FALL 2012 Q&A
Click for an interview with photographer Paul Mobley
with Katrina Fried, Author of Everyday Heroes
1. What makes an everyday hero?
In the context of this book, "everyday heroes" are not those, for example, that personify physical bravery. Though heroes such as veterans or fire fighters are by no means less praise-worthy, I chose in this book to feature crusaders for social justice and equality. Their work is humanitarian in nature. They are founders or leaders of successful nonprofits, representing a diverse range of causes and demographics. Offspring of the marriage of entrepreneurship and community service, nearly all self-identify as social entrepreneurs. All of the heroes in this book are Americans.
2. Some readers might perceive a contradiction in the phrase "everyday heroes." Is heroism an everyday phenomenon? Can the everyday be heroic? What did you mean by the title?
Many people think heroism is a quality reserved for an exceptional few—Gandhi, King Jr., Mother Teresa. These are heroes. But these heroes are to be idealized and looked to for guidance, like the North Star—a moral compass, not a literal road map. The more I read in researching and creating this book—and learned, and listened—the more obvious it became. The heroes of today are anything but rare. They are everywhere.
3. Do you think that we, as a society, do enough to recognize and reward heroism, and thus to encourage it?
Everyday heroes are stand beside you in the elevator and sit across from you on the subway; they're your next-door neighbor and your college roommate; they're teachers, doctors, ex-cons, priests, lawyers, inventors, and orphans. There are quiet heroes among us who embody the power and promise of the American spirit—ordinary men and women who have devoted themselves to uplifting the lives of others. And it is precisely their ordinariness that makes them extraordinary. Unlike our idols of the past, these new revolutionaries are not wrangling to become the dominant voice of reform. Their power stems from the aggregate.
4. As of this writing, the prevailing mood in the country is rather bleak. There is a sense that the world is in a bad way. Do the people in this book give us a reason to reevaluate, and in doing this book did you find yourself feeling any more hopeful?
Having spent hundreds of hours interviewing today's most accomplished social entrepreneurs, and hundreds more researching their histories and causes, these are the earmarks of modern philanthropy. With each hero's story there is yet another entry point to this bounty of munificence that flows all around us. And here's the real take-away: There is no contribution too small or insignificant. Whether you choose to show kindness to a loved one or a neighbor, to volunteer, to donate, or to build your own movement—you are helping to grow a culture of giving.
5. What do you think the average American stands to learn from reading the stories of these heroes?
Out with charity, in with partnership.
You're never too young.
You're never too old.
Crazy is good.
Entrepreneurs are born, not made.
You can't rely on the kindness of strangers.
Go big or go home.
True heroes never consider themselves heroes.
6. What did writing this book teach you about the role of the nonprofit in the United States?
The most universally defining quality of philanthropy today is unquestionably the shift in the relationship between the giver and the receiver. Gone are the days of the traditional donor-beneficiary relationship. The handout has been replaced by the handshake. Today's nonprofit reformers are interested in creating meaningful equal partnerships to empower communities and individuals to raise themselves out of poverty.
7. How did you find these everyday heroes?
The process of selection for this book was equal parts pleasure and torture. There were thousands of worthy candidates who deserve to be recognized and celebrated—how to choose just fifty? Our criteria narrowed the field somewhat.