Story by Whitney Carter. Photos provided by Race to Kindness.
What were you doing at 12 years old? Chances are, not as much as Orion Jean.
The Grapevine/Colleyville ISD 8th grader has dedicated much of his young life to making the world a better place. While many would call him a superhero without a cape, he said that for him, it’s simply a “Race to Kindness.”
“My path to the Race to Kindness [initiative] was a unique one,” Orion says. “I remember receiving an email from my 4th-grade teacher about the National Kindness Speech Contest. I decided to submit an entry despite it being due the next day.”
Orion ended up winning the contest and a cash prize. He could have used the money for anything, but he decided to pay it forward.
“I was inspired to make a difference in my community, so I used the prize money from the competition to start Race to Kindness,” Orion says. Race to Kindness is Orion’s way of hosting campaigns and events that help his mission of using kindness to change the world.
His first project was called the Race to 500 Toys. “In one month, we collected 619 new toys for the kids at Children’s Health Hospital in Dallas.”
After Orion’s initial success, he saw the impact he could make and decided to take it so many steps further.
He took the Race to Kindness initiative on the road with his next venture: Race to 100,000 Meals. He partnered with a local dining app, Tango Tab, to help provide meals for food-insecure families.
From there, his mission evolved from nourishing bodies to nourishing minds.
Orion says they are currently working on the Race to 500,000 Books. They have partnered with local literacy non-profit organizations like Book Drive for Kids, Literacy Achieves, and national literacy non-profits like Reading is Fundamental and Reading Partners.
“We held book drives to collect new and gently used books,” Orion explains. “We raised money for our literacy non-profit partners to purchase new books and encouraged people across the country to donate books in the areas in which they lived. I also received several corporate donations that helped us eventually meet our goal of 500,000 books.”
The COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on childhood literacy greatly influenced his decision to get the book drive off the ground.
Once Orion reached his goal of 500,000 books, he continued to hold his own Race to Kindness Free Book Fairs in various communities so that they could distribute the books to children/families. He says he held one of my free book fairs in May at the T.R. Hoover Community Development Center in partnership with the Dallas Mavericks, the State Fair of Texas, and other local organizations. In all, they had more than 300 people in attendance.
“The best part was there was no limit on how many books an individual could take home,” Orion says. “Nothing is more gratifying than seeing a kid or an adult get excited about picking out a book they love. Seeing those smiles made all the efforts and preparations worth it.”
Orion shares that his objective is to increase book ownership and literacy rates in underserved communities with low access to literature called “book deserts.”
Orion says he does not do this work for recognition, but rather does what is right for those who need it. That mindset earned him international recognition and an interview with Hollywood actress, Angelina Jolie for TIME Magazine.
“It was an incredible feeling to be named TIME’s 2021 Kid of the Year. Being nominated amongst some of my peers who were also doing amazing work around the country was a high honor. The day I won was a day I will never forget; it was almost like an out-of-body experience,” Orion says.
According to Orion, the part he was most excited about was having a larger platform to talk about the life-changing effects of spreading kindness with others and the opportunities to help even more people around the world.
While Orion’s accomplishments are many, he said the Race to Kindness is never over. This summer, he is traveling the country and spreading his message of kindness to both kids and educators. He also hopes to grow his career as an author.
“I am truly blessed to already have an opportunity to write my first book, “A Kids Book About Leadership.” In this book, I encourage everyone to unleash the leader inside them; regardless of their age,” Orion says.
His hope is to inspire everyone who sees his story to do what they can, where they are. To learn more about Orion and how you can get involved, you can visit his website here.