Investing in Relationships.
For someone not in the world of construction I’m surprised how much of my life I spend building and maintaining bridges. These bridges create support for my vision with UNITY Charity and my personal achievements.
Last year was filled with inconceivable life changing experiences I could never have dreamt would come about. I look at these experiences as beautiful mountains built from the accumulation of tiny snowflakes over many many years.
The past year I’ve had unforgettable experiences because of relationships I built and maintained over the years. These experiences are the results of many snowflakes (relationships, friendships, and hard work) that slowly accumulated into vast mountains (opportunities).
People ask me how I built UNITY. It is an impossible question to answer in a simple way as the amount of effort that went into each result spans across over a decade of hard work both building and maintaining bridges. (Hint: bridges = relationships :)
Building anything worthwhile stems from the power of maintaining connections with super solid human beings. This simple and powerful concept has helped me build foundation for UNITY and in my personal life.
Planting seeds for the future. Ävlsbyn, Sweden - June 20, 2015 Three years ago I met a Bboy named Mark Laino at an International break dancing competition called The Notorious IBE in Holland. Mark and I became good friends in a very short time as we partied together at IBE.
On our last night in Holland we thought it would be a good idea to go out in Amsterdam and party all night. We put our bags in lockers at the Schiphol airport and decided not to rent a hostel that night. We ended up not finding a place to go out and hung out on the cold streets talking and chilling (literally). Eventually we got tired and ended up sleeping on a bench in the freezing cold. Even though sleeping on a freezing bench sucked I made a great friend out of it.
Mark and I stayed in touch over the years and maintained the bridge we had built many years before. In June of 2015 Mark invited me to teach a dance camp in his home town in Northern Sweden. The relationship we had built turned into a beautiful opportunity to share dance with young upcoming dancers. I also worked with Mark and his crew (Exhiled crew) to create a school based outreach project similar to our work with UNITY Charity. Today Mark and his crew are launching this program in several schools across Northern Sweden.
This was a true full circle. Not only did I get to catch up with Mark and go to Sweden to share my craft but I also planted seeds that inspired Mark and his crew to start their own school outreach program.
Jumping in the deep end. Harvard University, Boston - July 12, 2015 A member of UNITY’s Board of Directors, Amy Baryshnik, recommended I apply to Harvard University’s Strategic Non-Profit Management program in Boston and request a scholarship. At first I thought it was way out of my league but then I looked at it the eligibility requirements just for fun. After over 12 years building UNITY I realized I JUST barely make the cut off to apply. Many bridges built to even be able to submit an application. So I built up the courage to write an application and poured my heart into it.
Once I applied I immediately forgot about it. I try to forget about potentially exciting things once I put them out into the world so I don’t get my hopes up.
A few months later I got a call to come in for an interview with the Harvard Business School’s Toronto chapter. They drilled me with a series of difficult questions. In the end, I felt honored to have even made it this far.
A few days later I got the call… I had been accepted into the program on full scholarship to Harvard. Tears flowed down my cheeks uncontrollably. The flow got even heavier when I called my mom and dad.
Hip Hop at Harvard baby!!
This was truly a life changing experience. I felt like a tiny fish in a vast ocean. There were over 150 non-profit Executive Directors from around the world and I was well below the average age of those attending. I learned so many valuable lessons that I brought back to UNITY. Ultimately, I would not have been able to access this opportunity without building over a decade of bridges from our work with UNITY. Now we have the skills, ideas and support network to take UNITY to the next level.
Missing the bus but making a friend. Hong Kong – Oct 3, 2015 In 2008 I went travelling throughout Asia. On my journies I met a Bboy (“breakdancer”) who lived on the outskirts of Hong Kong named Shingo. I took transit over an hour to go practice with Shingo and his crew called the “Relax Crew”. Little did I know that transit closed at midnight and I missed the last train. I was too focused on what we were doing, dancing.
We practiced outside on the concrete for over four hours sweating through about five t-shirts. At this point I was stinky and sweaty and had nowhere to go. The train did not open until 6am the next morning. Shingo offered to hang out with me on the street corner all night. We talked about work, relationships, dancing and life. Shingo became a great friend.
In summer of 2015 I received a phone call from Hong Kong, it was Shingo. I was very excited to see him call. He was calling with good news. He now runs a breakdancing battle in Hong Kong and confirmed sponsors to bring me out to judge his event! I never would have expected this from the day we battled each other in the blazing heat on the hard concrete. Shingo became a great friend overnight and I never would have even met him if I did not take a chance and get on that bus.
A lot of people ask me how I built UNITY. There is a long journey and process that leads to each exciting outcome. Anything great that I have achieved has come from years and decades of relationship building.
Invest in relationships.
Watch your snowflakes form beautiful mountains.