Blog Posts

A race to kindness and even more books across the country

This blog post is part of our National Reading Month series focused on how reading unites communities and inspires endless possibilities. Read our Q&A with 12-year-old Orion Jean, the 2021 TIME Kid of Year and friend of RIF, to learn how he has inspired thousands of children to read, learn, and grow nationwide.

Orion, you first connected with RIF as part of your Race to Kindness initiative. Can you tell us a bit about how you came up with the idea for Race for Kindness and share a few details with our readers on what it is?

The Race to Kindness started when I received an opportunity to compete in a national kindness speech contest. When I won, I used the prize money I was awarded as seed money to start my first initiative, Race to 500 Toys, where with the help of my community, I was able to collect over 600 toys for a local hospital. Since then, I have completed the Race to 100,000 Meals, where in the span of one month, with the support of a local non-profit organization, countless volunteers, and corporate donors, we successfully collected over 100,000 meals for the food insecure. My next race, the Race to 500,000 Books, donated over a half a million books to school districts and nonprofits (one of which being Reading Is Fundamental) and via “Race to Kindness Free Book Fairs” around the country.

You’ve done amazing work with Race to Kindness. In particular, your efforts to raise funds and to collect and distribute books has been inspiring. Why is reading such a passion for you, and what is your hope for all kids around reading?

I enjoy reading because it gives me the opportunity to walk in someone else’s shoes. I can experience different worlds and cultures, and learn new things. I attribute so much of what I have experienced to my love of literacy and I believe that every child deserves the same access to books that I have been fortunate enough to receive.

RIF has had the opportunity to partner with you on several initiatives over the past couple of years now. We are thrilled that your next work with RIF will be hosting our Rally to Read Read Across America Day event livestreaming on March 2nd to classrooms and homes across the country. Please tell us why you are excited to partner with RIF on this event that will live-broadcast nationwide from the Barnes & Noble store in New York City.

I’m ecstatic to once again partner with Reading Is Fundamental on such a special occasion as “Read Across America Day" and its Rally to Read initiative. Working together in the past has been an amazing opportunity to spark the joy of reading in children across the country. I look forward to sharing this incredible day with authors and readers alike.

You have many impressive accomplishments—including authoring your first book, A Kids Book About Leadership—and have inspired children across the country with your efforts. What was it like authoring a book, and is it something you want to do again?

As an avid book reader, I always wanted to have the opportunity to share my own stories as well. Writing A Kids Book About Leadership allowed me to put my thoughts on paper for the world to see. It was a bit nerve wracking, but also one of the greatest feelings in the world. I am excited to share that I am working on a new picture book for children. I look forward to sharing this new story with the world soon.

You have already built a resume that includes writer, speaker, motivator, and of course 2021 TIME Kid of the Year. Tell us what it meant to be recognized with this award? How has it impacted your life?

I remain humbled to be honored as the 2021 TIME Kid of the Year award. As a result of this distinction, I have been able to share my “Race to Kindness” message with people all over the world, both young and young at heart. While I will always be grateful for the recognition of the things I’ve accomplished, my true motivation will always be the impact kindness will continue to have on those around me and throughout the world.

I usually would ask this question of someone finishing up high school or college, but here you are in middle school, and I feel compelled to ask: Where do you see yourself in the future? Do you already have a career path in mind, and do you think all that you’ve accomplished so far sets the stage for that?

I know that I would like to continue telling stories; whether that be through writing or directing or any other career path, only time will tell. But, if there’s anything I’ve learned throughout this entire journey, it’s that ANYTHING is possible. I hope that what I’ve done inspires other children (and adults) to know that whatever they want to do, whatever change they want to make: it, too, is possible.

And I have to add, my friends at TIME for Kids recently launched a great career exploration tool to help other young people discover their passions and career possibilities: Your Hot Job!

With our shared goal of inspiring a joy of reading among all children, what is the one piece of advice you would give all the families and educators reading this blog to inspire the child(ren) in their life?

The advice that I would give to children and adults alike is that if there is something that you are passionate about, you have to go after it. Life is too short to second-guess ourselves, and no one wants to look back on what they could have done. Always believe in your abilities and talents, because if you put your mind to what you want to achieve, they can take you far. And, I believe that for many, finding that passion begins with a book.