When beautiful little Natasha Jaievsky died in a tragic accident at age six, her heartbroken father found among her childish things a cache of pictures and stories centered around, of all things, kindness. Kindness was Natasha’s obsession. The family of her father, Dr. Edward Jaievsky, was holocaust survivors from Ukraine by way of Argentina and now living in Anaheim. He was accustomed to tragedy but in Natasha’s simple crayon drawings he saw an important message of hope. As a holistic doctor, he believed that there were two ways to heal: from without through medicine, but the far better method was to heal oneself from within. Kindness, he believed, was a miracle cure for suffering. Natasha’s art began the healing process in his own heart and he knew Natasha’s drawings would help others. He had them made into posters and arranged for them to be placed around Anaheim.
One of the posters caught the eye of aspiring local politician Tom Tait, who in 2010 was planning a run for mayor of Anaheim. The message of kindness immediately struck a chord with Tait who decided to run on a platform of kindness. “As a businessman, I knew that a CEO had the ability to change the corporate culture, so I thought, why can’t a mayor do that?” says Tait. “I told voters that I would advocate for a culture change to make Anaheim a ‘City of Kindness.’” The message resonated because Tait won with 54.4 percent of the vote in a field of three candidates.
True to his word, Tait began a number of kindness initiatives including “A Million Acts of Kindness” program through the elementary school district. Every elementary school challenged students to carry out or observe ordinary acts of kindness. Each school was to amass 50,000 deeds to bring the district total to one million. Among the many benefits of the program, was a significant drop in disciplinary actions at the schools. Mayor Tait visited many Anaheim schools to encourage the students to embrace the kindness program, and have fun doing it.
At Adelaide Price Elementary, aspiring musician and sixth grader Sean Oliu attended a school assembly where Mayor Tait explained the Million Acts of Kindness program to the students. Oliu immediately embraced the idea with his hands and his heart. He had recently been a finalist in Telemundo’s La Voz competition, similar to NBC’s The Voice. Oliu donated his entire $4,000 winnings to the Anaheim School district to restart music instruction at his school. Not only that, but he and his two bands — one mariachi and one rockabilly — put on a concert in his grandmother’s backyard raising an additional $10,000. A year later, Oliu and his bands performed at Center Street Promenade in Anaheim during the Anaheim City School District Foundation’s annual fundraiser. So far Sean and his friends have raised $30,000 and music is coming back to Anaheim elementary and middle schools. Now a freshman at Servite High School in Anaheim, Sean is continuing his mission to put music in local public schools. His website, kidsgivingbackfundraiser.com, has all the details for his upcoming May 2 concert at Farmer’s Park in Anaheim.
Tait met Oliu by chance in a barbershop. Sean recognized the mayor from the school assembly and introduced himself. The barber told Tait that Sean was an aspiring musician so Tait asked Sean to sing. Sean told the mayor how the Million Acts of Kindness program had inspired his efforts to raise money for elementary school music programs. Right there in the barber shop the two bonded over music and kindness.
Meanwhile Mayor Tait’s City of Kindness initiative was getting attention. “The Million Acts of Kindness initiative had also gotten the attention of The Dalai Lama,” says Tate. “His Holiness invited me to his home in Dharamsala India to participate in a three-day private meeting along with Bishop Desmond Tutu. We discussed kindness, compassion, love, forgiveness, envy, greed; the biggest issues in life. It was great. Two of the greatest leaders for peace and justice of our time and me.” Later, Tait was able to host the Dali Lama when he visited Anaheim on his 80th birthday.
Next came a call from NBC which was partnering with Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation to promote #ShareKindness. “They invited me to speak at a gathering in New York City last December and I brought Sean with me because his story is so impressive,” says Tait. The live webcast reached about 30 thousand people including Lady Gaga who had her whole crew watch the live feed from their tour location.
Sean relished his three-day sojourn for kindness in the Big Apple. Speaking with Tait before the Born this Way Foundation Sean says, “It has changed my life tremendously. I realized that there are so many kids out there that don’t have the opportunity (to study music). It is a shame that they are not exposed to music, which is why I started the Kids Giving Back Fundraiser. One hundred percent of the money goes right back to the school district for music.”
Tait’s term as mayor ends in 2018. He is hoping that the City of Kindness Initiative continues long after his term. When the city experienced protests and civil unrest in 2012-13 following several shootings by police officers, Tait used the principals of kindness to help repair the schism between the community and police. “Kindness isn’t meekness, it often requires bravery.” This led to an invitation to the White House to discuss the relationship between the police and the community with President Obama, Al Sharpton and many other influencers. “You can’t spend four hours in a closed-door discussion with people and not come out with a better understanding of each other.”
When Natasha Jaievsky drew a rainbow and daisy with the words: “Put your heart into kindness. Love. Compassion. Friendship. Humility. Respect.” and underneath wrote “My wish is to help people,” she could not have imagined, in her six short years, just how powerful her simple drawing would be.