CNN Heroes: More Than An All-Star Tribute

A first responder rushes into a building to rescue a child. He doesn’t see this as anything more than doing his job. This is a hero.

A young girl speaks up for her right to an education and get shot in the head. But her voice is not silenced and she inspires a movement of women. That’s hero.

A man is found in a house with his arms tightly wrapped around his son, trying to protect him, as Hurricane Sandy swept them both away. He was a former Marine. That’s a hero, too.

We don’t build statues to these people, we might not even notice them, but they don’t care about that because their actions are not calculated to gain recognition or reward. What they do is who they are.

– Harvey Keitel, actor, speaking this year for the introduction of CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute

Each and every day, people deal with problems in life, or if problems are not caused by nature, it’s some government or terrorist organization cracking down on those who speak out against suppression on basic rights. As CNN’s Anderson Cooper, host of AC360° and CNN Heroes, says, more than ever we need heroes. When you watch CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute, which airs annually after the Thanksgiving week,  you may think “Oh, it looks like another one of those red-carpet awards shows.” In reality, it’s more than that. The heroes they present are not just there to receive awards they’re simply proud of. And the actors, actresses, and singers aren’t just people giving out the CNN Heroes awards like an Oscar or Academy Award trophy. No, these are ordinary people doing extraordinary things to help out their community, but at the same time hoping they inspire someone else along the globe to either contribute or start their own cause.

I remember, when I was still a junior in high school, Josh Chen had showed me this really inspirational video which I’d subsequently written a column on. The video’s called “Change For A Dollar”. CNN Heroes reminds me exactly of that. Two nights ago, when I’d watched another replay of it after I’d missed maybe the first two showings, Anderson was talking about a Pakistani girl who stood up and advocated girls’ education. She was shot in the head as a result by the Taliban, and is currently recovering in a hospital.

Later, they’d shown a video of a little girl named Jesse Reese. Jesse was diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age 11. However, that didn’t stop her from caring about other children who were suffering from various other diseases. She found an empty jar and started stuffing what she called “cool stuff”, things that make children happy. With that, she’d started a foundation called “Joy Jars”, which was what she called those jars themselves. Although she lost her battle earlier this year in January, the foundation still lives on. Jesse Reese is a CNN Young Wonder.

Leo McCarthy is the father of his deceased 14-year-old daughter. His daughter, Mariah, was killed by a drunk driver. He started “Mariah’s Challenge”, a scholarship program for students who pledge not to drink before they reach 21 and never get in a car with a driver who has been drinking. So far 8,000 young people have joined the program. Leo knew that he wasn’t alone in his mission to stop drunk driving, and he proved it.

In Nepal, one of the poorest countries, children are being forced to live in jail with their parents who charged with a crime. Pushpa Basnet was shocked when she found out, and started the Early Childhood Development Center at just 21 years old. The goal for her project is to bring children out of prison and into better shelter. After nine weeks of viewer online voting on CNN.com, Pushpa had won CNN Hero of the Year.

Why is this “More Than An All-Star Tribute”? As I said earlier, this isn’t just some red-carpet awards show. These are people who’ve taken the opportunity to raise their voices and do something about what they see needs changing. These are people who want to influence as many people as they can to contribute to their cause or follow in their footsteps and really want to make the future better for the upcoming generations. These are people who didn’t just say they’re going to do something about it. They took action, regardless of public opinion. We envy them. We hope for nothing but the best for them. As for those who are constantly being inspired, I hope you carry on that inspiration and carry out your actions. If you want something bad, work for it. If you want change, if you want people to live in better conditions, work for that change. Don’t just say you want this to change or you want that to change. Carpe diem.

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