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'My Name My Story': Empowering High School Students through Storytelling

Amit Dodani, a 15-year-old sophomore from Los Angeles, CA, talks about 'My Name My Story'--his youth-run leadership program to inspire the next generation of leaders.

By Erika MacLeod

Erika is a graduate of George Washington University with an M.A. in Global Communication. At GWU, Erika served as the communications and web manager for the Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service. During her high school years and undergraduate degree, Erika was invested in increasing accessibility of low-cost music lessons to local school children. While with the Ashoka USA and Empathy Initiative teams from 2012-2013, Erika used her communications skills and interests to contribute to fundraising initiatives, writing and online media.

April 10, 2013

Erika MacLeod is back with her interview of high school student Amit Dodani about his journey in founding 'My Name My Story'.

Please share what 'My Name My Story' is all about!

On December 26, 2011, I founded 'My Name My Story'. We are a youth-led social leadership organization that inspires unity, tolerance and empathy in the youth community while developing leaders. Students, faculty and the community are all involved in inspiring the next generation of leaders. Everything we do is aligned with the philosophy of “Hope – Believe –  Succeed – Inspire.” A few friends at my high school helped kick-start the first MNMS School Club in Los Angeles. Today, after just one year, there are already MNMS Leaders and school clubs being formed across the country.

So how does My Name My Story cultivate empathy in schools?

The answer is found in the ‘MNMS Activities’ that the MNMS School Club is expected to carry out.  The club shares stories on the MNMS website, and they also share their own inspirational stories with each other to empower one another. Book drives, random acts of kindness and projects are also held to bring the community together and cultivate empathy. MNMS is different than most school clubs because we realize that teenagers have a lot of energy! MNMS clubs help redirect energy that might have otherwise gone into something unproductive, and the transformations we have seen can attest to that.

Would you please share your own personal story?

I grew up with a speaking impediment. It had a negative impact on my self-esteem throughout elementary and middle school and made school speeches especially difficult because if I tried to say the word “cat,” it would come out as “tat” and same with “God” and “dod.” My own classmates couldn’t understand what I was saying. They would joke around, even though I knew they were only kidding. The process continued on and on, and then at one point I had to prove something to everyone--and myself.

Towards the end of 7th grade, I had Mock Trial and Debate tryouts for my 8th grade year. I was a little unsure of whether or not I should do try out, mostly because I didn’t want to look bad in front of everyone. But after a long conversation with my parents I decided that I should.  Little did I know, I had just made the decision that would change my entire life for the better: I made it onto the team! I don’t know how it happened exactly, but after many competitions, my team made it all the way to the final round in the LA Courthouse. We placed 5th at Nationals, and I took the 11th place speaker award in the nation. That year literally changed me as a person. I owe it to my coaches, who stood beside me and guided me. They really sparked a fire in my heart that burns till this day.

My parents have also been my biggest fans since day one. They raised me on certain moral values and principles, and they practice what they preach. They are the ones I strive to make proud each and everyday.

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What compelled you to start 'My Name My Story'?

A combination of my interests and the inspiring individuals around me pushed me towards starting this organization in order to encourage others to follow their dreams. I realized that I was blessed with gifts and talents that I could use to do something that would really change things for the better. So, I did just that--and others can do the same as well.

I was compelled to encourage others who have gone through difficult times to continue to follow their dreams, to change lives, and to be champions. I love going to schools to talk to students about empathy because I believe that when youth talk to youth, they actually listen.

How do you see students benefiting from the program?

Through MNMS we are learning to show empathy towards one another everyday. We support and motivate each other to pursue what it is we are passionate about. Not in ten years--but right now.

At a recent "MNMS Inspire Empathy" talk in a middle school where we cover topics such as friendship, unity, passion and self esteem, one of the students walked up to me at the end of my talk, gave me a hug and said very genuinely: "Thanks, you changed my life!"

That’s what it’s all about.  If this organization can stop just one person from being bullied, dropping out of school, turning to drugs or alcohol, or committing an act of violence in a school because they felt they were heard, it will all be worthwhile.

Everything we do at MNMS is focused on the goal of inspiring unity, tolerance and empathy.  The idea is to keep our community engaged in doing something positive over a long period of time--because empathy is not forced; it is cultivated in a community.

How do you encourage other young people to follow their passions, like you did?

I encourage young people like myself to find their passion and run with it! Everyone's talents can be used for the greater good. For an athlete, it may be teaching disabled children how to play their sport. For a musician, it may be holding a charity concert to raise money for cancer. For a scientist, it may be working with corporations on finding new developments in medicine that can cure millions. For a writer, it may be writing inspirational poetry that moves people in healthy directions. For me, it is public speaking. I recently realized my words really can make a difference.

You are never too young to be a changemaker.