All kids are our kids

That's what I learned from Peter Benson.

Peter, president and CEO of the nonprofit organization Search Institute, died today. He had lived with colon cancer for some time with grace and the brightest spirit you can imagine. Peter, a visionary, years ago pondered the question: "Why do we always ask what is wrong with kids? Why don't we ask what is right about kids?"

And since no one else was doing so, Peter did -- and his inquiry broke new ground.

It is captured in his book, All Kids are Our Kids, an amazing read.

His legacy, in part, is the brilliant conceptual framework he synthesized about youth development. It's called the 40 Developmental Assets, and it describes the resources, relationships, and characteristics all kids need to succeed. His ideas spread like wildfire, and around the country schools, faith-based organizations, cities, counties, youth groups, neighborhoods, parks, libraries explored what Peter's ideas meant to them. And places began to look at their teens differently, as amazing people full of spirit and spark whose presence enriched places and people.

In the past 5 years, Peter took his concepts to a new level, naming that inner fire in young people sparks, and he invited all of us to help adolescents find and nurture their spark. He wrote about this concept and the work he did to develop it in the book, Sparks: How Parents Can Help Ignite the Hidden Strengths of Teenagers.

Peter delivered a gorgeous TED talk about this concept. It's the finest moment of public speaking I have ever seen Peter deliver. Bravo, Peter!

Peter transformed things, places, and people. For nine years, my professional and personal life orbited around his ideas, and while I no longer work for Search Institute and Peter (who was my boss for two years), I have been profoundly altered by his life's work.

People are always surprised when I say how much I love teens. I rather like that. Had I not known Peter, I might never have understood how important loving teens was.

To know Peter was to love Peter. He was a sparkplug, his walk almost a jaunty bounce, his attitude always a little full of mischief, and his head brimming with ideas.

Mary Oliver's poem, "When Death Comes," speaks of her desire to have embraced life so fully as to not have "simply visited this world."

. . . . .

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps his purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common 
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

~ Mary Oliver ~

. . . . .

I cannot think of a more fitting metaphor for Peter, who in no way "simply visited" this world -- he rocked it!

Peter, I will miss you.


Thanks, Kathleen, for this beautiful tribute. You captured so much of Peter's legacy so well.
Linda B. said…
My deepest sympathies. It is fun to see those sparks in youth and adults. Very interesting presentation.(Good thing I wasn't Spielberg's mom though)
Suldog said…
That is a wonderful poem. Sadly, I have to say I've never heard of your friend. But, happily, you have told me of him, and his importance to you, so now perhaps I will read what he had to say. You have done well today!
Janie said…
Peter sounds like an amazing person. I want to read his books.
Hilary said…
I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend. It sounds like he was one special man. Thank you for sharing this lovely tribute.
steven said…
this is a super cool video that comes at a very timely juncture for me. thanks so much - to peter of course - and also to you. steven

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