Young Leaders in Action Series: Spencer West
January 2, 2012
Spencer West rolled onto the stage at the World Youth Conference, and immediately captured the hearts of his audience as he shared his story. He spoke candidly about the obstacles he overcame after losing his legs at the age of five and inspired us to find opportunity in every challenge. That was my first encounter with Spencer. He continues to inspire and motivate me to be a better person, dream a bigger dream, and to act out my passions.
Spencer doesn't mess around. He published his first book titled Standing Tall in 2011, and is set to make his dream of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro a reality in 2012. As a motivational speaker with Me to We, he has enlightened millions of people around the world, and shared the stage with influential people such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore, and Reverend Jesse L. Jackson Sr. (to name a few).
Without further ado, we are happy to welcome Spencer West to Charity Republic’s Young Leaders in Action Series. Find out what inspires Spencer to be a “world change warrior” (that’s an excerpt from his email signature & twitter profile...I told you this guy doesn’t mess around).
Charity Republic: What most inspires you to make this world a better place?
Spencer: I truly believe that we have the ability to redefine our possible, and I am living proof of that. I think one of the common threads that binds us all together is the fact that we will all face challenges and obstacles in our lives. But more importantly that they can be overcome, as I have seen not only here in North America, but around the world as well. What I’ve realized is that it doesn’t matter what your abilities are, where you come from, what colour your skin is, or what your gender or sexual orientation is. We all have the ability and responsibility to lend a helping hand to someone who needs it. So for me it’s watching students, teachers, adults etc. recognize this power, harness it and use it! But more than that I’ve seen how the effect of sustainable holistic development can help break the cycle of poverty. Knowing this and seeing it firsthand inspires me to keep going!
Charity Republic: What motivated you to get involved in Me to We?
Spencer: I had the opportunity to travel with Me to We to Kenya in 2008 on one of their volunteer adventures. Not only was this the first time that I had seen poverty first hand, but it was on this trip that I discovered the power of my story. Also, it was the first time I had seen how sustainable holistic development models like Me to We’s best friend organization, Free The Children’s Adopt A Village, was giving a hand up and not a hand out. By providing education, clean water, health and sanitation and alternative income programs, Free The Children was literally breaking the cycle of poverty. I was so moved by this work, and by the incredible culture of Kenya that I knew if I didn’t get involved in a big way it would be an injustice to what I had seen and what I had learned. So when I got home I started, stalking, yes stalking the Free the Children and Me to We website and noticed they were looking for a speaker. I applied and a few short months later I was packing up and moving from the United States to Toronto!
Charity Republic: Why is it important for you to make a difference in this world?
Spencer: I think it’s important to understand that we all have gifts that we’ve been given to make the world a better place, whether that’s through art, sports, music, you name it. On my first trip to Kenya some incredible students and one girl in particular helped me realize that one of my gifts was my story and the loss of my legs. I learned that I could use that and my gift of gab to give back, to hopefully inspire other people to recognize that obstacles can be overcome. But also how important it is to lend a helping hand and that we are a global community and we are all responsible for each other. Plus throughout the course of my life I have had some incredible mentors, friends, family members and teachers support me and help me in overcoming obstacles. This is also a way for me to give back and pay it forward and hopefully be that support for someone else.
Charity Republic: What are you most passionate about?
Spencer: I am definitely most passionate about human rights. The notion that everybody should be given the same opportunities and rights in life, such as basic necessities, education, clean water, etc. But on top of that I’m also passionate about the idea that we all have the power to make a difference and that we don’t have to wait until we are older and have a good paying job. Making the world a better place starts today, and it truly begins when we free ourselves from the idea that we are powerless to make change. We are extremely powerful - once recognized, it can be used to make the local and global community a better place.
Charity Republic: What advice do you have for young people?
Spencer: My advice would be to take the time to nurture your passions and your gifts. This was a lesson that took me a long time to learn. I truly believe when we recognize our gifts and pair that with something we are passionate about, we become powerful beyond measure. I also think it’s important to recognize that life is a journey and that the road isn’t always going to be easy and there may be some detours. But I guarantee if you have the courage to keep traveling, and take the time to learn a few lessons along the way, then you will find your path again.
Charity Republic: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Spencer: Where do I see myself in 5 years? Well to be honest I haven’t thought too far ahead. I’ve learned over the years to go with the flow and when possible let things happen organically. So where do I see myself? I am not sure. I imagine, doing the same work, potentially still sharing my story, as well as staying connected to the projects Free The Children works so hard to provide every day. And of course working with young people to change the world. TBD - check back with me in 5 years!
We have a humble man on our hands folks. Not once did he mention his new book, his upcoming climb of Mount Kilimanjaro, traveling around the world, and the celebrity speakers he shares the stage with. So, I will shamelessly share additional links and insights into Spencer’s amazing life.
Let’s start with his book, Standing Tall (a must read!):
Redefine the Possible...the upcoming mountain climb, featured by several news outlets including the Toronto Star: http://www.thestar.com/specialsections/metowe/article/1059941--a-mountain-of-obstacles
Support & donate to Spencer's Mount Kimilamjaro climb with Free the Children here: www.freethechildren.com/redefinepossible.
Stay in touch with Spencer via his Facebook page and on Twitter (@spencer2thewest).
Happy new year!
Founder, Charity Republic
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