The MY HERO Project: Inspiring Future Generations
The MY HERO Project is a non-profit organization that uses media, art and technology to celebrate the best of humanity. We serve millions of students around the globe through our website, teacher training, and media arts educational programs. The work of MY HERO illustrates potential and practical contributions of using artistic media to enforce, create and sustain heroic ideals and behavior. MY HERO believes that for students to thrive, they need positivity, hope, and an understanding that it is possible to overcome obstacles through perseverance.
We live in an increasingly globally connected world where the power of media has a profound impact on youth. All too often, in the past, the mass media has not featured diverse heroes, did NOT celebrate the accomplishments of unsung heroes – women and youth, especially those from underrepresented minorities. MY HERO does this.
MY HERO Founders: Jeanne Meyers, Karen Pritzker, and Rita SternMY HERO
Edward R. Murrow said, “There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance, and indifference in the world.” In August 1995, at the birth of the Internet, convinced that there was a need for positive media, Jeanne Meyers, Rita Stern and Karen Pritzker decided to launch MY HERO online as a not-for-profit educational website. The idea was to create a safe space online where visitors worldwide could share stories celebrating the best of humanity to educate, inspire, and bring hope to young people to help them face the challenges that lie ahead.
Who we are: We are filmmakers, writers, artists, activists, scholars, teachers, students and people of all ages around the world who contribute to the creation or representation of inspiring heroes through media, art and educational resources in MY HERO’s Digital Learning Platform and Multimedia Library.
MY HEROThe MY HERO Team
Our work, governed by a prestigious and supportive Board of Directors, is part of a larger social movement that recognizes the many pressing problems in our world and the need to build resilient citizens and create new heroes in the face of increasingly complex global challenges. With over 20 million pages viewed annually, MY HERO has a profound impact on teachers and students. Our work helps bridge the digital divide, promote peace and understanding, and allow people - especially youth - to have their voices heard in a safe, commercial-free environment.
Today, MY HERO offers opportunities for learners of all ages from all around the world to inspire and be inspired, celebrating diverse heroic role models who are working to promote kindness, peace, social justice, human rights, inclusivity, equality, environmental awareness and/or simply tell their own story.
Why Do We Need to Celebrate Heroes/Role Models?
Now more than ever, children, teachers, and life-learners yearn for messages of hope and courage to face the challenges that lie ahead. MY HERO provides an oasis of goodness within the Internet with our ever-growing media library of stories celebrating positive role models across the world.
There has been much speculation in the press of late as to why, particularly now, we need to celebrate and promote such positive role models. The answer: “Positive role models influence our actions and motivate us to strive to uncover our true potential and overcome our weakness. Having them pushes us to make the most of our life. Role models are a must for self-improvement because we must have a standard to strive for or (with which to) compare ourselves.”[i]
But what is a role model?
According to the research, “Role models are often seen as a way of motivating individuals to perform novel behaviors and inspire them to set ambitious goals. In educational and occupational settings, this is especially true for members of underrepresented and stigmatized groups. In these contexts, role models are often regarded as a panacea for inequality, by the general public, policymakers, and the academic literature alike (e.g., Bosma, Hessels, Schutjens, Van Praag, & Verheul, 2012; Dean, 2014; Peacock, 2012; Wright, Wong, & Newill, 1997).”[ii]
Why is it important to offer such positive role models, particularly for young people today?
Kinsella et als 2020 study of adolescent perception of heroes shows:
- Heroes uplift others – inspire and offer hope
- Heroes protect others and help others to cope, providing emotional and social support
- Heroes provide an important role in support of identity exploration and formation – a clearer sense of self through reflection on the qualities of their own heroes[iii]
In the paper, ‘Adolescent Positivity and Future Orientation, Parental Psychological Control, and Young Adult Internalising Behaviours during COVID-19 in Nine Countries,’ researchers analyzed data collected from adolescents and their parents between 2016 and 2020 in nine countries to assess associations among pandemic disruption and perceived increases in anxiety and depression in young adults and whether positivity and future-oriented thoughts, impact those relations. It was found that both positivity and future-oriented thinking’did indeed have a major impact on an individual’s mental health.
“Positivity is generally understood to be protective against psychosocial maladaptation, especially when faced with stressful events. It is a relatively stable trait across developmental periods and is linked to better physical health … positivity is a basic attitude needed to face major challenges and includes both self-esteem and optimism.”[iv]
MY HERO currently offers an abundance of examples and stories of positivity, all relevant for either children, teachers, health care workers, parents or for those struggling, particularly in the current face of adversity.
So many of our featured heroes exhibit positivity, but some more than others demonstrate how the power of resilience can overcome adversities – be they great and small obstacles. And it is through their stories that others will be inspired to become their own hero, particularly in the face of today’s difficulties/global challenges.
There can be no better way to plan for one’s future than by being inspired by what others have done before. MY HERO not only offers countless stories of positivity but many examples of resilient and inspiring individuals who have followed a dream or a path in order to help themselves, help others or raise awareness. Past and present-day heroes help shape future heroes.
Examples of Positive and Future-Oriented Heroes
Matthew J T Stepanek was born on July 17, 1990. His hero was former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who described Stepanek as "the most extraordinary person whom I have ever known.”[v] Mattie suffered from a rare disorder called dysautonomic mitochondrial myopathy. His three older siblings died from the same illness. The condition was unknown until his mother was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease in 1992, after all four of the children had been born.
Karen Derrico"Artsongs" - a portrait of Mattie Stepanek and Micah
From the beginning, Mattie’s mother Jeni encouraged Mattie to express his feelings in words and showed him how he could use poetry to cope with his own challenges and to share his tremendous joy for life with the world around him. When he was six years old, Mattie was nominated by his Children's Hospice Volunteer, Jim Hawkins, as a hero on the MY HERO website for his profound wisdom and poetry.
MY HERO reached out to Jeni to see what MY HERO could do to help Mattie share his inspiring poems with the world. She asked if a computer could be donated to Mattie so he could share his poems on MY HERO. By the time Mattie was twelve years old, he had published five New York Times-bestselling books and had met all of his heroes and, in the process, became one of theirs. These included Oprah, Jimmy Carter, and Larry King. As a result millions of people have learned about Mattie's "Heartsongs" and have been moved, comforted, and inspired by his words.
Today, MY HERO continues to recognize Mattie’s legacy, and, with Jeni, award the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Poetry Prize each year, celebrating Mattie's legacy of working for peace and showing all of us the power of art to enrich our lives and bring hope and resilience to us in our time of need.
Mohamed Sidibay is a leading voice for children's rights and equal access to quality education. Mohamed was a former child soldier from Sierra Leone. During high school, and in college, he worked as a MY HERO intern, hosting events for peace and social justice. He is now an international attorney, a UNESCO and Global Partnership for Education Advisor, and MY HERO Board Member.
Mohamed SidibayMohamed Sidibay advocates for education for all at the United Nations.Said Mohamed:
In a world where the media sensationalizes violence, the importance of organizations like MY HERO cannot be understated. MY HERO came at a time in my life when my world was in complete disarray. Unable to understand the world outside of the one I had grown up in, MY HERO taught me the true meaning of life by empowering me through the use of media and storytelling.
Eva Haller is a Holocaust survivor, philanthropist, activist and mentor working to promote peace and social policies that effectively deal with today’s global challenges. Eva is a MY HERO Board member and annually gives the Women Transforming Media Award in The MY HERO International Film Festival. She also produces a Salon Series featuring outstanding leaders, artists, and activists archived in The MY HERO Library.
Eva HallerEva HallerSaid Eva:
My greatest joy is to help young people when they’re struggling with a good idea, with clearly something that could make a difference. I would love to help them. I am so impressed by the outstanding work of MY HERO. Twenty million people visit their website annually to see the filmed profiles of extraordinary role models.
Likewise, these role models aptly demonstrate that adolescent positivity and future-oriented thinking, which, according to the research by Skinner AT et al., “…can (also) be a protective factor in the face of difficulties,[vi]” protecting against depression and anxiety.[vii]
We seek solutions in human action:
MY HERO has long understood the potential for heroic figures to promote positive social and psychological outcomes, especially for youth. But as we live in an increasingly globally connected world where the power of media has a profound impact on youth. We have established that to thrive, students need hope and an understanding that it is possible to overcome obstacles through perseverance. Students are further empowered when they see the achievements of others like themselves – it helps them understand their own ability to achieve their goals and thus follow in these heroes’ footsteps.
MY HEROMY HERO iEARN
Therefore, it is critical to the well-being of all of our children that we promote understanding and an appreciation of diverse heroes from all walks of life. The MY HERO Multimedia accomplishes this. MY HERO has long emphasized the transformational power of our focus on heroes who bring out the best in human nature, in order to increase cross-cultural understanding and to make the world a better place. We do this through taking a positive take on global affairs, as opposed to the negative news we are all exposed to, thus providing hope and inspiration.
What Makes a Personal Hero?
Elie's Wiesel states in his essay for the MY HERO book: Extraordinary People on the Heroes Who Inspire Them, “There are different heroisms for different moments in time. Sometimes just to make a child smile is an act of heroism.’[viii]
MY HEROMY HERO bookAccording to theologist and friend of MY HERO, Charles Harper, “Human beings are entrusted with a very special place in creation; a place that calls us to embrace and live by certain values, values including kindness, generosity, altruism, forgiveness and peace. Heroes help us define, develop and live by those values… real heroes send us to the source of their vision and dreams.”[ix]
This speaks to the core of the MY HERO mission, and, while we do honor and commemorate well-known heroes, we actively encourage learners to research and celebrate their own everyday heroes or role models.
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: "A role model is a person who serves as an example by influencing others. For many children, the most important role models are their parents and caregivers. Children look up to a variety of role models to help shape how they behave in school, in relationships, or when making difficult decisions. Children also look up to other relatives, teachers, coaches, and peers."[x]
Researchers recently found that 2/3 of adults have a personal hero. Research also shows that adolescents, as well as adults, most often mention parents, family members, and friends as their heroes.[xi]
It has also been documented in recent literature that a personal hero can offer psychological resources to both adults and children, especially during challenging times, like those we are living in today.[xii]
Harper agrees: “Heroes can be found in the daily stuff of life, from parents to teachers, from student-counselors to that unexpected angel who helps you change a tire during a dark and rainy night. Real heroes take us one step closer to fulfilling our human potential.
Identifying, spotlighting, and promoting heroes who personify values that strengthen the fabric of the global village would be a step toward a better future for all of us.”[xiii]
For this reason, MY HERO does not only focus on famous and historical heroes but on modern, unsung, personal and everyday heroes. And by shining a light on such positive role models, we help learners, whatever their age, explore Harper’s core values so that they can realize their own potential so, ultimately, they too can make positive changes in the world.
We believe that the acts of researching and documenting individuals that are doing good in the world empowers students to discover more about themselves as well as glean inspiration and confidence to walk in the footsteps of their heroes and to pay it forward.
How do they pay it forward? There are many ways to pay it forward, including sharing stories of their own heroes to inspire others, by emulating their heroes in their quests, or by sharing their own personal stories of courage and success.
Everybody needs resilient role models, especially children. Abundant research shows that parents, as well as coaches and other adult mentors, play vital roles in developing a resilient child. [xiv]
MY HERO continues to seek to increase the diversity of representation of global heroes, adding multimedia stories of more women, youth, and people of color, and the everyday voices and calls to action from all walks of life that inspire hope in our world and create future heroes.
We celebrate those who bestow kindness, acts of generosity, acts of compassion, acts of sympathy, respect for the planet, respect for diversity, and respect for oneself and for others. We also celebrate heroism in action -those that help the week, protect human life and protect nature and wildlife. Our heroes include firefighters, the police, doctors, nurses, doctors without borders and the international medical corps, to name a few.
 Future orientation is broadly defined as the extent to which an individual thinks about the future, anticipates future consequences, and plans ahead before acting.
 kindness, generosity, altruism, forgiveness and peace
 According to an article supplied by Dr. Tasnova Malek from the National Suicidal Prevention Center studies have shown that, “We, (as individuals) have the capacity to influence a friend, a community, and even the world when we start to share our personal experiences with others… When you inspire people to go after their dreams, overcome setbacks and live their best lives, you’ll create a pool of inspiration for you to draw from again and again. The inspired become the inspiring.”
[ii] Morgenroth, T., Ryan, M. K., & Peters, K. (2015, November 23). The Motivational Theory of Role
Modeling: How Role Models Influence Role Aspirants’ Goals. Review of General Psychology.
Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/gpr0000059
[iii] Kinsella, E. L., English, A., & McMahon, J. (2020). Zeroing in on heroes: Adolescents’ perceptions of hero features and functions. Heroism Science, 5(2), Article 2. https://doi.org/10.26736/hs.2020.02.02
[iv] Skinner AT, Çiftçi L, Jones S, Klotz E, Ondrušková T, Lansford JE, Alampay LP, Al-Hassan SM, Bacchini D, Bornstein MH, Chang L, Deater-Deckard K, Di Giunta L, Dodge KA, Gurdal S, Liu Q, Long Q, Oburu P, Pastorelli C, Sorbring E, Tapanya S, Steinberg L, Uribe Tirado LM, Yotanyamaneewong S. Adolescent Positivity and Future Orientation, Parental Psychological Control, and Young Adult Internalising Behaviours during COVID-19 in Nine Countries. Social Sciences. 2022; 11(2):75. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci11020075
[v] "Mattie Stepanek, Singer of Heartsongs". Legacy.com. 22 June 2014. Retrieved 18 Oct 2014.
[vi] Skinner AT, Çiftçi L, Jones S, Klotz E, Ondrušková T, Lansford JE, Alampay LP, Al-Hassan SM, Bacchini D, Bornstein MH, Chang L, Deater-Deckard K, Di Giunta L, Dodge KA, Gurdal S, Liu Q, Long Q, Oburu P, Pastorelli C, Sorbring E, Tapanya S, Steinberg L, Uribe Tirado LM, Yotanyamaneewong S. Adolescent Positivity and Future Orientation, Parental Psychological Control, and Young Adult Internalising Behaviours during COVID-19 in Nine Countries. Social Sciences. 2022; 11(2):75. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci11020075
[xi] Kinsella, E. L., English, A., & McMahon, J. (2020). Zeroing in on heroes: Adolescents’ perceptions of hero features and functions. Heroism Science, 5(2), Article 2. https://doi.org/10.26736/hs.2020.02.02
[xii] Bland, Andrew M. 2018 The Personal Hero Technique: A Therapeutic Strategy That Promotes Self-Transformation and Interdependence. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, pp. 1-24https://www.millersville.edu/psychology/files/bland/bland-hero.pdf, Kinsella, E. L., English, A., & McMahon, J. (2020). Zeroing in on heroes: Adolescents’ perceptions of hero features and functions. Heroism Science, 5(2), Article 2. https://doi.org/10.26736/hs.2020.02.02