It happened to me yesterday. Our Environment Club had arranged for Simon Jackson of the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition (and Jane Goodall Institute) to come and speak to our students about advocacy and following their dreams. Now, I knew about Simon Jackson from the movie, "Spirit Bear: The Simon Jackson Story" starring two of my favourite actors Graham Greene and Ed Begley Jr., but I didn't know much about the man himself. I say "man" because even though I had thought of him as a teenaged crusader, he is now in his thirties and is a full time advocate for the preservation of endangered species.
As a speaker he was quite good, having mastered the "ah shucks" self-deprecating approach of many accomplished people. He claimed to be nothing special, just a nerdy kid growing up here on the North Shore who was nervous speaking in class but one who became energized by a cause. In this case, it was the preservation of the Spirit Bear, a white-furred genetic sub-species of the black bear who only survives globally in the Great Bear Rainforest of the BC Pacific coast.
Jackson founded the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition -- one of the world's first all youth-run organizations and the first involved in this issue -- with the hope of creating a new type of environmental advocacy group. Through the Youth Coalition, Jackson helped raise international awareness about the plight of the spirit bear -- helping make the issue the most supported conservation initiative in Canadian history and having it recognized by Time Magazine as one of the most critical environmental issues facing our planet. Over time the Youth Coalition became the world’s largest youth-led environmental movement with a global network of more than six million members in over 70 countries. And today, two-thirds of the spirit bear’s last intact habitat has been set aside for protection as part of what was the largest land protection measure in North American history, while one third remains threatened.
I kind of expected that this would be the thrust of his talk to our kids, namely the importance of preserving the fragile eco-systems of the rainforest with the spirit bear being the "poster child" for his campaign. In a day when we are constantly barraged by debates over the ecological impact of various pipelines (Kinder-Morgan; Keystone XL; and especially, Northern Gateway) it seem natural that we would hear the clarion call to arms to protect the environment.
Unexpectedly, that wasn't his message!
Instead, he spoke about the "Power of One" (reminiscent of the Bruce Courtenay novel set in South Africa in the 40s) in which he called on our students to get passionate about an issue and to get involved. Using himself as an example, he pointed out how an "average" kid could come up with new ideas and approaches and inspire others to do the same. He recounted that when he started, he had no idea of what he was going to do - he just had an overwhelming desire to do something.
His closing thought for our students was: "Passion is the engine of creativity". People have shared that sentiment before, I just don't recall ever having heard it expressed so simply and clearly. It was a great message for our kids, and me!