in the communities we serve and expose some of the issues we deal with. If it wasn’t for cease fire I wouldn’ t be doing the work I do now. I’m an ex-felon. I served 14 years in prison. Cease Fire took a chance on me. All three of us put our dirty laundry out for everyone to see and I can tell you that we don’t take pride in the fact that we went to prison and did time. We are proud of the work we do now. It’s embarassing to share our past. But this film is about redemption, sacrifice and how one individual can make a difference in their community. There’s a scripture that says Jesus healed ten lepers and of these lepers only one came back. I want to be that leper. I want to come back and make a difference in the communities I serve. I’m in a position where I can help and spend the rest of my life serving others.

I came from a pretty good family, two parents that worked hard. My sisters have worked for the government, the military, but yet I still went to prison. I went to prison because I didn’t have an identify or know who I was and I believed in a false creed. It was at a high cost and I’ve pledged to make up for what I’ve done in my past.

CeaseFire has hired over 300 ex-offenders. I’m grateful for our staff. This is a combined and team effort. But in that team I include you as well because we are part of society and we do have to be held accountable for how we help our neighbors and our own kids.  It’s easier to pass judgement and criticize than it is to give a compliment. Thank you for everything.

Jerry Mitchell- Investigative Reporter, the Clarion Ledger

(Excerpt) Great to be with you. This is a poster, fbi poster, of three missing civil rights workers, one is James Chaney. I happened to visit his grave in Mississippi and brush away the leaves:

“There are those who are alive that have never lived and those who are dead, yet will live forever. Great deeds inspire the living.”

I’m here to talk about Medgar Evers and Bernon Damon. Medgar Evers fought the nazis, came home to Mississippi and turned around and had to fight racism all over again. On the same night that president Kennedy talked about how people still aren’t free Medgar Evers was shot in the back and his wife cradled him, his kids saw the blood and screamed.

I found Evers killer. Here he is.

I wanted those records. I was obsessed. A couple weeks later the jackson police cleaned out a closet and found the photographs of Evers’ murder and the prosecutor found the murder weapon in his father in law’s closet and Beckwith’s thumbprint on the murder weapon.

I was interviewing Beckwith without him knowing that I was opening up the case again. he was spewing one racial rant after another. As I left him he said if you write negative things about white people, god will punish you. In 1994 when a jury convicted Beckwith of Medgar Evers’ murder and the word guilty rang out, waves of joy cascaded down the hall.

It made me realize that the impossible IS possible. There were hundreds of these kinds of killings that took place that were never prosecuted.

Before hate there is fear and before fear there is dishumanization. I’ve had threats and yes that’s frightening but it’s given me a gift as well which is the gift of living fearlessly. we all can live fearlessly. It’s not about living without fear at all. It’s about overcoming those worries and fears that keep us from living lives that matter. It means standing up to hate. It means standing up even when we know we’re going to be ostracized for doing the right thing.

It dawned on me, each day we are etching the words of our lives. What will your headstone say?

About naturestage

Miranda Loud is the Founder and Artistic Director of the non-profit NatureStage based in Waltham, MA, and is an interdisciplinary artist - classical singer/organist/filmmaker/photographer and environmentalist. She writes about the vital need for education to include a more heart-centered approach to studying other species that leads to a sense of stewardship. Naturestage creates works that foster empathy and kinship with other species, using the emotional power of storytelling in different art forms, mainly film, photography and music. She is also a public speaker on art and social change. Her current projects include The One Language Project, Park Dreams, The Elephant Project, and Elephantasia which all use different art forms to encourage a mind shift in how we relate to other species by asking "How would the world be different if we viewed other species as someones instead of somethings? If, instead of drawing lines, we drew circles?"
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