An 11-year-old Texas native’s mission to spread kindness in his local community has evolved into a national movement. TIME recently announced Orion Jean—founder of Race to Kindness—is the publication’s 2021 Kid of the Year.
From hunger to housing insecurity, the global health crisis exacerbated a multitude of longstanding issues. It was in the midst of the pandemic when Jean made the decision to dedicate his time to helping vulnerable communities. After winning the National Kindness Speech Contest in 2020, he used his prize money to fund Race to Kindness; a project in which he organizes an array of social good efforts.
Through Race to Kindness, the sixth-grader collected over 500,000 books to distribute to youth throughout the country in an effort to address the literacy gap and book deserts. He also hosted a food drive and provided over 100,000 meals for families facing food insecurity in the Dallas-Fort Worth community.
In an interview with Angelina Jolie, the youngster shared his purpose is rooted in uplifting people through generosity and hopes his efforts can serve as inspiration for others. “We can’t force others to be kind, but we can be kind ourselves and hope to inspire other people,” he shared. “So many people have great ideas but never act on them. I want others to know that they can start today. If there’s an issue or problem you want to solve, all it takes is just knowing deep down that it’s something you care about. I hope that by spreading kindness, I can inspire people to change their ways and be more kind in the future.”
Amongst some of the other Kid of the Year nominees were 13-year-old Brooklyn-bred DJ Samirah Horton—known as DJ Annie Red—who uses music to spread awareness about bullying and activist Mina Fedor who is taking a stand against anti-Asian racism.