Of Passion and Persistence

Of Passion and Persistence


My favorite leaders are those who create something out of nothing. Like Margaux Drake, whom I wrote about last week, an idea stalks them. They keep seeing something that could be better, wondering why  no one’s doing it , and then, as John Madden used to say on Monday Night Football: “Boom! They get it done.”  Actually, it’s not so simple. It’s slow, filled with obstacles, and tough moments.  Rick Sperling created the Mosaic Youth Theater in 1992 to spark the theatrical potential in under-served Detroit children.  To do so, he had to move in with his folks at age 26 and could only pay himself $4,000 that first year. In tight financial times, the challenges are unabating. But Mosaic now engages over 1,000 kids a year in spectacular music and drama training and performance.* His alumni have been nominated for Tony’s and traveled with Broadway productions.  Although they’re  disproportionately minority and low-income children, 95% of Mosaic youth get admitted to college.  Rick’s passion ignites theirs.  What a life he’s built, following his passion.

Like Rick, Mike Tenbusch and Dan Varner had an itch, a belief, a crazy notion that they could change the very arc of Detroit by involving children and their parents in sports. I could wow you with stats, but let me tell you one story and one fact. Early on, these two UM Law grads tossed away promising legal careers to commit to kids. They did NOT toss away a sense of excellence. So tired did they get with kids and coaches coming late to practice and games that they changed the rules: If you’re late for a game, you forfeit. They had days where literally half the teams were late. Frequently, in those first weeks, both teams would forfeit for lateness.  The lesson worked. Ball caps are straight, shirts are tucked in, and games start on time.  Their purpose is not to teach sports, primarily, but to teach character. And they now have nearly 15,000 children playing in their leagues.

Here’s to me the killer fact: they have trained 1500 adults to become coaches of character. Imagine the power for good that’s released in Detroit when adults find a vehicle to constructively serve chronically under-engaged children.

On October 17th, I’m going to honor them by slogging through the Free Press Marathon.  When I get to the inevitable obstacles, especially at mile 20, I’ll remember that Mike and Dan frequently wanted to quit. They’ll be my mental models when I think of persistence and resilience.  In these tough times in Detroit, when the schools are struggling to right the ship, and in an economy where kids must learn persistence and drive, I want to do a little and I invite you to help. I’m going to run for Think Detroit, and I (with the blessing and financial support of my bride!) will match every dollar you contribute to them up to a total of $2,000.  Click to contribute.

What’s the idea that nags at you?  Where’s your passion that could change lives?  What dream could REALLY incite you to

Lead with your best self!


* Auditions are this month if you know a Detroit-area child with a passion for performance! They need not be from the city; the diversity is a treasured value – at the heart of the name, Mosaic.

  • Dan,

    I appreciate this note (and the interview with Dan & Mike) from a lot of perspectives:

    1. From an inspirational perspective– people like Dan & Mike are rare and to see the sacrifice and vision they have allows so many more people to follow and help make change in this City.

    2. Organizations like TDP & Mosiac are great partners for parents and broken systems. We have spent a tremendous amount of time (inducing the Time article) discussing how to fix the education system in our country. Organizations like TDP support that in unique ways (and we want to be MORE involved) and help parents have an extra set of eyes, support, & guidance when it is tough for them.

    Thanks so much for recognizing Mike & Dan!

  • I’ve been following your RFL’s, your other statements, your wife’s actions as Executive and her statements as well, since the end of her first campaign. As you may know I’ve been commenting, excessively, on the entire course since it started, as well. I’ve been for and against, united and divided, on a lot of things. But there’s one thing I have to remain divided about: the inherent imperfection in you politicians.

    The offices sustained by political elect are idealised, perfected and secured. We come to expect certain things from those positions, and we can accurately pinpoint when we’ve been let down (at least, we’re supposed to, as a conglomerate of people, have that ability — don’t ask me where it’s gone or whether I much care) and we are also supposed to show our support when the model of the position has been met with right performance in duty and provision. So, when some elect or their sponsorship perform otuside of the margin of average deviation, anyone keen would find it noteworthy and if responsible would remark on the passing events per subject.

    This approach, however, is severe and susceptible to indoctrination, which is where I fear I find our two, big-party buzzards find the most feeding.

    Meanwhile, persons like your wife, Jennifer Mulhern Granholm, break the form — and show up the rest of us by way of human virtues in spite of what’s dominantly expected of the performance art of politics — and present us all with the challenge of being just plain, ordinary folks who have good intentions, honesty, genuinity (and definitely perseverance) in obtaining what the people need in lieur of governance and provision as best as it can be handled and managed both by the constituency and the body of hired government workers. That may be a thick statement but the point is, it needs to be served.

    I’m sure that some day, in the future, long after the aftershocks of Governor Granholm’s election(s) have passed, the state will regain its “cool” and again approach politics and business with level heads, stern minds, and mundane goals. Until then, there’s this aftershock if you will, a sort of heady, even consterned and perplexed surrealism of social perceptions that we’ll all suffer from, in a malady of malcontent, unless we happen across some cause of social amnesia.

    Anyways, yeah, great stuff.

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