Woman rescued from last weekend’s Flossmoor fire dies

Ever since I was a little girl, I would occasionally hear my mother exclaim out of the blue “Ayyy” and stick two thumbs up in the air in response to something she liked. And when, in turn, I gave her a look of annoyance, as only a daughter can give her mother, she would say it again with emphasis.

“You missed out,” she said. “Everybody wanted to be Fonzie. That black leather jacket. So cool.”

Cool? Yeah, okay, mom.  

Fast forward to earlier this month at We Day Minnesota, part of the national We Act program, a volunteer effort that gets young people to take action for social change. There on the stage, before an enthusiastic crowd of teens and tweens who came together as part of Free the Children’s global youth movement for social change, Henry Winkler, the Fonz himself, spoke. And more than 18,000 listened. 

H-F High senior Jade Greear
(right) and her cousin,
Alexandra Doty of
Woodbury, Minn., pose with
Henry Winkler, guest speaker
at We Day Minnesota, while
they were student journalists
at the event.
(Provided photo)

“Whatever challenge you have, and everyone has a challenge at some time or another, you are not defined by school,” he stressed. “You are not defined by your challenge. You are defined by your special gift. The greatest things are locked inside you. Your job is to find out what your greatness is, dig it out and give it to the world.”

Winkler spoke about on how he has dyslexia and, as a child, was in the bottom three percent of students in America. Young Henry was called stupid and told that he was not living up to his potential. By sharing that dark time in his life, he helped ensure that the one out of five students in America today who has a learning disability knows there is a light at the end of what can be a lonely tunnel.

I’m not sure how many of the Generation Z’ers (post-Millennials) present recognized Winkler from “Happy Days” reruns versus his “Hank Zipzer” books, but that really didn’t matter. We recognized something far more important  Winkler was sharing his truth with us, and by doing so, empowering us to embrace ours. 

And he wasn’t alone in doing so. Reminiscent of We Day Illinois last April, We Day Minnesota included notables such as Chelsea Clinton, astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison, actor/singer Dareen Criss and The Kenyon Boys Choir. The star power in the room was mesmerizing, but do you know what was even more impressive? They all acknowledged that Gen Z’ers can be powerful change agents.

We Day Illinois will be here on April 28, 2016. For those of us who attended last year — and those who are anticipating doing so for the first time — the countdown began as soon as last year’s ended. It is a motivational juggernaut!  

You can’t buy a ticket. Students earn entrance by taking one local and one global action through We Schools, Free the Children’s yearlong educational program that engages and empowers us to become compassionate leaders and active citizens. Across the state, we are fortunate to have Francie Schnipke, director of Free the Children Illinois, as a mentor and guide on this journey. She is, without a doubt, one of the reasons our community’s contingency of world changers, comprised of Homewood-Flossmoor High School students, is among the most active. We would love for our elementary and middle school neighbors to get involved.

I encourage all Homewood-Flossmoor parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, educators and mentors to answer one question:  What will you share with a young person in your life today to help them feel empowered?

Don’t worry. It isn’t all your deep dark secrets that young people want, although I’m sure that would be really interesting! It’s your truth we need. Speak your truth, for that is the foundation of our bridge to finding out what our greatness is and giving it to the world. #ReachOneTeachOne 

By the way, when I texted my mom a picture of myself with Mr. Winkler, she asked “How was he?” My response: Cool — with two thumbs up emojis! 


Community Calendar

News by email

Subscribe to The Latest (daily headlines email)

* indicates required

View previous campaigns.

Free weekly newsletter

Subscribe to The Weeks (weekly newsletter)

* indicates required
Most read stories this week