Creative leaders making a difference

How the cast of Jersey Boys, the PorterBellas, the Babineauxs, LeVar Burton, Tony Coppola, and AT&T are creating ways to spread joy. 


The news that some cities and states across the country are “opening up” has been a cause for hope for some and concern for others. For many of us, the news is a bit of both, because we’re not sure what will happen next. I know, if I’m not intentional about my thoughts, these uncertainties will lead to distraction and worry. Because of this, I have chosen to invest some time every day looking for examples of positive and hopeful leadership. I’ve found many examples of creative leadership, people finding ways to spread hope and joy. These people continue to inspire me, and I hope they inspire you as well. 


Sharing talent creates infectious joy

Members of fifteen international casts of the hit musical Jersey Boys came together to offer an incredible, heartfelt rendition of “Who Loves You” as a stirring tribute to the medical professionals and essential workers who are keeping everything going, who are, in their words, “out there protecting us, risking your lives to take care of us…” The video also asked viewers to donate to local COVID-19 relief efforts, inviting people to help share their gratitude.

An a capella student group from the Porter-Gaud School, the PorterBellas, posted a video on YouTube and Facebook with their take on the Pentatonix cover of A-ha’s “Take on Me,” even borrowing some of the pencil sketch aesthetic from the popular 1980s music video. These kids are clearly having a blast sharing their talent, and, based on the number of “reactions” and “shares” a lot of other people are enjoying it too. 

Speaking of people sharing music and infectious joy, another father-daughter duet is taking social media by storm. Philip and Elayna Babineaux shared their versions of the Disney’s Lion King classic, “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” and “I See the Light” from Tangled. They’re clearly having fun, and the pride they have on their faces listening to each other sing will put a little lump in your throat. 

Reading is FUNdamental

LeVar Burton has been sharing his love of reading and inspiring people to find their own favorite books for nearly four decades. After his long-running children’s program, Reading Rainbow, left TV, he transitioned his passion for promoting literacy to an app. Now, Burton is stepping up to offer something for adults feeling worried and alone in this challenging time. On his podcast and live on Twitter, Burton is reading short fiction aloud, just as he and others did when many of today’s adults were kids. His effort is a reminder that, sometimes, all of us need to hear a friendly, familiar voice. 

While Burton’s work is for adults, other celebrated authors have stepped up to encourage young people. JK Rowling, creator of the massively successful Harry Potter franchise, is inviting fans back into the Potterverse for games, puzzles, and other fun activities geared for kids or anyone who grew up loving The Boy Who Lived. And popular children’s author and illustrator Dave Pilkey, creator of the Dog Man and Captain Underpants book series, is working with the Library of Congress to offer interactive videos for his fans, including popular tutorials on how to draw their favorite characters from Pilkey’s books, so they can create their own adventures at home. 

From bars to backyards, the show goes on

COVID-19 closures have hit the hospitality industry hard. Not only are many servers and other hospitality employees who depend on tips out of work, so are local musicians who depend on bar gigs to pay the bills. Some of them have been entertaining people for decades, playing familiar pubs and festivals, attracting loyal fans to their shows. With bars and festivals closed and many public gatherings limited to ten or fewer, these musicians have been sitting home. Some, though, have chosen not to be idle. They are organizing neighborhood concerts, playing in driveways, staying socially distant. Or, they are taking their talents online, playing “live” concerts on social media, filming shows in their backyards or living rooms. These efforts are bringing people together and putting smiles on faces all over the world.

A well-deserved ‘Thank you’

“Since they are here for us, we are here for them…” begins a recent news release from telecom giant AT&T, announcing a new benefit for medical professionals. “Three months of free wireless service for frontline nurses and physicians nationwide on the FirstNet network.” AT&T Communications CEO Jeff McElfresh said this about the deal: “They are working around the clock, on the frontlines to combat the COVID-19 health crisis. We want to be there to keep them connected…”

Offering similar corporate generosity, many auto insurance companies are offering rate reductions or refunds to customers. In an economy where many people are out of work and many still working are working much less, these gestures make a significant difference. 

Many large chain restaurants or fast food eateries are offering free meals to first responders and medical workers. And smaller mom-and-pop operations are helping locally too. One example is Tony Coppola, owner of Terra Mia and Reginella in Gaston, North Carolina. Coppola and his staff have been preparing free meals for fire, police, EMS, and Salvation Army workers. So far, they have served more than 1,000 meals to help keep their local community heroes going strong. 

And this kind of generosity is spreading across the country with countless examples of local restaurants who have had to close due to the virus reopening to make food for first responders, medical workers, and hungry people in their communities. And, in many places, schools may be closed, but nutrition workers are still coming in, preparing meals for families educating from home, providing food for children who may otherwise go hungry.

Creating shareable happiness

All across the world, people are coming together to take care of their neighbors, making and delivering meals, sharing their talents, spreading encouragement, and offering hope. They are using what they have where they can, and each person is making a significant difference. 

This focus on acting on opportunities to help was summed up very simply and very well by LeVar Burton when the Washington Post asked why he started his read-aloud podcast. Burton answered with a simple, three-word thesis:

Because I could.

He needed no other reason to make a difference. Like many of us, Burton and his family have been stuck at home. In his case, that meant three generations under one roof, everyone feeling worry and uncertainty. Burton said he could have sat around. Instead, he looked for an opportunity to help. Now, more than a million people tune in to his weekly readings on Twitter, listening for a reassuring voice that helps to banish worry, fear, and loneliness.

Thinking about Burton, the PorterBelles, the Babineauxs, Coppola, McElfresh, and everyone out there finding ways to creatively connect, offer hope, and spread joy, it’s important to reflect on the fact that, in many cases, none of their circumstances had changed. Instead, they chose to shift their thinking about their circumstances, creating moments of happiness for everyone to share.


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