Jesse Ruben inspired MTV Act readers and he's doing it again!
How so? With his great music and his relationship with BFF Zack Weinstein (who is also pretty damn inspiring, BTW). Zack is unable to walk, and this has made both guys passionate about bettering the lives of people with paralysis, so they’re each ambassadors for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. Now Jesse’s started the "I Can" initiative to make sure kids know the importance of dreaming big and going after their goals!
Jesse’s hoping to get on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” with this, and we wish him the best of luck! In the meantime, we wanted to learn all about this new campaign and get an update on how Zack is doing. Both of these guys know the meaning of the words “I can.”
ACT: What can you tell us about the "I Can" initiative? How did it get started? What is it all about?
JESSE: It was actually started by a group of teachers in a town called Courtenay, British Columbia. They wanted to create a program that taught their students to have big dreams, and to inspire them to take actions to make those goals a reality. As they were creating the initiative, one of the teachers discovered my song "We Can" and it became the theme song for the project. They wrote to me thanking me for the song, and asked if I would ever consider coming to visit. Of course I said yes, and after people heard about my trip, and saw the video we filmed, I started getting requests to bring it to other places.
ACT: Are you traveling to different elementary schools? If an elementary school is interested in having you visit, how should they contact you?
JESSE: Absolutely! So far we have schools in New Jersey, Virginia, Los Angeles, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Canada that will start their own "I Can" initiative in the fall. I have another dozen or so that I've been talking to and working with as well. I'm easy to get in touch with. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, or just email me at email@example.com.
ACT: What do you hope to accomplish with the "I Can" initiative (besides getting on “Ellen,” of course!)?
JESSE: It's been amazing to see the stuff that has come out of this initiative. I've seen kids work together to raise thousands of dollars for causes they believe in, to plant community gardens, to clean up areas of their community, to donate thousands of pounds of food for the homeless ... it goes on and on. It is amazing to watch, because you literally see a change in the kids that participate. They start to believe in themselves. They learn to work with others. At some point, the lid blows off and they come up with huge goals not just for themselves, but for the community as well.
As for me, getting on the "Ellen" show, it's definitely to talk about the I Can project. I want to impact as many people as possible, whether that be through this initiative, or a concert, or a song. People write to me every day to thank me for what I do, and it's the best feeling in the world. I just want that to grow.
ACT: “I Can” talks about how people can accomplish incredible things. What’s something you’ve accomplished that you're proud of? Do you know if any kids who have been touched by the initiative have accomplished big things afterward?
JESSE: The original idea came after I ran a marathon for The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation (which you guys also wrote about!). I remember starting out, thinking there was NO WAY that was possible. I was not an athlete. I didn't like running. And I had to raise $4,000. That was back in 2010. Now, the marathon is just a part of my calendar every year. It's something I love and look forward to. I've had about 20 other people run their first marathon because of my story, and I've had literally hundreds of people start running, and do shorter races. They send me pictures of their medals on Twitter. I love it.
Besides running, I've had people write to me to tell me it inspired them to move to a new city, to interview for a job they'd always wanted and to tell the person they love their true feelings. I think that's what life is all about, going after the things that really matter to you. If my song is the little push people need to get over their fears, then I've done my job.
ACT: Your trip to Canada sounded life-changing. What’s the biggest thing you learned there?
JESSE: It was unbelievable. To have a vision for a song, and then to see it manifest like that in such a positive way was really overwhelming. I learned how close a community can be and how they can make a difference together. The work being done in the Comox Valley by the teachers and staff and students is remarkable. I was honored to be a part of it. I actually went back to play benefit shows for them to raise money to build a new playground. I get to give back to a community that has been so great to me and so supportive.
JESSE: I actually just talked to him today! He's doing great in L.A., going on auditions and going to physical therapy a couple of times a week. I wish he came to the East Coast more, though. We miss him here.
All photos courtesy of Jesse Ruben