The wait is over! Since December, we’ve been introducing readers to Kid of the Year nominees. The winner was announced on February 9 during a TV special on Nickelodeon. The top honor went to 11-year-old Orion Jean. He was selected from a field of more than 5,000 nominees. Orion leads campaigns to help people in need. Along the way, he has inspired others to join his crusade for kindness.
“If you see a problem, fix it.” That’s how Orion Jean describes his work. Orion sees himself as an ambassador for kindness. He finds ways to help others wherever he sees a need. It might be collecting and donating 100,000 meals to food-insecure families or half a million books to kids with none at home. At a time when people are feeling isolated and divided, Orion sees a better, kinder world. It’s the world we could have if more people like him brought communities together to help their neediest members. Orion spoke with actor and humanitarian Angelina Jolie over Zoom from his home, in Fort Worth, Texas.
Angelina Jolie: Can you explain your work and how it came to be?
Orion: When the pandemic began, people were losing their jobs, homes, and access to food and other essential things. I wanted to help. But the opportunity actually came when my teacher suggested I enter the National Kindness Speech Contest in 2020. I won, and with the prize money, I started a kindness initiative to help people.
Jolie: You’ve said that kindness is a choice. How can people make that choice?
Orion: We can’t force others to be kind, but we can be kind ourselves and hope to inspire other people. So many people have great ideas but never act on them. I want others to know that they can start today. If there’s an issue or problem you want to solve, all it takes is just knowing deep down that it’s something you care about.
Jolie: You really have a gift for sharing warmth and kindness. Do you ever feel overwhelmed or sad when you see people who are unkind?
Orion: Absolutely. One thing about being kind is that you perk up when you hear other people being unkind, or when you hear about people who aren’t doing the right thing. And it makes you sad inside. I hope that by spreading kindness, I can inspire people to change their ways and be more kind in the future.
Jolie: It feels better to be kind, doesn’t it?
Orion: Yes. Kindness can be as easy as not being mean to someone, not talking behind their back or posting that mean comment on social media. That’s what kindness can be. It can just be as simple as not being cruel.
Jolie: So, I know you also started an initiative around books. Tell me that story.
Orion: I’ve loved books ever since I can remember. To me, literacy is something that can get you off the ground. It can allow you eventually to get that job, or maybe it’s just a way for you to escape your everyday life, to learn about a new person or culture. Some kids don’t have access to any books. They live in book deserts . I want to get books out to those areas. I don’t do this on my own. I have a whole team behind me: my parents, family, all the generous corporate donors and organizations. They’re doing this because they feel compelled to help people in their community.
Jolie: How do you balance activism with just being a kid?
Orion: I’ve tried musical instruments, like drums and piano. I play video games with friends. Just taking time to relax and be 11. Self-care is important, just every now and then knowing when to step back and take a break.
Jolie: You have such an understanding of what’s important in life. It’s really an honor to meet you.
Orion: The pleasure, believe me, is all mine.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.