A Campaign to Inspire the Best in All of Us

Mae Jemison, the first African-American female astronaut, and teen philanthropist Joshua Williams, of Joshua’s Heart Foundation, will be featured in the long-running campaign starting in February.

One of Joshua Williams’ billboards, recently displayed in Atlantic City, N.J. 
One of Joshua Williams’ billboards, recently displayed in Atlantic City, N.J.  ClearChannel Spectacolor  

Sometimes we often just need a little reminder of what we’re capable of—the great values we have and our ability to subconsciously pass them on to another who might not see his or her own abilities.

The Foundation for a Better Life, a nonprofit focused on creating public service campaigns to communicate the kinds of values that can make differences in our communities, has been giving the public little reminders since 2001, when it started the billboard campaign Pass It On, in collaboration with the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, across the nation in most public spaces.

And the billboards are really catchy, too. Take Nelson Mandela’s Pass It On poster. It features a photo of Mandela with the question, “What can one person do?” The word “inspiration” appears beneath the question, almost like an answer or a mantra. 

For the month of February, the foundation will be introducing two particularly outstanding, though very different, individuals: Mae Jemison, the first black female astronaut to travel to space, to promote the value of “pioneering,” and 13-year-old philanthropist Joshua Williams, to promote “service.”

“It’s really an honor to discover people who can represent particular values,” Gary Dixon, president of the Foundation for a Better Life, tells The Root. “Mae Jemison [was the] first African-American woman to go into space and to be a part of the space program, so really her pioneering went way back; she had a lot of firsts.

“There’s just not many people [for whom] you can put pioneering on their billboard. She so wonderfully represents that,” Dixon adds. “We hope by doing this … people will pass this along.”

The foundation gives about 20,000 of the posters to schools each year at no charge so that students can discuss the different stories or people highlighted. It’s Dixon’s hope that with Jemison, young women in the sciences, as well as African Americans and other minorities in the sciences, can see her work as a launching point (pun intended).

“Maybe [the posters] will inspire someone to see that ‘If she can do it, why can’t I?’” Dixon says.

Joshua’s story is no less inspiring. Some individuals are foundation picks, but Joshua was nominated on the site, and it soon became clear that he was a perfect fit.