Some people are born with great empathy. Others quickly develop a sense of altruism if they’re lucky enough to be raised by socially conscious families. But you probably don’t become a Humanitarian unless you’ve seen some stark realities. Helping our world often means understanding its traps, dangers and failures.
That’s not to say the five Humanitarians interviewed here have all been through something terrible. But they all had a lightbulb moment, worked a job, or made an educated decision that pushed them forward and turned an instinct for helping into a life of service.
Today, these inspiring people are improving school systems, protecting oceans and teaching the world how to feed itself. But what were they doing when they realized they could create change?
Angelov Farooq probably could’ve done anything he wanted with a Masters and Doctorate from UC Berkeley. But he turned his attention right back to his hometown of Riverside, California. That’s the place where childhood mentors helped Farooq find his own path to activism, entrepreneurship and government, long before people called him “Dr. Farooq.”
Raised by a single mother in a low-income household, Farooq is now the Vice President of the Riverside Unified School Board. He helps govern a district with 50 public schools and a half billion dollars in funding to be allocated.
No one has to remind you where you came from if you’re there every day and every year, improving the same systems that helped shape you. Learn more in the video interview above.
Maya Enista Smith
No one in this list had a starker turning point in their life than Maya Enista Smith. Her first day of classes at Rutgers University was Sept. 11, 2001. Faced with a national tragedy of history-altering proportions, she decided that very same day she wanted to enter the non-profit sector. She immediately applied for and secured a job at the youth activist organization Rock The Vote.
Today, Enista Smith is the director of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, which aims to inspire young people to change the world for the better. Click here for our full video interview with Enista Smith.
Urban farming consultant Nick Collins was a California kid, who, like most kids, never gave a second thought to his state’s agriculture. But after studying biology at Florida A&M University and coming back to California after college, it struck him that his both massive and heavily populated home state wasn’t using its farming resources intelligently or ethically:
“I can’t live here for the rest of my life and be part of this system unless I do something about it.”
This realization pushed Collins toward a career in agriculture that goes back to our roots as a society. As an urban farming consultant, he seeks to help ordinary people learn how to feed themselves with the food they’ve grown in their own yard, balcony garden, or greenhouse. Click here for our video interview with Collins.
Surfrider Foundation staff scientist Katie Day didn’t necessarily have a lightbulb moment when it came to protecting and preserving oceans. She had interned and worked to support marine life and coastal communities for a decade before getting hired on at Surfrider.
But she did experience clarity around turning her passion into real-world change. She had to be able to talk to people who didn’t look at the ocean the exact same way she did. Pursuing degrees in both environmental science and economics has helped Day communicate effectively with local governments and businesses when it comes to pragmatically and sustainably considering their beaches.
The Surfrider Foundation is committed to coastal preservation, ocean protection, clean water, pollution prevention, and beach access. Learn more in our video interview with Day here.
Some life paths reveal themselves earlier than others, and personal experiences can often spark changes. When nutritionist Sheela Mahdavi was a teenager, she was diagnosed pre-diabetic. Faced with a medical challenge she didn’t fully understand, Mahdavi began experimenting with her own nutrition, guided by a simple overarching principle: “food heals.” The young Mahdavi found that by simply changing her diet she could improve her health and her happiness, all without medication.
Today, she imparts that knowledge and tries to create nutritional awareness among the middle schoolers of the Beverly Hills Unified School District. Learn more in our video interview with Mahdavi here.