What would it be like if you could show the world what a million acts of kindness looked like?
This question may seem impossible to answer to most, but it was the foundation of Brian Williams’ career.
Williams was in between jobs when he was on the phone catching up with his former martial arts instructor who posed that very question. Although it was just a random thought, it sparked an idea with Williams that he wanted to test by speaking at local elementary schools to promote kindness.
“We had school teachers in our family, so I asked my mom and she said, ‘Why don’t you come to my school?'” Williams said. “It started as, ‘Let’s try it.’ We had no idea it would turn into an organization or even a career. That wasn’t even in my thought process. And then pretty soon other schools wanted it and it started to blossom.”
Once Williams began to hear back from schools that bullying incidences were decreasing after he spoke to students, he realized he had created something special. This led to the creation of his Think Kindness organization in 2009.
“We never talk about the word ‘bully,'” Williams said. “I never talk about it at all. And so that’s been one of the main parts of Think Kindness. We say we’re an anti-bullying organization that never mentions the word bully. We’re able to go into a school, decrease bullying incidences by up to 20 percent without ever mentioning the word.”
Since 2009, Williams has spoken to more than 650,000 elementary school students and on Wednesday afternoon, Public School 73 in the Bronx became one of the 173 schools that Think Kindness visited this school year. But this time, Williams brought along some local friends.
Aaron Hicks, David Robertson, CC Sabathia, Luis Severino, third-base coach Phil Nevin and general manager Brian Cashman attended Wednesday’s assembly as part of the Yankees’ HOPE Week, surprising the fourth- and fifth-graders in attendance.
“I mean I’ve given this presentation so many times. I’ve gotten to the point that I don’t really get nervous,” Williams said. “But when you have coaches and players there, I’m not going to lie I was nervous. But when you saw the reaction of the students and the reaction of the players all having fun and when we start seeing these written documents of random acts of kindness, it’s going to be pretty exciting.”
While waiting for the event to begin, one could hear the kids and teachers whispering, “I hope CC is here.” When the starter took the stage, he received a warm ovation.
“That was fun,” Sabathia said. “I did my backpack giveaway here, so I think a lot of kids know I’ve been here before. I remember being in fourth and fifth grade, sitting where these kids sat. So, it’s cool to be able to get out into the community for whatever reason.”
Williams then took the stage and shared how his martial arts instructor formed him into a “kindness ninja” — a person who does nice things for others without anyone knowing who they are — when he was growing up. To be a kindness ninja, one must follow three steps: start small, be brave and be kind.
“I like the message where he said you have to be brave to be kind sometimes,” Robertson said. “I thought that was a great message that I will try to take away and add into my life.”
Robertson shouted each of the steps along with Williams and the crowd before it was his turn to take the spotlight. The reliever challenged a student from the audience to come on stage and compete in a kindness rap battle, which required the two to take turns naming types of acts of kindness until someone could not think of anymore. Although he was on a roll to start, Robertson lost the battle.
“I was so nervous,” Robertson said. “I was just trying to keep my composure and come up with some great acts of kindness. I was warned, but I still wasn’t prepared. I didn’t have enough thoughts in the brain.”
Williams then challenged the P.S. 73 students to complete more acts of kindness than any other school he has visited. Each student received a journal to write down each act he or she completes, and it will be sent back to Williams for the school to receive its final tally.
“Acts of kindness can be the most simple thing and can make a change,” Hicks said. “If everybody does their own thing, you can actually change the world. Doing just simple things can change people’s day.”
Williams’ goal was to make a glass case of one million documented acts of kindness. With the Think Kindness organization already having 2.4 million acts sent to them, the next step is just to create the case.
“I think it’s a great concept, and I think he’s the perfect person to be spreading the news the way he acted with the kids,” Cashman said. “It turned the clock back a little bit for me about watching ‘Blue’s Clues’ or something like that. He seems like he’s just made for this part to share that message, and it’s great that he’s doing it.”