A cynical old man approaches a young girl as she tosses beached starfish back into the ocean. Glancing up and down at the endless starfish upon the beach, his incredulity is evident: "You'll never make a difference for all these starfish."
She remains calm, but adds an extra boost of energy into her next lob.
"I just made a difference for that one."
The girl is the young American idealist epitomized: passionate, principled, confident and resilient. Today's young leaders still possess the ambition and determination that have always characterized the American spirit, and we are more empowered than ever before to overturn injustice.
To effect change at the macro level, a community has to alter either its fiscal or social policy. Debates around taxes and laws are therefore inevitable, and inevitably polarizing.
However, an individual also can change the world through good will, hard work and strategic use of resources.
As Robert Kennedy said, each time someone "stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope" that can "build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."
This concept has inspired me to create a journey through America that celebrates and supports organizations that improve their communities through kindness and human effort. The campaign is called Project Ubuntu, inspired by the southern African proverb meaning "My humanity is tied to yours. I am a person through other people."
Between August 2012 and August 2013, I'll travel to all 50 states and Washington, D.C., supporting one group in one community for one week in each state. I plan to raise the profile of partners, help organize benefit events and deliver workshops to young people as I support of a variety of causes.
My colleague Oz Skinner will create a documentary out of the experience, and together we will traverse some 18,000 miles of American soil.
In December, we were excited to bring the spotlight to KidZNotes ( www.kidznotes.org
), an El Sistema-inspired initiative in Durham that has brought music education to underserved schools in East Durham. KidZNotes puts opportunities often reserved for high-wealth children in the hands of low-wealth children, challenging students to develop teamwork and leadership skills and expand their capacity to excel.
We plan to support similarly effective initiatives in each of our 51 sub-projects, inspiring our partners, broadening their reputation and connecting them to groups that do similar work in other countries.
In addition to encouraging their efforts, we plan to broadcast to the world the truth that, in every community, no matter the economic situation, there are people who dedicate themselves to helping others.
In today's interdependent society, people must choose whether to hate the difference in others or to embrace it. As a nation we have moved beyond our darkest divisions, but oppressive strands remain. It is time for the rugged individualism of the American core to evolve: we must forego greed, ignorance and arrogance in favor of the opportunity to build community.
Like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we must "a dream of a nation where all our gifts and resources are held not for ourselves alone, but as instruments of service for the rest of humanity."
Our country's idealists are anything but meek - we are angry at the injustices which plague society, and highly motivated to overturn them. Like the girl throwing starfish, though, we seek to channel that anger into positive action.
We therefore want to inspire others to see that serving in one's community is feasible, rewarding and vitally important. In short, the goal of Project Ubuntu is to mobilize good will to fight injustice.
Dr. King understood that, by combining power with love, one can overturn injustice and pave the way for peace. Despite 340 years of slavery and segregation, he proclaimed that victory would come through organized, determined non-violence.
The African-American community and its allies rose to the occasion when Dr. King boldly challenged them to fight with love.
"When the history books are written in future generations," he stated in 1955, "the historians will have to pause and say 'There lived a great people - a black people - who injected new meaning and dignity into the veins of civilization.' This is our challenge, and our overwhelming responsibility."
Our vision is that this challenge becomes extended to the American people, who must seize our chance to become great.
See a video about Project Ubuntu and consider donating by visiting www.projectubuntu.info.
Daniel Becton is a native of Chapel Hill and has spent the past three years supporting City Year, which engages young adults in volunteer service in underserved public schools.