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Paying It Forward to an Aspiring Flash Mob Organizer

This past Friday night, I was sitting at home watching a movie when my phone chimed with a new email. It was from a fifteen year-old girl in Ohio. She wanted to do a flash mob in response to violence in her community. She’d never done anything like this before and she wanted some help.

I was quite impressed by her email. It was so sweet that she was trying hard to be respectful. You could tell she put some time and effort into writing this. She started it with “Dear Ms. Ruth Carter…” and closed with “Sincerely” and her full name. She was upfront about her age and that she couldn’t afford to hire me. She said that she and her friends wanted to do a flash mob to “get the young adults in my city to do something fun and to stop the violence” but they didn’t want to cause any trouble because “the city legal justice system has enough to deal with.” And she thanked me for my time even if I couldn’t help.

Listen by Johan Larsson from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Listen by Johan Larsson from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Her message came in around 8pm my time, so that means it was 11pm her time. What 15 year-old sends thoughtful emails to a lawyer late on a Friday night? I was inspired to help her. I scooped up my phone and responded with, “Give me a call. Right now. I’ll give you some tips,” and I included my personal cell phone number.

I’m sure she didn’t expect that.

I’ve had a few moments in my life where I’ve sent an email and received the “Give me a call right now” response. And those messages usually get my heart racing because there’s no time to prepare for the conversation.

About ten minutes later, my phone rang. I walked around the house for about twenty minutes, sharing stories from my flash mob experiences and how I approach planning events with this young lady. (I tend to pace when I’m excited or nervous. It helps get my creative juices flowing too.) I suggested that her group look at their ideas from an outsider’s perspective and think about what they might be doing wrong and what they might be accused of doing wrong. We talked about deciding when to ask for permission vs when to ask for forgiveness. I shared with her my experiences with getting in trouble with mall cops and why malls are generally a bad location for flash mobs. We also talked about who she could partner with and I was pleased to hear that she has contacts in her police department who can advise her.

At one point in the conversation, she called me “ma’am.” I was amused that she was being so respectful. I bet it is intimidating to be fifteen and talking with a lawyer who is almost twenty years her senior. I totally get it even though I thought it was funny. When I was fifteen, every adult except my gymnastics coaches were “Mr.” or “Mrs.” plus their last name. To this day, there are some adults who I still address as “Mr.” or “Mrs.” I giggled and told her to call me “Ruth.”

It felt really good to pay it forward to this young lady. So many people have been exceptionally generous with their time and knowledge when I was young and it’s nice to be able to do the same for someone else. I told her to keep me in the loop and to let me know how her flash mob goes. It sounds like her heart is in the right place so I hope she can pull it off.

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