When talking with students, Brian Williams compares their lives to being dealt a hand of cards. Some cards are health or illness, wealth or poverty, strong families or dysfunctional ones.
“You can’t control the cards you’re given, and you can’t hand them back in,” he told Eagle Valley Middle School students Monday afternoon. “Sometimes people look at their cards and think, ‘This is a horrible hand, there’s no way I can win.’ But there are always people who can take a terrible deck of cards and come away winning.”
In his second year visiting the Carson City middle schools, he invited three students forward during his Think Kindness assembly with instructions to break a board in half by hitting it. He likened it to challenges in life that most people tend to back away from.
“Most people do nothing,” he told them. “But then some people take action. We call those people visionaries. Visionaries look at the world and how they would like to see it, then they go make it happen.”
Each of the students called on to break a board also invited two friends up to the front. Those friends were told to write compliments on the board.
Choosing the right people to support you, he said, is the best way to stack the deck in your favor.
“You are more likely to succeed if you surround yourself with people who encourage you, if you surround yourself with people who don’t let you quit,” Williams said. “If I surround myself with people who every single day remind me I can do great things, then I’ll do great things.”
A martial arts black belt, Williams draws on his training to encourage students to empower themselves and those around them through kindness — to become kindness ninjas. A Reno resident, he has spoken to more than 275,000 students across the country and traveled to Kenya nine times to carry out humanitarian projects.
As part of his presentations, he encourages students to participate in a 15-day challenge. Last year, the school collected more than 3,000 pairs of shoes to send to orphans in Africa.
This year, he’s leading students in what he calls, “a massive kindness explosion,” asking students to document all compassionate acts in a Kindness is Awesome Journal.
He challenged them to amass 5,000 acts in the next 15 days.
The school is also collecting clothing for families in need and homeless through the Faith Hope Love of Northern Nevada organization.
Williams will also be speaking at Carson Middle School and Carson High School this week. The Carson City Library is sponsoring a free, public, family presentation 6-7 p.m. Wednesday at the Carson City Community Center.
“We wanted to make sure all families in the community were able to hear his message,” said Natalie Wood, the library’s Creative Learning Manager. “All members of the community are encouraged to come.”
Cheri Mathis, a counselor at Eagle Valley Middle School, said families would benefit from the event.
“He’s such a dynamic speaker,” she said. “He gets the kids all fired up about being kind and giving. He’s worth seeing.”
Madi Caroll, 12, came away from Monday’s assembly with a changed perspective.
“It’s made me think we can all change the world,” she said. ”You can be any ordinary person, and still change the world by doing little things.”