Last year JD, Buck and Jackson joined TEDxCharlotte remotely from a Buddhist Monastery in south central India. They were in the midst of their Twelve in Twelve travels where they visited 12 countries in 12 months seeking opportunities to engage with people all over the world to make an impact through humanitarian work. This year we had the pleasure of having them speak in person. Follow JD and his sons, Buck and Jackson, as they continue their work through Twelve in Twelve by connecting with them on Facebook or Twitter and find out how you can get involved in their program.
JD Lewis, 54, and his sons Jackson, 15, and Buck, 10 were the first speakers at TEDxCharlotte. The two boys sat on stools while their dad – a longtime actor and acting coach who has worked on the shows ER, Friends, and Suddenly Susan, introduced people into their lives. He started by telling the audience to take charge of their lives and to put away the bland, corporate Middle America thinking of getting a corporate job just for the insurance and 401K.
“Do the thing you were put here on the planet to do,” said Lewis. “If you are given a desire, you will be given the tools to make that happen.
Lewis and his sons founded the Charlotte-based non-profit Twelve In Twelve, an organization that took them on an adventure around the world last year to seven continents, setting a world record for a family going out and doing humanitarian work. They visited Russia, China, Thailand, India, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, Australia, Antarctica, Argentina, Peru and Haiti.
The project started when Jackson, at 13, told his dad that they had an incredible life and needed to help others in the world. Lewis went to bed that night thinking about what his son said – striking him since at his age he was only concerned with smoking pot and surfing back in California – and the next morning over breakfast told his children that they would travel around the world doing humanitarian work.
They didn’t have a lot of money, resources, or contacts, but they raised enough money to travel the world working in orphanages and animal sanctuaries around the world, some of which they are still helping through the Twelve in Twelve Foundation, which will help 12 of the organizations they volunteered with.
Lewis said he has heard the word no all his life and encouraged people to get beyond it to get to the potentially world-changing yes. In high school, he worked in a Bob’s Big Boy as a fast order cook. He would sing at the top of his lungs and flip burgers. His manager, Mo, asked Lewis what he wanted to do when he grew up and he said he wanted to be a musician and a rock star.
“You can’t sing!” Mo told him. “At that moment he was an authority figure, he was someone I looked up to, and he was a manager and I was a naive, vulnerable kid and I had a place for that information and I sucked it in. If Mo says I can’t sing, I can’t sing. I squelched that dream.”
Years later, Lewis would face that fear by setting up an evening of music. When he got up and grabbed the mike, his knuckles were glue. Afterwards, though people came to him afterwards and said he had an amazing voice. For years after that, he did gigs around LA as a musician and named the band Mo Lied.
The biggest hurtle was when he wanted to adopt children as a single gay man.
“I’m a single gay man and fifteen years ago I adopted my first child Jackson which changed my life in more ways than one. Fifteen years ago it wasn’t the norm for a single male, who happened to gay, to adopt a child. My aunt who raised me said to me, “Why would do you something so stupid? You have this incredible life. You hang out with celebrities and you go around the world.”
His sister Linda, from Mississippi, was also not on board with his plan.
“The naysayers aren’t doing it to be horrible,” said Lewis. “They are doing it because they are scared.”
Lewis encouraged the audience to find their passion, big or small, world changing or not.
“When you put a pinpoint on the horizon and you claim it in front of your friends and family, amazing things occur, things you could have never imagined. It’s because you have a focal point and you are aware of opportunities that you weren’t recognizing.”
He closed with making it full circle with his sons and their future – to make them the men that the planet needs.
“In 100 years we’re all going to be dead,” said Lewis. “Choose a life that’s incredible that when I look back on it, I’ve done the dance. Has it been scary and a lot of work? Yes, but you know what? That’s why we are here and every person I’m looking at can make a difference. You just have to claim it.”