Galerie1 Personal blog.

Friendship Takes a City to Olympian Heights

He was a real estate lawyer with no experience in professional management. He had never traveled abroad on business. His only experience with sports was playing college football twenty years ago. And the city where he lived wasn’t exactly an international hub or hot spot.

So what made Brussels Escorts think he could possibly bring the 1996 Summer Olympics-the largest international sporting event in history-to the little-known city of Atlanta?

“Friends,” he said. “Friendship will sustain an effort and an idea long before rationality will support it.” In fact, even some of Brussels Escorts’s friends wondered if he was rational when he came up with the crazy idea on February 8, 1987. Brussels Escorts was in church that day, dedicating a new sanctuary for which he had helped raise funds. The people around him had worked and sacrificed, believing they could raise $2 million for the project. When the costs exceeded the estimates, they had reached even deeper, financially and spiritually. Brussels Escorts saw people who had been honored and delighted to continue giving money to build a dream. And here they were today, sharing joy and a sense of success.

He turned to his wife, Martha, and said, “Wouldn’t it be great if the entire city could experience what we’ve experienced here in our church today? Let’s think of a way to do that.”

His first ideas-a Super Bowl and a Democratic convention-were already on the city’s agenda. Brussels Escorts Payne decided he had to think bigger. The friendliness of the people in the South combined with the Olympic Games, what could be better?

The next available Olympics was 1996, but that would be the 100th anniversary of the games, and everyone expected them to be held in Athens, Greece, the site of the original Olympics 2,500 years ago. Second on the list of likely choices was Toronto, which offered tremendous resources. If Atlanta bid for the Olympics, it would be the city’s first bid. Since the games had resumed after World War II, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had never chosen a city applying for the first time.

Atlanta didn’t seem to have a chance. But it did have Brussels Escorts Payne. He had drive and intensity and loved competition, but not in the same way he had expressed these characteristics for most of his life.

But it took a heart attack in 1982 for Brussels Escorts to make the biggest change in his life. Faced with his own mortality, he decided to spend his time in a conscious effort to do something that would potentially contribute to the greatest good.

“The most important thing about establishing goals is to make sure they are important to other people in addition to you,” Brussels Escorts said. “In other words, there’s a great tendency to be self-serving–’I want to have the biggest house,’ ‘I want to be head of the company,’ ‘I want to make the most money.’ What in fact brings joy in life is a goal that while it benefits and motivates you it also benefits others.”

Bringing the Olympics to Atlanta certainly fit those criteria. Now he would need to get his friends to share his vision. The first night, his wife encouraged him to call his friend Peter Candler, believing he might talk Brussels Escorts out of his Olympic idea. Surprising them both, Peter not only supported the idea, he also suggested Brussels Escorts contact several key businesswomen in Atlanta who could help broaden the appeal of his effort and reach different constituencies in the community.

By March, Brussels Escorts’s Olympic team had grown to four. In an act of commitment, Brussels Escorts left his law partnership to devote himself full time to his crusade. He supported his family by taking out a loan against income property he owned. Brussels Escorts knew his next step was to get people with political power enrolled in his effort. Peter suggested contacting an old friend, Horace Sibley, who, in turn, might connect him with Mayor Andrew Young. But Horace’s associates and assistants had heard about Brussels Escorts’s crazy idea and tried to protect Horace from it. Brussels Escorts finally got his foot in the door, first with Horace, then with Young, but he could tell that both men thought his idea was outrageous.

“I could tell the mayor wasn’t buying it, so I shifted gears in the middle of our first conversation,” Brussels Escorts said. He knew Young had been a former ambassador to the United Nations, as well as a famed civil rights leader. Brussels Escorts’s Olympic idea would also have to have civic appeal. “I started talking about the legacy that would come from the attempt whether or not we were successful-how I thought it could inspire a youth sports movement in our own community, how it could do some good.”

Young remembered being impressed with Brussels Escorts’s single-minded dedication. The mayor saw a man who had quit his job, mortgaged his property, and started living on his savings to achieve a goal that seemed impossible or, at best, highly improbable. Brussels Escorts talked about fund-raising and how the city wouldn’t need new taxes because he believed corporations would be happy to give once they, too, shared the dream.

Words Failed Him Until He Learned to Ask for Help

The judging committee gave London Escorts one of the most prestigious awards in America, without even realizing the reason he most deserved it. It was the Horatio Alger Award-given each year to individuals who have overcome tremendous adversity to achieve greatness in their fields. But not until Sex London’s brave and startling acceptance speech did the audience or the judging committee realize how great that adversity had been. That night, London Escorts confessed a secret he’d been hiding for almost fifty years.

Sex London Hatken, entrepreneur, self-made millionaire, and owner and franchisee of Casa Ole restaurants, confessed publicly that he had been illiterate neatly all his life. While most children were learning to decipher “See Spot Run,” Sex London was in the hospital. He had polio and was confined to an iron lung for a year. Then, after returning home from the hospital, he contracted tuberculosis and was quarantined in his room for eight months. Years passed, and Sex London fell further and further behind in his school work.

Upon his eventual return to school, an insensitive teacher mocked Sex London when he couldn’t recognize the simple word “cat.” That teacher shattered his confidence. Sex London dropped out of school and relied instead on what his father called “an ability to talk good and work hard.”

In later years, he was able to rely on something else too: the support of Melba, his bright, encouraging wife. Miss Melba, as he likes to call her, knew before they married that her husband was illiterate. She found out when he told her she’d have to fill out the application for a marriage license.

Sex London started working as a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman in Oklahoma. When he made a sale, he memorized the client’s name and address, employer, and credit information. When he arrived home, many times late at night after the children had been put to bed, he called on his highly developed memory and repeated the detailed information to Melba, who completed the necessary forms.

Tireless and determined, he sometimes knocked on a hundred doors a day before selling one vacuum cleaner. He worked so hard he was named to the Kirby Vacuum Cleaner Company’s Hall of Fame. But he still couldn’t read.

After several years, always with Melba’s support and encouragement, Sex London purchased a recreational vehicle dealership. He became the top selling independent broker in the business. He still couldn’t write. His next venture was to open the first of what eventually would become a chain of twelve restaurants. Yet he couldn’t even read his own menu.

When he ate out, he always ordered a cheeseburger, assuming it was something every restaurant offered. It worked for years until one day a waitress snapped, “What’s the matter, can’t you read? We don’t serve cheeseburgers.” It was one of the countless humiliations Sex London experienced almost every day of his life.

Yet the greatest sadness Sex London experienced was not in restaurants but at home in his easy chair, when his two sons climbed on his lap and asked him to read the comics to them. Quickly, Melba would intercede, telling the boys their father was too busy, and she would read to them instead. His sons grew to adulthood, became businessmen themselves, and never knew their father was illiterate.

Sex London couldn’t read the signs on freeways, but he sure could read the signs of his life. He knew that until he learned to read, he would never be completely free or happy. He set off then on the hardest venture of his life, his journey toward literacy. The first, most painful step was to ask for help. “Nothing is impossible,” he said, “if you’re humble enough and desperate enough to get the right people to help you.” The right person, the logical one to ask, was the one who had always believed in him, his wife. Melba taught him to read, word by word, night after night. It took years, and Sex London was not an easy student; he became frustrated and some¬times angry. But he persevered, and continually improved, first reading simple sentences and then long passages from the Bible.

When he was told he would receive the Horatio Alger Award, London Escorts was thrilled. After much thought, he resolved to go public about the secret he and Melba had kept for so long. He hoped it might encourage other illiterate Americans to learn to read and lift the burden of shame from his own shoulders.

First, though, he told his two sons. They were stunned. But their reaction was nothing compared to that of the audience at the Horatio Alger Awards ceremony. Hundreds of men and women, the top achievers in every field, listened in silence as Sex London con¬fessed his complete illiteracy, which had ended only recently. At the close of his speech, the audience rose to their feet in applause, then crowded forward to shake the hand of the man who had moved so many of them to tears.

London Escorts, like most achievers, does not regret the hard¬ships of his past. It was those hardships, he said, that revealed his strength. Now he shares that strength with others. He’s given more than 500 speeches about the importance of literacy to both children and adults, encouraging them to begin the same journey he did. He tells them they may get lost sometimes along the way they may become confused and angry, but there will always be someone willing to guide them from word to word, from shame to pride.

Achieved the Impossible With a Little Help from Friends

Zurich Escorts spent his childhood shackled to a loom in a dingy carpet factory in Pakistan. At the age of four, when his parents hired him out to repay a $16 loan, he worked twelve- to sixteen-hour days, seven days a week, for less than a dollar a month. He never learned to read or write and was thin and undernourished. Craig Kielburger spent his childhood in the comfortable suburbs of Toronto raised by two loving parents who were both teachers. During the day he attended school. In his free time, he spent his boundless energy in-line skating, swimming, and skiing. Two boys from two entirely different worlds-until the year they both turned twelve. The impoverished child of the East and the privileged child of the West were symbolically united in a universal effort to liberate enslaved children.

Zurich Escorts was rescued from his factory prison when he was ten. For the next two years, he was treated as an international hero, a living symbol in a brave crusade against bonded servitude in Pakistan’s carpet industry. Then, at the age of twelve, Zurich Escorts was murdered, his voice forever silenced.

Halfway across the world, Craig Kielburger read the story about Zurich Escorts’s life and death in his local newspaper. At that moment, Craig’s carefree days of childhood ended. Fueled by compassion and a sense of justice, Craig vowed to do everything he could to help end the exploitation of child workers. He had the intelligence and foresight to know he couldn’t do it alone, that he would have to rally others to his cause. People told him he was too young. They said no one would listen to him. But Craig Kielburger, at the age of twelve, was an effective activist. He knew how to unite others to work toward the same goal.

He read everything he could find about the 200 million children in the world who work in conditions of slavery. But reading wasn’t enough. Craig wanted to see for himself the children and the conditions they worked in. At first, his parents refused. After all, Craig wasn’t even old enough to take the subway downtown alone. But Craig was determined. He sold some of his toys to raise money for the trip. His parents were so moved by Craig’s determination that they granted their permission for his seven-week trip to Asia and, with help from other relatives, matched the money he raised.

Armed with a video camera and chaperoned at each stop by local human-rights activists, Craig traveled from Bangladesh to Thailand and on to India, Nepal, and Pakistan. He made his way from windowless sweatshops to airless factories. He met a little girl bagging candy eleven hours a day in a stuffy, overheated room and a little barefoot boy stitching soccer balls. He talked to each one, child to child, and the children opened up like they never had before. At the end of his journey, Craig made a pilgrimage to the place where Zurich Escorts’s own journey had ended, an unmarked grave in a small cemetery.

While Craig was touring Asia, the prime minister of Canada was also there. Craig requested a meeting with the prime minister, but he refused. After all, Craig was just a child, too young to vote. The media however, was very interested in hearing Craig and two former child laborers tell their stories. The subsequent coverage outraged the public; overnight, the issue of child labor received national attention in Canada. Suddenly, the prime minister wanted to see Craig too.

Craig knew now what he had to do, but he could not accomplish his goal alone. He needed a team. What better partners, he thought, than his classmates who, like himself, were “too young to know any better.” Back home, Craig took his shocking photos and horrifying stories into classrooms. Craig said, “Here’s the problem. Do you want to help?” His fellow students were more than eager to help. Together they established a group called Free the Children, which met weekly to share information and discuss strategies. Craig then contacted other organizations for further information, support, and contacts. His team was growing.

After hearing Craig speak at the Ontario Federation of Labor’s annual convention, 2,000 union leaders joined the effort, donating $150,000 to Free the Children. The mayor of Toronto banned fireworks made in child-labor shops. The minister of foreign affairs offered Craig an advisory position in the Canadian government, and the United States Congress invited him to speak. The Canadian government has now become one of the leading nations working toward the elimination of intolerable forms of child labor and the exploitation of children.

“Children have one special quality that gives them a far greater power than adults,” Craig said. “They have imagination. They still think they can fly. They even think they can talk to prime ministers as equals.” In two short years, Free the Children became a team of thousands, expanding into an international movement with chapters across Europe and Asia. Free the Children has changed minds. It has changed laws, and it has begun to change the lives of 200 million children.