Category Archives: Staples HS

Jeremy Dreyfuss, Clement Mubungirwa And Refugees

As countless hopeful refugees feel whipsawed by events that seem to change hourly, individual stories are providing human faces for a crisis that can seem far away and difficult to grasp.

Jeremy Dreyfuss knows one of those stories well. And he told it even before the current refugee crisis seized America’s imagination.

He’s a 2011 Staples grad. In high school he discovered a passion for film and TV production in the Media Lab. Instructors Jim Honeycutt and Mike Zito encouraged creativity, and provided a welcoming space for free expression.

Jeremy Dreyfuss

Jeremy Dreyfuss

Jeremy went on to study film and TV at Boston University. Today he works at Business Insider in New York, helping lead a Facebook-based lifestyle publication for millennials. It’s fun, creative work.

But there’s another part of his resume that’s worth noting. “Seeking Refuge: The Story of Clement Mubungirwa” is a video that shows — simply and powerfully — the effect America has on refugees.

And the impact one refugee can have on America.

In his junior year at BU, Jeremy wanted to tell a multi-layered story. He’d always loved sports, so he searched for something more than just “an athlete doing something impressive.”

He stumbled on an article in a Louisiana paper about a boy from the Congo. Clement had escaped from brutal war, wound up in Baton Rouge, overcome adversity, found football and was propelled into a new life. About to begin his senior year of high school — with a possible college scholarship ahead — he suddenly was denied the chance to play. He’d repeated a grade because his reading level was low. Now — too old — he was ruled ineligible for sports.

Jeremy reached Clement by phone, and was taken by what he heard. The filmmaker flew to Baton Rouge. He met Clement, the family that took him in, and others. He returned one weekend in October, with his camera.

Clement Mubungira with the family that welcomed him into their Louisiana home.

Clement Mubungirwa with the James family, who welcomed him into their Louisiana home. Clement’s mother, Masika, is next to him in the front row.

“I thought the story would be about a kid from a war-torn nation who used sports to find a community,” Jeremy says. Clement was cheering for his team from the sidelines, and that’s what the filmmaker expected to focus on.

But it was Homecoming weekend. Clement had been nominated for king. That became the magic moment of Jeremy’s video.

“When Clement’s name was announced as the winner, the crowd erupted,” Jeremy says. “All the other candidates embraced him. It was a joyful moment.

Clement Mubungira is crowned Homecoming King.

Clement Mubungirwa is crowned Homecoming King.

“He’d been robbed of the opportunity to play his senior year, but he was not robbed of an amazing community. He’d found a home, and they were touched by his special character.”

While studying abroad in London that winter, Jeremy spent nights and weekends editing his film. He entered 5 festivals, winning first place in Oklahoma for documentary, and 2nd in a student contest in Los Angeles.

As for Clement: He enrolled in a school in Texas, but returned to Baton Rouge. He’s working now, trying to go back to college. Pro football is no longer an option. But, Jeremy says, the joy Clement found leading his team from the sidelines may spur a career in coaching.

Though Jeremy made his video before the current immigrant controversy, he believes its message resonates strongly today.

On one level it’s about “the transformative power of sports: making bridges and breaking language barriers,” he says.

But it’s also about how by embracing a refugee like Clement, the citizens of Baton Rouge helped him reach his potential — and grew in the process too.

Jeremy loves his job at Business Insider. But he hopes to keep exploring ways in which sports can unite people of diverse background, and open amazing new paths for refugees.

“There are a lot of stories like Clement’s out there,” Jeremy says. “It’s important for people to understand how great immigrants can make us all.”

Click here to view “Seeking Refuge: The Story of Clement Mubungirwa.”

(Hat tip: Jim Honeycutt)

Clement Mubungira

Clement Mubungirwa

Bradley Stevens Paints Washington’s Interior

Like the rest of President Obama’s cabinet, Sally Jewell is gone.

But — at least in the Department of Interior’s Washington, DC office — she will never be forgotten.

That’s because her portrait now hangs there, alongside her 50 predecessors.

It’s a non-traditional painting. And it’s of “06880” interest because the artist is Staples Class of 1972 graduate Bradley Stevens.

A Wrecker basketball star (and rock guitarist) who earned both a BA and MFA from George Washington University in 1976, Stevens is one of America’s leading realist painters. His work — depicting Vernon Jordan, Allen Iverson, Felix Rohatyn, Senator Mark Warner, and dozens of other politicians, financiers, educators, judges and sports figures — hangs in the Smithsonian, US Capitol, State Department, Mount Vernon and Monticello.

Bradley Stevens, at work in his studio. (Photo/GW Magazine)

Bradley Stevens, at work in his studio. (Photo/GW Magazine)

His Sally Jewell commission came on the recommendation of collectors of his work in Seattle, who knew her. Her previous job was CEO of REI, based in that city.

Last April, Stevens met the secretary at Interior headquarters. Over the next 8 months, as he worked on the portrait, they met many times in his studio.

Stevens hiked with Jewell in the Cascades. “Luckily,” he says, the experienced outdoorswoman — who has climbed Antarctica’s highest peak — “chose a more moderate mountain.”

He posed her on the Manassas battlefield in Virginia — near Stevens’ home — at sunrise, to get the right light.

“It’s not your typical government portrait,” Stevens says. “The landscape plays a prominent role in the composition.”

But, he says, because as head of the National Park Service — and because of her love of the outdoors — he thought it was important to paint her in front of Mt. Rainier. It’s an iconic image of her home town, and she’s reached its summit 7 times.

Jewell — who as secretary helped expose underprivileged young people to the environment — asked Stevens to include Youth Conservation Corps volunteers on the trail behind her.

In the portrait, she wears silver tribal jewelry. That symbolizes her efforts to protect Native American sacred lands.

Sally Jewell's official portrait, by Bradley Stevens.

Sally Jewell’s official portrait, by Bradley Stevens.

The painting was unveiled at the Department of the Interior on January 13. There was a big ceremony, with many speakers.

Stevens says, “It was an honor to get to know Secretary Jewell. She is passionate and driven about her work protecting our nation’s lands.”

She is also “a humble and self-effacing public servant. It was never about attracting attention to herself. Her focus was solely on doing the right things for the environment. This experience restored my faith in government.”

President Trump has nominated Montana congressman Ryan Zinke to replace Jewell. A frequent voter against environmentalists on issues ranging from coal extraction to oil and gas drilling, he received a 3 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters.

 

YouLobby: Staples Grads Power Grassroots Democracy

The Trump election — particularly the aftermath of his inauguration — spurred yuuuuge numbers of Americans toward action.

Amid the marches, rallies and Facebook posts, a common theme emerged: To effect change, people must engage in the political process. Protests are one tool — but actually contacting elected representatives is key.

So who you gonna call?

For folks engaging in their first form of activism — anyone, really — knowing how to reach your legislators is not always easy. (That was true during America’s previous protest movement too: the Tea Party.)

That’s where YouLobby comes in.

The home page of YouLobby.org.

The home page of YouLobby.org.

The website is a 1-stop shop to help citizens contact their senators and representatives. It offers a range of issues — healthcare, climate change, education, women’s rights, immigration, civil rights, the Supreme court, constitutional crisis — to weigh in on.

And it provides a sample call script, for users who can’t find the right words to convey their disappointment/distrust/dismay at the latest news.

YouLobby is the brainchild of Aaron Eisman and Kira Ganga Kieffer. Both are Staples High School 2004 alums; both graduated from Brown University 4 years later.

They took very different paths to their current project.

At Staples, the 3-year Authentic Science Research course (and mentor Dr. A.J. Scheetz) sparked Aaron’s curiosity. He also served as yearbook editor.

brown-logoAt Brown he concentrated in applied math, with a focus in economics. He did biochemistry research at Yale for 2 summers.

After college he worked for 5 years as director of technology at an asset management firm,where he taught himself to code, and manage online data and cloud computing.

Then he made a career change, into medicine. Two years working as a research coordinator at Massachusetts General Hospital reawakened his passion for science research, which he continues to do at Brown’s Alpert School of Medicine. He’s in his 2nd year — while also doing research in biomedical informatics. The aim is to use healthcare data to improve clinical outcomes.

Kira was a 4-year writer (and senior co-editor-in-chief) for Inklings, the Staples newspaper. Steve Rexford encouraged her to do investigative reporting, and break stories that might be unpopular with administrators. She co-founded an after-school reading club for girls at Beardsley Elementary School in Bridgeport, and worked for United Way — early experiences in social outreach and community engagement.

A history and religious studies concentrator at Brown, she became passionate about studying evangelicalism and politics. She examines those very timely topics now, as part of Boston University’s doctoral program. In between, she spent 6 years in corporate marketing.

Kira and Aaron, at Staples High School's senior prom.

Kira and Aaron, at Staples High School’s senior prom.

Oh, yeah: Aaron and Kira dated as Staples seniors. They’ve been together for almost 13 years — and got married in 2015.

Over the past few months, politics was all they talked about. They grew increasingly concerned about the health of American democracy; threats to women’s, LGBT and civil rights; the need for universal healthcare; the denial of climate change; the importance of environmental protection and industry regulation; immigration and refugee crises; racial and religious intolerance — you know, all those minor issues.

After the election, the couple began calling their representatives. They attended the women’s march on Washington. It was their first protest, and they were hooked.

“We decided these causes are worth fighting for,” Kira says. “We needed to work to make our country work better, and treat all people witih respect.”

While struck by the massive crowds of diverse people, all standing in solidarity, Aaron and Kira worried that grassroots energy might fizzle out. Driving back to Massachusetts, they talked about the importance of engaging their representatives.

They decided to make a tool to help. They came up with the “YouLobby” name, and when they got home they bought the domain name. Aaron put his coding skills to work. Kira did the same with her marketing talents.

Kira’s mother gave important feedback: She said the daily script made it easy to call.

Two weeks later, they launched.

Kira Ganga Kieffer and Aaron Eisman in Washington, the day after the inauguration.

Kira Ganga Kieffer and Aaron Eisman in Washington, the day after the inauguration.

The website is simple. Other sites do similar things, but without the ease of use, visual appeal and social media presence of YouLobby. A Facebook page sends out daily updates, and the pair use the hashtag #EveryCallCounts on Twitter and Instagram.

Aaron and Kira’s site also offers important bullet-point facts and arguments, and a homepage “Issue of the Day.”

Reaction was overwhelmingly positive — and instant. Within 24 hours, users from 29 states were calling their representatives. Over 500 zip codes have already been entered.

These days, Congress is inundated with phone calls. Citizens turn up in record numbers at town halls and constituent meetings. YouLobby is doing what it can to keep the pressure on.

Democracy is not a spectator sport. And no one knows that better than Kira’s mother.

She had never called a representative in her life. Using YouLobby, she now calls every day.

And the aides who answer the phones know her by name.

Remembering “Wolfie”

Mike Connors — for 30 years one of Westport’s best-known bartenders, at the Black Duck, then at Bogey’s and most recently at Partner’s Cafe, both in Norwalk — died this morning.

Connors — universally called “Wolfie” — apparently suffered a heart attack.

mike-connors-2

It took a lot to take down Wolfie. He graduated from Staples High School in 1978, where he had a storied football career. He went on to play at Syracuse University, then returned home and served as an assistant coach at his alma mater.

Wolfie was the perfect bartender. He knew everyone, welcomed everyone, talked to everyone. Though he worked for the past couple of years one town over, and lived in Stratford, his big heart was always in Westport.

Details on services have not yet been announced.

Mike "Wolfie" Connors

Mike “Wolfie” Connors

Staples Grad Dies In Pakistan Automobile Crash

Reda Gul — a Staples Class of 2016 graduate and former “Student of the Month” — died in a road accident in Pakistan on Tuesday.

Reda Gul

Reda Gul

According to The News — a Pakistani website — Reda was a U.S. citizen. Friends in Westport say that after Staples, she returned to her native country to study medicine, in Peshawar. As a freshman, she played on the Staples basketball team.

The News reported that the driver — a friend of Reda’s — lost control of the vehicle, which overturned on the Peshawar-Islamabad Motorway. She was killed instantly; the driver was injured.

A funeral was held in Pakistan. Condolence cards to the Gul family may be sent to 60 Hales Court, Westport, CT 06880.

Move Over, “Hamilton.” Forget It, “Camelot.” “Dear Evan Hansen” Rocks.

“06880” could post stories every day about Justin Paul, and never run out of things to say.

We could, but we won’t.

Nevertheless, the latest news about the 2003 Staples High School graduate — who with his songwriting partner Benj Pasek is a Golden Globe winner, Oscar nominee, movie and stage and TV sensation, and basically the hottest thing on the musical theater horizon since Rodgers and Hammerstein — is pretty impressive.

The original cast recording of “Dear Evan Hansen” — a Broadway smash — debuted at #8 on the Billboard chart. That’s higher than any cast recording since 1961, when “Camelot” appeared for the 1st time at #4.

To answer your question: “Hamilton” first showed up at #12.

That’s today’s Justin Paul news. We’ll be back soon with more, for sure.

(Want your own “Dear Evan Hansen” cast recording? Click here!)

Staples: The High School That Rocked!

It’s a story so outlandish, folks who were there don’t believe it: In a 2-year period in the mid-1960s, the Doors played a concert at Staples High School.

So did Cream. The Yardbirds. Sly and the Family Stone. The Rascals. The Animals. The Beau Brummels.

Plus over the next few years, the Byrds, Rhinoceros, Buddy Miles, J. Geils,  Peter Frampton and Taj Mahal. And Steve Tallerico, before he became Steve Tyler.

I saw most of those bands. I’ve written about it, on “06880.” So has Mark Smollin, a 1970 Staples grad, in his great book The Real Rock & Roll High School: True Tales of Legendary Bands That Performed in Westport CT.

Still skeptical? Now there’s even more proof: a video documentary, called “The High School That Rocked!”

high-school-that-rocked-poster

It’s a labor of love from Fred Cantor, a 1971 Staples alum who missed most of those performances, but is now making up for lost time.

Rock has never died — witness all the young rock lovers born decades after Jim Morrison died — and Cantor enlisted the help of a very recent Staples grad to bring his vision to reality.

Casey Denton (Class of 2014) led a high-level Emerson College camera and sound crew, then edited the final prodcut.

Doors posterThe video includes research Cantor had done for Smollin’s book, and over a dozen interviews with people who were there at the concerts. (Spoiler alert: I’m one of them. Our recollections seem pretty accurate, despite the admonition that if you remember the ’60s, you weren’t there.)

Cantor focused on a 2-year period, when 6 bands now in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame all took the Staples stage. He is convinced no other high school that could make such a claim.

The video also includes Staples grads from that era who made their mark in the music world. One is Paul Gambaccini, perhaps Britain’s most famous music presenter. Another is Charlie Karp, who at 16 years old was influenced by the concerts to leave Staples and join the Buddy Miles Express. A third is Emmy winner Brian Keane.

Cantor is working with the Westport Cinema Initiative, Westport Historical Society and Levitt Pavilion, to bring “The High School That Rocked!” to a wide audience here.

He’s also entering it in festivals (film, not rock). The first is Film Fest 52 at the Bethel Cinema (Wednesday, March 8, 6 pm VIP party meet and greet, 7 pm film, followed by a Q&A and reception). It will also open the SENE Film, Music & Arts Festival in Providence on April 25.

You don’t have to have seen any of the Staples concerts — or even to have been alive then — to love this film.

But if you were there, you’ll appreciate the final credits.

They say the film was produced by “Sally’s Record Dept. Productions.”

Ginger Baker, Cream's drummer, at Staples. (Photo copyright Jeremy Ross)

Ginger Baker, Cream’s drummer, at Staples. (Photo copyright Jeremy Ross)

 

Kelly Powers: Westport Privilege Meant Straddling 2 Worlds

TEAM Westport’s essay contest on white privilege has sparked plenty of conversation, both on “06880” and — thanks to an AP news story that went viral — everywhere else.

Alert reader and Staples High School graduate Kelly Powers has a unique vantage point. She writes:

It was my first day at Saugatuck Elementary School. I had moved to Westport that summer, and was less than thrilled to enter a new school.

Little did I know I was extremely lucky. The Westport school system opened doors and granted opportunities I could only have dreamed of in my hometown of Port Chester, New York.

Yet instead of basking in my fortunate circumstances, I noticed — and pointed out, without hesitation — that no one looked like me.

Everyone stared. I had kinky hair, a “boys” haircut, tanned skin, and I used alien vernaculars no one seemed to understand. Those who did understand were quick to teach me the “proper” way of speaking.

I’d love to say that I had a remarkable ability at age 9 to deconstruct the stigmatization that was placed upon me. But I didn’t. Instead I answered questions like, “Do you live in Bridgeport?” I watched the confusion as people saw me with my white dad. Then came the next question: “So you’re adopted?”

I’m not denigrating my classmates for their curiosity, nor did I take offense. I’m simply noting that from the very beginning, I learned I would be under the microscope. To escape these confines, I would have to fully integrate into the new culture I was thrown into.

Kelly Powers (center), with Staples High School friends.

Kelly Powers (center), with Staples High School friends.

It didn’t take long to mold myself to Westport’s standards. The only thing I couldn’t mold was my skin color, which proved to be a blessing and a curse. I was just as much a Westport kid as my classmate who got a hand-me-down Audi for their 16th birthday. (I got a Subaru, which could be argued is more Westport than an Audi. But that’s not the point.)

I lived and breathed the bourgeois lifestyle. I expected the world to work with me, never against. Did I notice the bits of microaggression, stigmatization or alienation I endured? No, because I was feeding them. To escape the microscope, I fed into the hegemonic ideologies that form the bubble that encases the town, and more specifically, Staples High School.

I was not surprised to see a Facebook page filled with “mean spirited” (every “ist” you can think of) memes, from Staples students.

The Staples environment is filled with racism. The quicker you accept that, the easier it is to assimilate. For a student of color at Staples, it always proved beneficial to juggle the “us not them” and “them, but not really” outlook.

For Kelly Powers (right), life was not always a day at the beach.

For Kelly Powers (right), life was not always a day at the beach.

“Us” meant being a part of the Westport world, where we complained about having to put our laundry in the hamper for the cleaning lady. The “not them” referred to the other people that who match our skin tone but lived an incomprehensible, and disregardable, lifestyle.

On the flip side, “them, but not really” allowed students of color to pick and choose the desired traits of their racial background when it was encouraged and deemed appropriate by those around them, even if they really had nothing to pull from. It wasn’t uncommon to hear a student of color who grew up in Westport say, “I’m totally afraid of black people, I wouldn’t dare go to Norwalk alone at night,” but then turn around and say, “I’m that loud because I’m black.”

The way to survive was to feed the biases, which began by belittling the group of people your peers associated you with. I constantly stoked the fires of prejudice, to stay afloat.

The “us, not them” and “them, but not really” outlook paved the perfect path to shaping one’s identity by the group that was in power: white, privileged, heterosexual teenagers.

I experienced this first hand by constantly being told the way I acted was because of my racial background. However, the real reasons lay locked away. If I ever combated this assumption, I would have been ostracized.

I saw it happen to students of color who called kids out for their prejudice. Not only did I not realize how confining it was to be forced into a tightly woven box using the fabric of essentialism, but they didn’t even realize that it was wrong.

Even though I’m biracial, I was labeled “black.” Even though I’m Italian, I was labeled “ghetto.” Even though I lived in Westport, I was associated with Bridgeport.

Kelly Powers today.

Kelly Powers today.

In the Westport I grew up in, a place people would not dare call anything other than “open, inclusive, and liberal,” these issues simply weren’t discussed.

I believe Westporters are so afraid of the word “racist” because it’s heavy and is seen as a binary. In reality, it’s a spectrum. We all have racial biases — it’s natural for our brains to categorize based on superficial attributes — but it’s not okay to denigrate entire groups of people due to perceived differences.

However, is it fair to expect a group of students who very rarely escape homogeneiy to be empathetic to other walks of life?

We can break this cycle. We must encourage students to talk about it, encourage the difficult conversations, write essays about white privilege, volunteer at a soup kitchen outside of Westport.

It’s never too late to unlearn prejudice. But first you must acknowledge that it exists.

Danny Pravder And Kid Cudi Rock Jimmy Fallon

If you watched the “Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” last night, you saw Kid Cudi perform a fantastic version of “Kitchen,” backed by a full string section.

If you watched really closely, you could see Danny Pravder on piano.

Danny Pravder (right), backing King Cudi on national TV.

Danny Pravder (right), backing Kid Cudi on national TV.

The 2012 Staples High School graduate earned a B.A. in math and computer science from Skidmore College. But music is his passion.

A few weeks after graduation, he drove cross country to try to make it in L.A.

Days later, Kid Cudi needed a pianist for “Does It,” a track on his new album “Passion, Pain and Demon Slayin’.” Music director Steve Velez — who Pravder had met 2 years earlier, on a classical music tour of Vienna, Salzburg and Prague — suggested the recent arrival.

Danny Pravder

Danny Pravder

Pravder nailed it — then improvised a coda for “Releaser,” another track. A few takes later, they had the version used on the album.

That January, Pravder joined a chamber collective called the Da Capo Players. Velez is the music director and cellist for that group too.

When Kid Cudi was booked for the Jimmy Fallon gig — with those strings — Pravder was invited too. He flew to New York on Tuesday. They rehearsed that night.

There is no piano on the original “Kitchen” track. Pravder improvised, on live TV.

Though the camera focuses almost entirely on Kid Cudi, there was a brief piano solo — with a spotlight.

Danny Pravder (left) with King Cudi and members of the Da Capo Players, backstage at "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon."

Danny Pravder (left) with Kid Cudi and members of the Da Capo Players, backstage at “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.”

Today’s snowstorm delayed Pravder’s return to California. But it won’t slow down his career.

Ahead are more studio projects. A future in dance accompaniment. World travels, performing piano.

And — no doubt — many more TV appearances, with the greatest performers in the land.

(Click here to see last night’s performance of “Kitchen” with Kid Cudi and Danny Pravder.)

Kyle Mendelson Drives Cross Country, For America

Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell say it. Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama say it too: In these polarized times, Americans should think not about what divides us, but what unites us.

Kyle Mendelson is actually doing something about it.

The 2010 Staples High School graduate is not a politician. He’s not a pundit, or a preacher. He’s just an ordinary guy, wanting to make a difference one day at a time.

Okay, maybe not so ordinary.

At Staples he was known for lacrosse. He played a year of D-I at Manhattan College, then transferred to Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles. He studied political science and social urban policy, focusing on the social causes and psychology of urban gangs. Each summer, he worked as a Compo Beach lifeguard.

Kyle Mendelson and his family, during his Staples High School lacrosse days.

Kyle Mendelson and his family, during his Staples High School lacrosse days.

In 2014 Kyle moved to New York City. He got involved in education reform and after-school programs, through New York Cares and the New York Urban Debate League. He’s now completing a post-bacc year, researching education policy.

Recently, on a run, he heard an interview with Maya Angelou. Her words inspired him to “help, understand and fall in love with the humans who make up this country again.”

He’d already been thinking about ways to become more socially active — without being overly political.

“Ever since this past election cycle began, I think — regardless of political preference — there was a trend to abandon our humanity and citizenry, and separate ourselves into categories.

“It seems like our culture has decided to tick boxes on what applies to them — socioeconomic standing, gender, ethnicity, religion, level of education, etc.”

Kyle hopes to find a way to address Americans as humans, not “divided individuals.”

Which is why this May, he’ll drive across the country. His route will take him through many red states. Along the way — stopping in Phoenix, El Paso, Austin, Houston, New Orleans, Montgomer, Atlanta, Charlotte, Washington, Baltimore and New York, ending in Bridgeport — he’ll meet with religious leaders, elected officials, non-profit executives and community organizers.

More importantly, Kyle will devote a full day in each city to volunteer work. That way, he says, he can “better understand and work, as an American, to help each community improve where it most needs.”

Kyle already has his route mapped out.

Kyle already has his route mapped out.

This won’t be his first cross country trip. In fact, driving across America is one of his passions.

He believes that seeing the nation by car allows each person to “truly understand the complexity of this country. It’s not often displayed in the media or pop culture,” which is dominated by urban hubs of social influence.

It’s one thing to see the broad expanse of America first hand. It’s another to “sit down, speak, meet and work with the human beings in each community to realize we’re all the same — just with different stories.”

He hopes to realize that “we all have our struggles, concerns and stresses. But we are all far more similar than dissimilar. And at the core of our division right now, we are all (for the most part) trying to do what is right and decent for us and our loved ones.”

Unfortunately, Kyle says, “we often forget that we’re part of something greater.” He hopes to help people realize that we can come together by “just loving, and helping one another through empathy.”

As he drives across the land, Kyle will carry some of Westport with him. Growing up here “110% shaped me into the person I am,” he says.

However, moving here from L.A. the summer before 7th grade was a shock. As his parents drove him around his new town, he looked for homeless people. He was shocked to realize he would not continue to see poverty.

As he got older, Kyle says, “I gained such an appreciation for the fact that I was from a place that was so highly educated and well read, and had a group of people who had powerful influence on the world around us.”

Seeing the economic and social dichotomy between Westport and Bridgeport sparked his interest in political science. Research in his major led him to education policy. Kyle says that “education is the all-powerful tool by which we can empower a community, and help it to reform from the inside out.”

Kyle Mendelson today.

Kyle Mendelson today.

Half of his cross country trip is selfless. The other half is “totally selfish.”

Personally, he hopes to “walk away with a renewed sense of patriotism and love for humans, who just want to love and be loved.”

He also wants to inspire each person he speaks or volunteers with to go and help others, talk to someone with a different background, or better understand that “our divisions don’t make us any less human.”

Even inspiring just one person to do that, he says, may create a ripple effect that “makes the world just a teeny tiny bit better.”

(Want to help Kyle Mendelson help others? He’s raising money for expenses; click here to help. Excess funds will be donated to organizations he partners with along the way. To suggest a community organization or leader for Kyle to partner with — or to join him for a leg — email BeKindDoGood.KTM@gmail.com)