Design Thinking Resources

A month of intentional kindness

Alexander Lilly

Born This Way Foundation launches its #BeKind21 campaign to make a better world

In a world where you can be anything, be kind.
The folks at Born This Way Foundation are taking that advice to the next level during the month of September with the #BeKind Campaign. Born This Way Foundation is asking people to pledge to #BeKind21 and “practice kindness toward yourself and others each day” throughout the month — and beyond. In doing so, they say, “You’ll help build kinder, more connected communities that foster mental wellness.”

Recently, Taylor M. Parker, program associate with Born This Way Foundation, and Varnishi B. and Alexander L., two of the foundation’s 2021 advisory board members who live in Texas, took time to answer a few questions about Born This Way Foundation and their work with the organization.

— Tammye Nash

Taylor M. Parker
Dallas Voice: Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for Dallas Voice about Born This Way Foundation and your #BeKind21 campaign. Start out by telling me about the foundation itself. When was Born This Way Foundation started, and why? Taylor M. Parker: Born This Way Foundation was founded nearly 10 years ago by Lady Gaga and Cynthia Germanotta, her mother. Through their conversations about mental health, they realized that young people were in need of more kindness (from themselves and others) as well as resources for mental health care.

Talk a little bit about Born This Way Foundation’s mission overall and its various programs. Since the start of our organization, Born This Way Foundation has served to make kindness cool, validate the emotions of young people and eliminate the stigma around mental health. We do this in many ways, such as creating opportunities for young people to lend their voices and share their stories through ChannelKindness.org or creating an opportunity to develop a culture of kindness through 21 consecutive days of kind actions through #BeKind21.

Born This Way Foundation addresses youth across the board. But does it have any special outreach to LGBTQ youth? And if so, what are the special issues and needs you see among LGBTQ youth? The work of Born This Way Foundation is done for all young people. With that being said, we do work with LGBTQIA+ youth-serving organizations throughout the year. In 2021, we were able to work with nine of these organizations around a Pride campaign that worked to amplify their programming, and we continue to create safe spaces for these young people.

Explain the #BeKind21 campaign. Is it new this year? How did it come about? What does it involve? #BeKind21 is back in 2021 with the same mission: to create kinder communities. This campaign was started four years ago — in 2018 — when our executive director, Maya Smith, sent her older child to kindergarten. Wanting to make sure he had the best chances of creating friendships and receiving kindness, she worked with his teachers to create #BeKind21, a 21-day program that encourages participants to do one kind act every day.

This year, we’re working on encouraging self-kindness as a priority for our participants. Recognizing that we all can use a bit more kindness these days, it’s important to be kind to yourself as you’re sharing kindness with others.

Our foundation’s research shows young people believe experiencing and even witnessing more kindness would benefit their mental health and that when young people describe their environments as kind, they are more likely to be mentally healthy. That’s true for youth in high schools, colleges, and the workplace.

As of the kickoff in 2018, everyone who signs up for and participates in #BeKind21 will join a movement of over 200 partners, 7 million participants and 160 million pledged acts of kindness.

The foundation focuses on “high impact programming.” How is the #BeKind21 Campaign high impact? #BeKind21 is high impact because it offers direct action within communities and those who live there. Last year, more than 112 million acts of kindness were generated globally. That means that there were more than 112 million kind things done for no reason other than to create kinder communities. Our communities were the direct recipients and witnesses to the increasing kindness.

How do you judge the success of the #BeKind21 campaign? Is there a specific end goal to reach? Is there some threshold to reach or event that will happen? Or is the idea to simply build steadily toward a better society? I judge the success of #BeKind21 from our participant feedback. Of course, we’d love to see higher numbers than previous years and to beat our record, so to speak, but I find it more meaningful to hear from the participants directly about their experiences. We’ve had people share that #BeKind21 has served as an opportunity to create stronger relationships with their loved ones or to stop self-harming. These stories are what makes #BeKind21 successful in my eyes.

How can people participate in and support the #BeKind21 campaign? People can participate in #BeKind21 by taking the pledge at BornThisWay.Foundation/bekind21 and join us in performing one kind action each day through Sept. 21. You can share your experiences on social media using the hashtag #BeKind21. If you need inspiration or motivation during the 21 days, our team has also created fun guides and ideas to encourage participation.

How can people participate in and support Born This Way Foundation overall? Do you need monetary donations? Do you need volunteers? We’re always proud to invite young people — and people young at heart — to learn about how they can share their stories of kindness, resilience and compassion to inspire the world and give much-needed hope to anyone that comes to us on our platform ChannelKindness.org and follows these guidelines to submit your story to our editors.

To join us for upcoming initiatives and stay posted on our upcoming engagements, you can go to BornThisWay.Foundation/to-get-involved, to sign up to receive our email newsletter.

What do you want to see people take away from the #BeKind21 campaign? More than anything else, I want to encourage people to see that kindness is all around us. #BeKind21 is a chance to be more intentional about the kindness you give and more observant of the kindness you may receive. We are always capable of sharing kindness and we should work hard to remember that.

Last but not least, what do you want to talk about that I have not asked about? As the first act for my #BeKind21 list, I’m encouraging my loved ones to take the Please Stay Pledge at PleaseStay.us. This is a pledge you can take to promise you’ll STAY, even and especially when life gets hard. The pledge was developed with our friends at Find Your Anchor and also shares resources to support your mental wellness, crisis mental health resources, expert-curated self-care tips, suggestions for anchors and a pledge asking you to promise to stay in the world.
I encourage you to take it as well, and I hope that you’ll see that promising to STAY is the greatest act of love and kindness you can do for yourself and your loved ones.

Alexander L.
Dallas Voice: Are you living in Texas right now, and if so, where in Texas? Are you a student, or do you work full time? Tell me about you. Alexander L.: I am currently living in Texas. I’ve lived in the suburbs before, but right now, I live in the city. There’s a very stark difference between those places that’s very difficult to put a finger on, but I think it lies in the people who make up those communities and the mutual energies they share. They’re both very nice and beautiful places in their own rights, though. And yes, I am a student right now.

In your bio, you say you feel “like somewhat of an average person.” How does an average person feel? And why do you enjoy that feeling? I feel like an average person because, when I look back on my life, I don’t see that I’ve done anything extremely big. And I’m OK with that. I don’t see it as a bad thing — I simply just haven’t — for example — started a movement, won a highly-acclaimed award, founded an organization or been honored in any supremely famous way. I don’t have prodigious titles to my name. I’m just myself, and what I’ve done is what I’ve done, and I like that.

I like the idea of leading a smaller life. We live in a culture so intoxicated and driven by the ideas of fame, grand success, ultra-wealth, and a lot of people don’t want to have to live a life where they haven’t met these achievements. But I don’t see anything wrong with that kind of a life. I actually think it’s a really beautiful life to live; it’s somewhat ordinary but there is so much beauty to be found on the ordinary, small scale of a life.

At the end of the day, that’s the life that I dream of and that I want to have experienced. These personal philosophies are the reason in which I see myself as average, one among the millions.

What kind of performing do you do? What kind of book are you writing? And is there one place that tops your list of places you want to visit? I do a lot of community musical theater with other people my age. It’s a lot of fun to do musicals and perform and experience the rehearsal-to-performance process with other people in your cast who you enjoy. Unironically, you could also call me sitting at my piano in the living room, singing in my head voice and playing chords to my favorite songs a sort of performance, too. I always enjoy doing that, and it feels vulnerable to just be with myself and play an instrument and sing songs that touch me.

I’m writing a book that one of my friends from theater would describe as of the genre “slice-of-life.” It’s basically creative nonfiction but has the tone of a fictional narrative book, and it’s all about me examining a certain time in my life, and those moments — my life and my emotions and my interactions with people I liked and people I didn’t, on a vacation that I had lots of fun on.

I don’t really have anywhere particular in mind that I would want to visit, but I do absolutely know that I’d love to revisit New Hampshire. It’s a really, really beautiful state. I just went there this summer, and we stayed by the beach. It wasn’t a tropical beach, and I appreciated that about it. The sky was often a little cloudy and, when you went up into the mountains, you got to be washed over by trees and trees, just these forests that would stretch and go on forever. It was beautiful, and I’d love to revisit it sometime.

How — and why — did you get involved with the Born This Way Foundation and the #BeKind Campaign? What drew you to it? I got involved with Born This Way Foundation through social media. I saw a listing for Advisory Board members on Twitter, and I thought, why not give it a shot? I’m a fan of Lady Gaga, so I did know a little bit about BTWF beforehand, but once I got to reading more about it, and completing my application, I got really passionate about it in the way that I could see the team members were, too. I reviewed some parts of myself that were hard to review — those that have previously struggled with mental wellness and loving myself — and it just made me so inspired seeing the passion behind this project, and the desire to help people on their journeys to loving themselves. I wanted to be able to apply my experiences from the times in which I’ve hurt to give to people who are feeling the same way.

One of the most important things that needs to happen in order to help those suffering in silence feel less alone — and something that I see in BTWF as well — is the desire to open up conversations about mental health. Not many speak openly about their mental wellness, making it seem to a lot of people who have struggled or are struggling, that these topics are restricted. And that feeling leaves these people to have to turn to places like the internet to seek out anonymous help, or, even worse, not to seek out help at all.

It’s hard to have to suffer in silence and in fear. We need to actively be working towards a culture where that stigma is eliminated, so that people don’t have to suffer in silence anymore, where they can feel able to openly share their experiences, free of judgment. Born This Way Foundation actively strives toward that culture, and they do so through programs, initiatives, resource-making, and campaigns that promote kindness to yourself and others and ways to make mental health less taboo.

The #BeKind21 campaign is one of these initiatives started by BTWF, and it’s based upon the scientific study that it takes three weeks — 21 days — to form a habit. Being actively kind to yourself and those around you for 21 days is not something people will usually do actively and consciously, which is why it’s so important that people begin to form that habit of daily active kindness. Kindness comes in many forms, and, whatever form it may be, it’s important that it be a part of people’s lives, whether they are struggling or not, so that they have a reason to keep wanting to fight, and give themselves and others the love that we all deserve to receive.

What do you feel like you bring to BTWF and the #BeKind Campaign? And what do you think you will get out of it? What I feel like I can bring to BTWF and the #BeKind21 campaign is simply my perspective as someone who has experienced suffering from mental wellness issues. I know deep in my heart what I would have wanted to hear and receive and be part of when I was hurting, so I hope that those desires I once had and that I still remember can project themselves into resources where other people struggling can experience healing.

Varshini B.
Dallas Voice: Hi Varshini. Your bio says you grew up in six different countries, but you are also listed as an ambassador from Texas. How much of your growing up years did you spend in Texas? Or perhaps you moved here later on? Do you live in Texas now, and if so, where in Texas? Yes! I grew up across a few countries in the Middle East, Italy and India. In 2016, I moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, to pursue my undergraduate career, and in March 2020 I moved to Beaumont, Texas to be with my family during the pandemic. I’m currently living in Beaumont and have spent the last year and a half of quarantine in Texas.

Your bio also says you are a “design thinking associate.” What is that? Design Thinking, alternatively called human-centered design, is a way of working and building a culture that is collaborative and egalitarian. Importantly, human-centered design encourages new ideas by reframing failure as an opportunity — even a necessary step — in the process of developing a business or cultural solution. Methodologically, design thinking is a non-linear process that involves five main stages: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test.

Design Thinking is everywhere — researchers are employing design thinking practices when they curate their research questions (Define stage) and conduct interviews (Empathize stage); chefs are employing design thinking when they are recipe testing (Prototype and Testing stages), and students are design thinking their way through their papers!

Most of us, inadvertently, are design thinking our careers by identifying what fields/disciplines we like or think we’ll be good at, prototyping a role in the industry/field we picked, testing the new role, then reconfiguring our career decisions based on our experiences in those roles and our values. As you can already tell, it’s a deeply human process.

You have expressed a deep commitment to building “a multivocal, decolonial future through networks of care.” What does that look like? Decolonization is a loud recognition of the ongoing and lasting legacies of colonization in the U.S. and across the world. Decolonization recognizes that colonization continues to exist and gets reinforced through dominant ways of thinking, being and knowing. For me, decolonization is a questioning of what we have accepted as “normal” or the status quo and reimagining a world where differences are seen as assets, not deficits or obstacles.
I believe building networks of care through kindness, empathy and deep understanding will help us collaborate across differences. This is critical to building a decolonial future.

What prompted you to become involved with the Born This Way Foundation and the #BeKind Campaign? How are the foundation and the #BeKind Campaign going to help you build the future you envision? I have always had a deep appreciation for Born This Way Foundation and their commitment to placing youth voices at the forefront of their work. I have been seeking to be a part of a supportive community of people who are also passionate about kindness, mental health awareness and advocacy, so when a friend shared the opportunity to be an advisory board member, I felt a deep resonance and connection with the opportunity. I am very grateful to Born This Way Foundation for providing the opportunity and space to amplify and empower the voices of my fellow South Asian community members, especially folks who are doing divergent, political and socially responsible work.

Also, I have experienced and watched the transformative capacity of kindness. Kindness is what makes us human, and I am very committed to advocating for kindness, which doesn’t only mean big and grand gestures. Kindness also looks like mentoring someone, supporting your friend, practicing community care, engaging in activism and making decisions that align with your values. The #BeKind21 campaign is an impactful way to emphasize the role and capacity of kindness in the world, and I am so grateful that I get to be a part of this vision.

Where do you hope to go from here, and how is Born This Way Foundation helping you get there? Soon, I will begin my graduate program at The New School in New York, where I’ll be learning and working at the intersection of anthropology, equity and social impact. Born This Way Foundation is helping me connect with inspiring people, and their stories are directly impacting and informing my understanding of what it means to be human and to build a network of uncompromising care and support. These learnings are strongly contributing to my ongoing research work on violence, care, and decolonization. My experience at Born This Way Foundation will make me a more understanding, kinder, thoughtful and empathetic human.