A Campaign to Inspire the Best in All of Us

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.


The teen found his purpose when he was only 5 years old. He had gotten a huge chunk of money (aka $20) for his birthday from his grandmother, who told him he could do whatever he wanted. On his way back home from church, he saw a homeless man and decided his money would be best spent there instead of on the usual toys and trinkets that interest most 5-year-olds.

“I think that act as a 5-year-old kind of triggered something in him,” Dixon muses. “It was a reminder of how important it is to give service.”


Even at that tender age, Joshua knew that he wanted to help people who were hungry, and Dixon says he actually tried to join several nonprofits, but because of his age, there wasn’t really a place for him. So he did what any incredibly determined 5-year-old would do: begged his mother to start his own, Joshua’s Heart Foundation. To date, the Miami-based nonprofit has fed over 20,000 people.  

“He’s a little CEO really. … The great message he’s sending is that [he] saw this need, and ‘This is what I did, so what can you do?’ What a remarkable thing. When I was 13, I think I was hoping I would get a new bike,” Dixon says, laughing. “Certainly Joshua’s an unusual fellow, but there’s a current generation that is not satisfied with just sitting on the side and waiting for things to happen. They want to make things happen, and we hope this is inspiring [someone] to do something as simple as smile at somebody if that would help them, or to identify problems in their area and do something about it.”


And that’s really what Dixon and the foundation hope to inspire among any individual, the notion that he or she can do something, too, and inspire others to “pass it on.”

“I think there are remarkable things going on everywhere, and when we learn about them … we’re kind of lifted up,” he says. “It restores our faith in humanity … when you look at someone who has achieved something against some odds.”


Breanna Edwards is a newswriter at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.

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