Shall we go for optimism? A young Jamaican woman is inspired by…Walt Disney

When I read the local headlines I am often filled with gloom. We are all tired of reading about gangs and corruption, COVID-19, and the terrible abuse of our women and children. It is depressing. I think some of my pessimism has carried over into the Climate Change Conference (known as COP26) which will be dominating international headlines for the next two weeks. It is fine for the leaders of developed and developing countries to make impressive speeches in Glasgow – it is almost as if they are trying to out-do each other with their fine words – but what is happening at home? Are they practicing what they preach? In a radio interview this very evening, environmentalist Peter Espeut “claims PM’s Management of Cockpit Country Runs Counter to His Message at COP26.” Precisely.

And yet, before I become altogether too cynical… Yes, words can inspire. I heard about a speech by Candice K. Stewart, whom I met a few years ago when she was involved with the Royal Optimist Club of Kingston (ROCK!), established in September, 2011. Candice kindly sent me an outline of her speech at ROCK’s recent installation ceremony, which was inspired by Walt Disney. ROCK is about mentorship for young people, working with schools and children’s homes in Kingston and St. Andrew. Additionally, ROCK is part of the wider network of Optimist clubs locally and worldwide who work together to “bring out the best in youth”.

I recall my meeting with Candice, colleagues, and partners at a learning session with preschoolers in Duhaney Park, Kingston. The policeman who was teaching them how to cross the road safely was wonderful, doing impersonations of noisy trucks speeding down the road, much to the little ones’ amusement. Here’s my account of it on my erstwhile blog “Social Impact with Emma” for the Jamaica Gleaner, which I have since discontinued.

Like me, Candice believes in the power of storytelling. For me, optimism includes creativity, sensitivity, empathy and perhaps most of all…self-belief.

So, here are Candice’s thoughts on optimism:

One team: One goal – no limit with Optimism

One team: The Royal Optimist Club of Kingston as part of the Optimist International Caribbean District and the overall Optimist International team.

One goal: Providing hope and a positive vision – Bringing out the best in youth

No Limit with Optimism

In the words of Walt Disney, “I always like to look at the Optimistic side of life.” Those words are quite familiar to me actually. That quote is reminiscent of the Optimist Creed that we recite at every official gathering of the movement; or in our quiet times, when we seek peace and serenity, where we try to ground ourselves within a world that is often too loud and too harsh for us to hear ourselves think and operate.

I strongly believe in the magic of Disney stories. They help to maintain the child within and that in turn helps you to stay true to who you are and experience the pure and unadulterated joy that life and its interconnected stories can bring.

You know, I quite like that fellow named Walt Disney and the empire that he set the groundwork for. I like Disney so much that I have held on to a big book of classics that my sister bought for me when I was a child. The stories are eternal and there are always life lessons to learn or relearn.

Additionally, my love for Disney stories is not in the fairytale endings, but in the imagination and diligence executed to produce the cinematic wonders that we’ve all come to love. It’s the work that goes into each character and storyline that kids and adults can enjoy and benefit from. It is the allowance for adults and children to meet at a particular point and share their world views, perspectives and come to a common understanding.

It is at that meeting point where we have the opportunity to inspire, motivate and aid in the development of children. Just meet them halfway and get on their level. That’s all they want. Do that and you will be able to unlock the door to what their needs are. If you can do that, you can change their lives.

I know a little about Walt and his story. It goes something like this:

It was 1928 at Union Station in New York City. Walt Disney had just concluded business meetings there and was about to board a train for the three-day journey back home to California. Before departing, he sent a telegram to his older brother and business partner, Roy. It read: “Don’t worry, everything okay, will give details when I arrive.”

What the telegram did not say was that Walt had essentially just lost everything. He was in New York to negotiate a new contract for distribution of his cartoons featuring his hit character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Upon arrival, Walt found that his distributor, who held the rights to Oswald, had hired away most of Disney’s animators to start a new studio and produced the cartoons without him.

With no contract, no income, no product, and no animators —Walt sent the telegram, boarded his train, and headed west with three days to figure out what and how to tell Roy what transpired. But rather than brood the entire time, Walt did the opposite. He took his sketchbook and got right back to work, creating an entirely new character that not only had the humour that had made Oswald so famous; he had a heart, and a soul, and he was a mouse!

Now, a man with zero faith and no optimism would not have been able to pull that off. The key in this snippet of the story is to show you that there is always a way to make a long lasting positive impact. Things will go wrong, that’s life. And, the resources you thought you had access to, may or may not slip through your fingers in the blink of an eye.

The difference between you…members of ROCK… and Walt Disney in the rather truncated version of his story with Mickey Mouse, is that you are more powerful with your numbers. Walt sat on his journey home and conceptualized Mickey Mouse which later snowballed into the amazing world of Disney that we know today. One man kick-started that.  

If he could have done such a simple task that would impact the world and outlive him, then you can achieve your ultimate goal and complete the mission.

I want you to remember this: No one person stands alone in the team.. It means that you can come together with your imaginative ideas and they can work all while you meet the youth halfway…all while you make that positive impact in their lives. It means that in moments of doubt and uncertainty, brooding over a pathway that didn’t work is not the end to the mission. The mission is to bring out the best in youth and while fulfilling that mandate, you bring the best out in yourselves. You have to put the work in for it to work. The fact that you are Optimists is the cherry on top.  

Though Optimism is a way of life for us, simply uttering the creed and saying “I’m an Optimist” has no weight on its own. Not if we want to change the world and make the positive impact. We have to inject some amount of realism into our world of Optimism. When things go right and when they go wrong, teach yourselves to accept the situations for what they are and move forward accordingly. We cannot sit and wallow in self pity when things go wrong and we cannot stay standing in celebration when things go right. We have to keep moving in order to achieve the goal and complete the mission.

So do me a favour – synchronize your imaginative ideas as a team, stay optimistic and also put the work in. Never lose sight of your mission. Never lose sight of that goal. Be open to learning lessons and relearning lessons. Know that your greatest teachers are the youth. While you seek to positively impact their lives, learn from them. Meet them at the halfway mark…level with them. As much as you are teaching them, they are teaching you. Remember as well that your team is as strong as you allow it to be. Shore up the spots that need shoring up, and as much as you make a commitment to the youth, commit to yourselves to be better in the grander scheme of things. Make the commitment to work as one team working towards one goal in Optimism.

Thank you.

You can follow Candice on Twitter @candicekstewart and her blog, The Suburban Girl JA, can be found @thesuburbangirlja. She is also on Facebook and Instagram.

Candice Stewart. The smile says it all.

5 thoughts on “Shall we go for optimism? A young Jamaican woman is inspired by…Walt Disney

  1. I hope Candice does well. She seems quite determined. You are right, Emma, just saying that you are an optimist these days carries no weight. It was the ‘in thing’ to state you were an optimist – a feel-good statement one used to make others feel positively towards you In fact, optimism has not stopped bad things from accelerating, because hard-to-do things like providing jobs and training opportunities need to exist. In this way, there are ‘brands’ of optimism. The best brand is demonstrating how the optimism will reap tangible benefits.

    Reading and movies that have the fairy tale element are wonderful. Many young people apparently yearn for a more realistic brand of books and movies.


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