ONE Members Sam Griffith and Ali Bowman share the story of their young friend Laurence Carolin, who inspired them to start a ONE chapter at Dexter High School, then join ONE at the University of Michigan.
For three years in a row, I have spent one particular February night at a cafe in Dexter, Michigan surrounded by good food and music. The element that makes these nights special is the memory of one remarkable boy’s fight against extreme poverty, a fight that has been continued by a community committed to his dream of its eradication. February 2, 2013 marked the third annual “Airplane Day”, a celebration in honor of that boy, Laurence Carolin. When he was just a few months old, Laurence was adopted from Korea – and throughout his childhood, his family commemorated his arrival with Airplane Day, filled with friends, family, cake and candles, just like a birthday. Sadly, Laurence was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor at age 13.
Signers commemorate Laurence and his lasting message. Photo credit: Alison Bowman
To many people, this would be received as an end-of-the-line sentence, but not Laurence. Rather than be immobilized and consumed by grief, he was inspired by ONE and its message. Despite his young age, he took it upon himself to learn about ONE’s major issues, then decided to become heavily involved with the organization.
Laurence believed that he could make a significant impact in the lives of others not only by raising money, but also by spreading awareness. He encouraged his friends and family to become educated on the situation in developing nations, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, and its capacity for change. Laurence believed that it was our responsibility to help those who have limited means of improving their situations on their own. He hosted fundraisers for charities like Nothing But Nets and the United Nations Foundation, throughout the Dexter-Ann Arbor community.
When granted a wish from the Make-A-Wish foundation, Laurence’s original request was to meet Bono, ONE’s cofounder and lead singer of U2. He was not only Laurence’s favorite musician, but also a large part of his inspiration to participate in ONE. Due to unfortunate circumstances, the wish wasn’t able to be granted and instead, Laurence chose to donate the $5,000 from the Make-A-Wish Foundation to the United Nations Foundation. This was something the Make-A-Wish Foundation had never seen before. Laurence’s acts grabbed the attention of Bono and he was invited to attend the U2 360 Tour in Chicago. The band was so impressed with Laurence that they included him in their pre-performance prayer and signed his Gibson Les Paul guitar.
Laurence passed on January 15, 2010. In honor of his fight against extreme poverty, two of Laurence’s closest friends started ONE chapter at Dexter High School, gaining almost 100 members in its first year. Laurence’s family and closest friends partnered with the ONE chapters at Dexter High School and University of Michigan to put on an event in honor of Airplane Day each year. The goal was to celebrate his life as well as his dedication to help eradicate extreme poverty by continuing to raise awareness in his community.
For this year’s Airplane Day, the University of Michigan ONE Chapter collected more than 50 handwritten letters to Congress, urging our members to protect the foreign affairs budget. The event was filled with Laurence’s loved ones, from his family and friends to the doctors who treated him.
Guests read about ONE’s programming and Laurence’s inspiration. Photo credit: Alison Bowman
Guests write letters to Congress in honor of Laurence and to support ONE’s mission. Photo credit: Alison Bowman.
Examples of the exciting programming featured for awareness on Airplane Day. Photo credit: Alison Bowman.
As current members of the University of Michigan ONE chapter and the cofounders of the ONE chapter at Dexter High School, this event continues to amaze, inspire and encourage me. It is great to see a small community come together to support each other as well as a community on the other side of the world.
Laurence continues to inspire us and countless other lives. We know he would be thrilled to see how much the message he believed in has spread throughout his community. We hope that his story will continue to inspire others to invest in a cause greater than themselves, making the most of their lives through helping others.