November 10, 2016

Healing a Divided States of America — the KIND of Country I See

Eight years ago, I left my cush, well-paying, high-profile job as a TV reporter in one of the largest markets in the U.S. because my internal GPS — my gut — told me so. I was tired of covering death and destruction and instead wanted to use my power of storytelling for good.

Today, I pledge the same pledge I made eight years ago. My job was and continues to be finding inspiring people and sharing their stories with the world. I realized after this divisive election that now, more than ever, the world needs to see, hear and feel more goodness.

I’m not going to lie. My heart hurts. I couldn’t sleep on election night and I wept in the dark.

My sadness wasn’t because of the election results. I cried because so many people are hurting. Red, blue … black, white… gay, straight or <FILL IN THE BLANK>, we all feel pain and joy. We are all more connected than we think. We all have the divine allowance of having the human experience.

This post isn’t about my political leanings. No matter what party line you’re on, this historic election shows us that, bottom line, people are hurting.

I’m an immigrant from Vietnam. My family came as boat people. My parents gave up their comfortable life in search for freedom, the chance at a proper education and the American Dream. We ended up in Sacramento, Calif. My first home was in a trailer park.

I didn’t think my own story mattered, so I lost myself in the stories of others. I was obsessed with reading. I read everything — even shampoo bottles aloud in the shower in a pretend broadcaster voice.

As fate would have it, I did achieve the American Dream I imagined for myself. I became a broadcaster, motivational speaker, university instructor and so much more. Thank you, America.

The first eight years of my career were spent in TV news as an on-air reporter. I covered car accidents, the economy’s ups and downs, politics and everything in-between. Most of the stories were about death and destruction. What often didn’t make it on-air were stories of humanity at its best.

I treasure the connections I made with people from all over — red and blue states and small towns and big cities. SO many people told me about stories — good news — that never made it onto TV.

During the economic meltdown of the late 2000s, I decided to leave it all. Mentors told me to hold on. The economy was bad and there were far fewer jobs on-air than there were traditional jobs. But I followed my heart. This led me to reconsider my career choice and ultimately I left TV news.

In contrast, I've spent the last eight years covering positive stories about everyday people around the world through my nonprofit, Go Inspire Go. Along that journey, more than 150 volunteers have pitched in to help my mission to tell the stories of these unsung heroes.

It's come with many hardships. There were times when I doubted myself, but I knew inside it was the right thing to do. I held on. There was a time when I only had 80 cents in my bank account. I held on. There were many times I knew better, so I did better. I remember Oprah telling Lisa Ling, “Once you know, you can’t pretend you don’t.” This inspired me to hold on when I felt like letting go.

I knew that even though I wasn’t rich or famous, I could connect to people on a deep, soul-to-soul level and inspire folks to be and do better for themselves and others. It’s like alchemy, this connection.

Here is a snapshot of a few stories of kindness and love that inspired mini movements of hope. People like Phoebe Russell, a San Francisco kindergartner who was sad to see so many hungry people in her city. She wrote letters asking people to give her aluminum cans so she could recycle them and donate the proceeds to the San Francisco Food Bank.



After sharing Phoebe’s story, a stranger on social media asked me to submit her video to nominate her as a Tyson Foods “Hunger All-Star.” They awarded her a special prize of 15 tons of chicken that was given to the S.F. Food Bank. About a year later, three kids in her former kindergarten class were inspired to replicate her “YES you CAN” drive and raised even more money. In the end, Phoebe’s efforts led to more than 200,000 meals for the needy in San Francisco.

In the Midwest, there’s Amy Pankratz, a stay-at-home mom from Sioux Falls, S.D., who made and prayed over more than 10,000 superhero capes for sick kids and their siblings around the world.



And in New York City, there’s Jorge Munoz, the “Angel in Queens.” For more than a decade, Jorge has devoted countless hours and half his school bus driver salary to purchase groceries, prepare hot, home-cooked meals and pass them out to more than 150 hungry people under a Queens subway station every day.



After sharing Jorge’s story, the worldwide community used their power to pitch in. People sent thank you letters. Random strangers gave money, baked goods and even new appliances to help. Len Harris Inc., a family-owned store in Flushing, N.Y., was inspired by all the generosity and threw in free delivery and set up of the kitchen equipment.

Friends from ServiceSpace heard about our surprise follow-up and wanted to cook for him, and a family from the Midwest moved by Jorge’s selflessness joined me in surprising him with a new refrigerator and stove. We captured this on video. Grab a tissue:



I’m not going to sugarcoat this — this journey has been effin’ hard. The challenges… the ego… letting go and not letting go.

Personally, professionally, spiritually, I have learned a lot about humanity and myself.

What can we all learn from this?

1. I believe people are genuinely good-hearted. Every video I’ve produced with my volunteers have inspired actions both small and large.

2. We are all gems. Some of us lose our sparkle and get dusty because of the characters in our stories who make up our lives. What if we all spent more time doing what we love? Surrounding ourselves with people we love, people who help dust us off and make us shine? There are so many people hurting in our country. It’s a wake-up call to the divided States of America. From jobs to homeland security insecurities, this brings to light the darkness many don’t see in our country. While we are witnessing so much pain across the board, I know there is more good than bad in the world. No matter what your party line, we as humans want to be seen, heard, felt and loved.

3. We have more power than we think. We all have the power to help others. We can’t control what happens, but we have the power to control the way we react. A smile, a kind act, a thoughtful gesture… My challenge to you: Do something nice for yourself and someone else today. The world needs it. The world needs you. Now you know, you can’t pretend you don’t. What can you do?

Onward and upward,
Toan

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