bSmart Guide

Inspiring Story: Find Your Passion + Change the World (VIDEO)

Laurie Meadoff joined Cancer Schmancer in 2009 after a long history of executive producing programming for Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, ABC, HBO Family, MTV and VH1 as Co-Founder and CEO of Chat Ventures.  In 2001, she began a TV program, Chat the Planet – a conduit of conversation with young people around the globe via satellite and executive produced the critically acclaimed web series 'Hometown Baghdad' that reached over 350 million people.  Laurie founded The CityKids Foundation, known for its artistic and leadership programming leaving a legacy of mutiple non-profit organizations committed to the empowerment of urban young people.

 
Inspiring Story - Women in Business - bSmart!

Any empowered young woman can take a risk and get into their passion and build whatever it is.  I’m here as living truth to tell you.

Lesson 1 - No Is Not An Option

I have just finally figured out the title of my life book that I want to write.   Because I’ve done so many different things I’m passionate about, I couldn’t decide on a theme.  I’ve worked in prisons, started non-profits and for-profits, produced television and now I work with Fran Drescher in the health field.  So what’s the theme and how come I keep starting all of these things that, yes, change the world.  And what I realized when I tried to get a corporate sponsor for Cancer Schmancer and after he told me “no” three times, I said, “You know what? No is not an option.”  So the name of my book I plan on writing is No, Is Not An Option.  Getting what you need when the world needs what you’ve got – Stories from a Start-up Girl.  And, I am a start-up girl.
 
Lesson 2 - Ask "Where Am I Supposed to Be?"
 
I do believe that some of us are wired that if you listen deeply enough you can know your passion and what speaks to you.  I have been blessed by throwing myself into the universe and asking, 'Where am I supposed to be next?”  And if you really listen (and I do believe anyone is capable of this) if you really do listen you could find out and be guided as to what your passion is.  It’s a skill set to stop all of the “I would’ve, could’ve, should’ve…I’m trained to do this or that.”  And really take a look around.  One of the things I do well is really take a look around and listen.  And when you listen really deeply, I always find something drops in your hand and you’re guided.  That’s what I’ve done.

If you really listen (and I do believe anyone is capable of this) if you really do listen you could find out and be guided as to what your passion is.

 
Lesson 3 - Look Around and Listen
 
We do have to make a living and sometimes we’re in jobs that don’t turn us on or what you want to be doing.  But there is something about really being moved.  I believe that when you hear a great song, see something, or when something’s wrong and you feel it, there’s a deeper listening that you get (and everyone gets it) you know when you’re in connect and disconnect.  
 
Lesson 4 - Stop Criticizing Yourself 
 
And so I encourage everyone, especially young women, to stop beating up on yourself or criticizing yourself.  Open yourself up to listen.  I remember reading this one line in The Color Purple, 'I think God gets pissed off when we walk by a field and don’t take notice of the color purple.'  Take notice of the color purple.  Take notice of everything.
 
Lesson 5 - Give Form To Your Feeling
 
I grew up in a white community and I was bussed in to a private school on Long Island.  I’ll never forget going through a poor black neighborhood and seeing garbage on front lawns and old broken down busses and broken mattresses.  As I was being bussed from one community to another, I was 12 years old looking out the window and I said, “Not on my watch.  Not on my watch.”  I didn’t know what that meant.  I didn’t know it would lead me to work with kids and diversity and prison work.  But I knew I was looking and feeling and I was giving a form to feeling.  That is a theme in the work I’ve done – how do you create a form and something that is meaningful from what you’re feeling because that moves you.
 

That is a theme in the work I’ve done – how do you create a form and something that is meaningful from what you’re feeling because that moves you.

 
Lesson 6 - Share Your Power With the Community
  
I still consider myself to this day a youth-worker. That is what I am.  I love hanging out with young people.  I’m ageless with young people and I learn so much.  I was in Ohio University and I started a community Clay Center in Appalachia.  I would make this beautiful thing and come back and the windows would be busted in.  I would come back and the windows again would be busted in.  I was 20 years old and I said, “Here’s the key.  I’ll see you on Tuesday and Thursday.”  And when I left and then came back the place was completely cleaned up.  So what did I learn?  When you go and do community work and give up your power of what you think and you give it and share it with the community - they own it.  I was really young to learn that.  It was the benchmark for everything I’ve done and everything I think about.
 

When you go and do community work and give up your power of what you think and you give it and share it with the community - they own it.

 
When I came back to NYU, graduated with a degree in Education, got a master’s in Educational Theater, I read one line in a book that again changed my life.  It was a book on drama and using drama to educate.  Brian Wade, the author, said, “You can say what is a blind person?” And you could say, “It’s a person who cannot see.”  But alternatively you could say, close your eyes and try to find your way out of this room.”  I gasped and thought, “I want to do that.  I want to teach LIFE.”  That’s what I want to do.  I want you to close your eyes and find your way out of the room.  Again it goes back to when you’re feeling something.  When you say what does my audience or young women want to do?  We want to stop, get off our criticism, feel what we want to participate in and go give the form to feeling.
 

It goes back to when you’re feeling something.  We want to stop, get off our criticism, feel what we want to participate in and go give the form to feeling.

 

 
Lesson 7 - Don't Be Afraid to Level the Playing Field
 
I then started working with education and making education alive.  I loved that so I created the Creative Arts Team.  We worked in prisons using conflict resolution through theater and drama.  And again, story after story was about not being scared to listen and being inventive.  So, I’m standing in a prison and you want to say, “Hi, would you please all stand in a circle.”  And a kid, who is not getting out the next days, says, “No, I ain’t standing next to you.”  But then you figure out another way and say, “If you know one thing you want to do when you leave this room come stand next to me.”  And I had a perfect circle.  So all of these little lessons learned were amazing because I wasn’t scared to think outside the box.  I wasn’t scared to say, “I don’t know what to do now.”  I would be in the middle of a prison workshop and people would say, “Why don’t we try this?” And that is what perhaps guided me because I didn’t have to be the educator or the guider.  I wasn’t scared to completely level the playing field and participate with people and that’s been another theme for me.  
 

I wasn’t scared to completely level the playing field and participate with people and that’s been another theme for me.  

 
So leading this, I founded The CityKids Foundation in 1985 (I’m dating myself) and the reason was because I got tired of doing racism workshops in Harlem, but not in Scarsdale.  And where was Chinatown?  When you bring people together from such diverse backgrounds and you level the playing field and create a safe place, the tide rises.  When you bring diverse people together to sit, experience, and feel – the tide changes.  28 years later The CityKids Foundation is doing great.  From CityKids came The Posse Foundation, and that gave birth to IMPACT in Harlem, which gave birth to another company called Global Kids.  But these always had the theme of young people learning and listening and creating an alternative way.  That’s what moved me.  Moved me deeply.
 
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Lesson 8 - Assess What's Needed and Make it Happen
 
So, If you spend 10-15 years on the floor of a basement listening to young people and running workshops – everything from parents to education to sexual orientation.  How could I take the authenticity there and blow it out through media and keep the preciousness of that?  I received a Rockefeller Fellowship and I sat down and said, “Hi, I’m Laurie Meadoff and this if the first time I’ve sat down in 18 years.  I’ve never been with a peer group and only been with young people who are my board of directors.”  And that whole studying and next generation leadership changed my life in a really big way.  
 
I was in South Africa and I showed my CityKid tape to a producer that had a clip of a show that he had produced.  In that show there was a scene where a TV set was on a garbage pail in Soweto, Africa at night and a group of kids were talking to another group of kids in Philadelphia in the daytime.  They were talking to each other asking, “What kind of dances do you do? Can you show me?”  And they were doing the Macarena and tradtional African dances.  It blew my mind.  I realized then you could do 2-way television.  You could take the authenticity of that basement that I had in CityKids and make it global.  So I optioned the property, ran home, called it Chat the Planet, and literally said, “I have the Holy Grail.”  I ran out to Hollywood and they said, “Americans really aren’t interested in anything international.”  No one would buy it.  Then the World Trade Center came down and I did have the Holy Grail.  We started producing 2-way dialogue, half hour TV shows and it reached 350 million people across the world.  It had South Africans, Jordanians, and Australians talking to Americans.  Then we went to Baghdad a week before the initial war and a week after the bombing stopped and they aired it on MTV.  These shows were critically acclaimed.  After Chat the Planet we then created a short form series called hometown Baghdad and won 3 Webbies.
 
If you look at all of these crazy stories, what is the theme and how do you link it to your passion?  It’s about not being frightened.  Assessing what’s needed.  Knowing what your passion is and not being afraid to create and make it happen and not hearing “No.”  “No” is not an option when it’s supposed to be, and you know what’s right.  That’s what’s guided me.
 

Inspiring Story - Women in Business - bSmart!

It’s about not being frightened.  Assessing what’s needed.  Knowing what your passion is and not being afraid to create and make it happen.

 
When I was with City Kids and we wanted to make a big deal with the Statue of Liberty.  Keith Haring was an artist tagging the streets at the time.   I asked the kids who is influencing you right now?  They said, Keith Haring.  I didn’t know him or have his number.  I got his number and called him.  I asked him, “Would you do a big banner with 1,000 kids for the Statue of Liberty celebration?” He said, “Sure.”   
 
I went down to visit my mother in Miami and had no money for the project with Kieth Haring but needed a corporate sponsor.  I looked in the yellow pages and found Burger King and then talked Pepsi and I came back with $90,000 to produce the 3 day event for New York City.  It’s crazy, but when you get an idea and decide to make it happen.  There is no stopping you.  That’s what’s interested me.
 
I like being not in front of the camera but the energy behind allowing people to connect, make dreams come true, and feel hopeful.  There’s a truth and justice in the world. We all know it.  We feel it.  There’s a thing called humanity.    When we produced Chat the Planet.  We connected a kid in Jordan with young people in New York.  The kid in Jordan said, “My grandmother was killed by an Israeli soldier while she was trying to save a 5 year old.”  And the kid in New York said, “Yo brother, my brother is in Kuwait and every time the door opens I think he’s going to blow up.”  And you know what happened after that? Nothing.  It was quiet.  So it was quiet in 2 worlds apart because humanity walked into the room.
 
If you look at how we learn or speak at issues of social justice it’s because there are certain given truths and you build from those truths once you connect to it and that’s what I’ve been connected to my whole life.
 

There’s a truth and justice in the world. We all know it.  We feel it.  There’s a thing called humanity.

 
Lesson 9 - Surround Yourself With Support
 
It’s hard to keep on your right path for your purpose and passion. It’s always a process of checks and balances.  I’ve created not-for-profits and for-profits.  In Not-for-profits you give your time.  In for-profits time is money.  That was a very weird concept for me.  If a Citykid calls, I could be on the phone with the President, I’d have to say I have to go.
 
I’ve had situations in my past where a kid confessed they killed someone and never told someone.  What do you do with that?  What do you do?  How do you help?  How do you not feel burnt out? And I have been burnt out.  But always you go to your family and loved ones, connections.  You take a breath.  You try to stop.  You get support.  There is a thing called emotional literacy.  How do you learn how to be articulate with what you’re feeling?  Even if you don’t know what to do and you are so down and out and discouraged.  When you claim it, someone else can help you and say “Why don’t we try this?” Or “Let me help you.”  So, I haven’t always known and I’ve been beat up beyond comprehension in my own heart and life.  But you just keep one foot in front of the other.

 

Lesson 10 - You're Only Stuck When You Stop Trying
 
Fran Drescher was at the height of her career and diagnosed with uterine cancer and she says, “When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.”  There’s a really truth in “making lemonade.”  We’re not stuck.  We’re stuck because we choose to stop and be stuck.  Any young person, any empowered young woman can take a risk and get into their passion and build whatever it is.  I’m here as living truth to tell you.