Byron Sanders is relentlessly building a community of changemakers with a single goal: to unleash the potential of every single kid in Dallas.
Heâ€™s the new President and CEO of Big Thought, a longtime social impact partner of Fossil Group, and heâ€™s on a mission to close the opportunity gap in his community. Itâ€™s this passion for leveling the playing field and bringing opportunity to ALL students thatâ€™s fueling whatâ€™s next for Big Thought.
How does Big Thought unleash the power of youth?
We do this in two different ways. One, we empower kidsâ€™ creativity. And two, we help them foster healthy social and emotional wellbeing.
Big Thought has a number of programs that focus on empowering youth to create, to use their voice and to use their imagination to rethink whatâ€™s possible. Itâ€™s a muscle that you have to develop. Sometimes itâ€™s not necessarily intuitive. We donâ€™t implant the voice, the voice exists and we create experiences that help draw it out.
What impact has your organization made on the Dallas community?
Weâ€™re here to create an ecosystem with other Dallas partners whereby more kids get access to out-of-school enrichment in order to develop their creativity. In this way, weâ€™ve worked with thousands and thousands of kids. Itâ€™s a beautiful thing. Just last year in Dallas City of Learning, we reached nearly 40,000 students. Itâ€™s incredible to talk about the scope and scale of how we work with our partners in our community to enable such a large impact.
What do YOU make time for?
The thing I relentlessly make time for is exposing my kids to new experiences, just like what weâ€™re doing with Big Thought. We make time to travel, which expands their worlds just that much more. Hereâ€™s an example: we were able to take our daughter to see Hamilton last year. That was a lifetime moment for her. We knew all the words, weâ€™ve been rapping it for like a year. And then we surprised her with a trip to New York. Life-changing.
The thing that I make time for on a daily basis, kind of my happy place, is listening to audiobooks. Nerdy? I know. But itâ€™s cool. I love being a nerd. I love biographies of leaders throughout history. I love these biographies because most of them look at both the good and the badâ€”the whole story, the whole humanâ€”and you get that vulnerability.
Whatâ€™s the biggest obstacle youâ€™ve encountered on your journey, and how did you overcome it?
I grew up in a house where there was domestic violence. I used to be so ashamed to talk about this. From a very young age, these after school programs, summer school programs, out-of-school experiences, those were my safe space.
I noticed at a very young age, any time I came home with good newsâ€”a good report card, or stickers or medals or something like thatâ€”everybody was happy. And itâ€™d lighten the room so there wouldnâ€™t be any arguing. There wouldnâ€™t be any of the violence that Iâ€™d come to know.
Coming out of this period, I felt like I was able to turn some pretty dark times into something that was very positive. I prided myself on being the golden child, and very often I was able to bring success and thus joy to my mom. Unfortunately, around the time I was in college, I lost my footing. At a fraternity event, I witnessed a college hazing incident that resulted in the expulsion of every student presentâ€”including me. But by the grace of God and the grace of other people, I got another shot. I got to go to the University of Tulsa.
There was a guy there, Earl Johnson, who listened to my story and took a chance on me. When I got there, I was like, â€œI am not going to waste this one.â€ So I got up there and knew one person. By the end of that year, Iâ€™d been elected student body president.
When you take your life lessons, then channel all of your strengths and your experiences into becoming your best self, beautiful things can happen. I am the beneficiary of other peopleâ€™s grace and other people giving me a chance, which is why a lot of our kids resonate with me personally. A lot of them are similar to where I was at one point: Theyâ€™ve been written off and they think they donâ€™t have anything left to give, and I know for a fact they do. We just have to be that lifeline to help them recognize itâ€“and the worldâ€™s going to catch up.
What advice do you find yourself sharing most frequently?
One of the lessons Iâ€™ve learned is that every moment is a gift and we donâ€™t have infinite moments. Thereâ€™s a finite amount of time that we have on this planet and we have a responsibility to make sure that weâ€™re using those moments intentionally. If we have an opportunity, itâ€™s that we can be effective in helping somebody elseâ€™s life, helping them cultivate and curate their greatness.
So the advice that I give, especially when Iâ€™m talking to kids and youth is this: People always say, â€œWhat do you want to be when you grow up?â€ My response to that is,
“Why wait? You have power right now. You have a voice right now. Letâ€™s do it right now.â€
All photos courtesy of Big Thought and Byron Sanders