Tyler Perry, Chelsea Clinton and Other Powerful Voices Open the 2014 Conference on Volunteering and Service
His mom, an aunt, a blind man. Those were the points of life in Tyler Perry’s life, the people who helped him overcome the regular and severe physical abuse he suffered as a child.
He told his story to the thousands gathered at today's opening plenary of the 2014 Conference on Volunteering and Service in Atlanta, after receiving the Daily Point of Light Award from Points of Light Chairman Neil Bush for his philanthropic work.
"As I look back over my life, there were many people that had a hand in shining light into my darkness when I was growing up," Perry said, later adding, "We all have the power to be a point of light."
After Perry spoke, the Booker T. Washington High School Marching Band – which received $100,000 from the filmmaker to replace uniforms destroyed by mold – played tribute to the their benefactor with high-stepping and drums that shook the floor. It was a high-energy close to an opening plenary focused on the ways people from different backgrounds can come together to accelerate social change.
Neil Bush opened the plenary of the Conference – sponsored by UPS – by greeting the attendees with a playful, “Welcome to Hotlanta.” He talked about how much he admired his father, President George H. W. Bush – not only for jumping out of a plane last week for his 90th birthday – but for being a “disruptor.”
“When Dad launched Points of Light 24 years ago, he had a single, disruptive idea: Every single person can change lives,” Bush said, adding that at the time it was disruptive to say that government can’t do it all and that volunteers can help solve community problems.
“Today, right here, right now, I like what I see – thousands of disrupters, getting together to do great things. I don’t like that. I love that.”
Bush introduced Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who warmly welcomed everyone to his city, the cradle of the civil rights movement. He recalled the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'”
That’s a question Points of Light President Tracy Hoover considered as she showcased the significance of this year’s Conference. She posed a challenge to Conference attendees: “Over the next three days, let's try to adopt a design-lab mentality, where we share good ideas and models and imagine together how to accelerate change. Let's brainstorm.”
During the first of two panel discussions at the plenary, attendees – representing 35 countries – heard from civil rights legends Congressman John Lewis, Ambassador Andrew Young and the Rev. C.T. Vivian. Bernice King, CEO of The King Center and daughter of Dr. King, moderated, asking the three men about what the volunteer movement could learn from the civil rights movement.
“You have to make the world you want,” said the Rev. Vivian. “When we came along there wasn’t anything good about being black in America. We changed it to what we wanted it to be.”
The second panel discussion, moderated by Chelsea Clinton, vice chair of the Clinton Foundation, examined the role young people play in the service movement. Clinton said that while today’s young people are heavily involved in volunteer service, “We know we are not yet providing the compendium of opportunities they are clamoring for.”
The panelists – Flint, Mich., Mayor Dayne Walling; Kweku Mandela, partner and CEO of Out of Africa Entertainment and Nelson Mandela’s grandson; and Bethaney Wright, a longtime tutor who recently completed her AmeriCorps service at Hands On Atlanta – talked about the different expressions of service, including public service, national service and service bringing injustice to light through documentary filmmaking.
The role that corporations play in volunteer service is a key topic during this year’s Conference. At the opening plenary David Abney, chief operating officer and CEO-elect of UPS announced that the company has pledged to complete 20 million hours of global volunteerism and community service by the end of 2020. By achieving this goal, UPS' total volunteer hours will increase more than 12 percent; nonprofits will receive volunteer assistance valued at more than $460 million by the end of the initiative.
"Volunteerism has always been an integral part of our company culture," said Abney. "UPS' founder Jim Casey continually advocated for employees to give back to the communities in which they live and work. Our pledge of logging 20 million hours of volunteer service by the end of 2020 reinforces our corporate giving strategy and our commitment to our volunteering and philanthropic efforts that advance and enrich communities around the world."
At the plenary's close, the Booker T. Washington High School band led the attendees out to a Welcome to Atlanta celebration and an evening of getting to know each other before the brainstorming ahead.