By Kevin Alan Lamb
In the time since undertaking the magnanimous yet intimidating task of profiling one of, if not the greatest journalist of our time, numerous individuals have shockingly posited the question, “who is Mitch Albom?”
Like fireflies in the night-sky, any number of possible responses sprinted their way to the forefront of consciousness, all the while, disbelief perpetuated silence.
Mitch Albom, the New York Times bestselling-author: amassing sales upward of 14 million copies with one of the top-selling-memoirs of all time in Tuesdays with Morrie.
Mitch Albom, the sports journalist and regular on ESPN’s the Sports Reporters, responsible for co-writing BO: Life, Laughs, and the Lesson of a College Football Legend Bo Schembechler, also a New York Times bestseller.
Mitch Albom, philanthropist, responsible for the creation or increased awareness of eight charities, including S.A.Y. Detroit and the Dream Fund.
Mitch Albom, executive producer and screenwriter, with his latest release being “Have a Little Faith”, starring Laurence Fishburne, which chronicles the author’s life lessons gleaned from an aging rabbi and a redeemed pastor.
Mitch Albom, radio host, honoured on numerous occasions by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters as the top afternoon talk show host for his work on The Sunday Sports Albom, which is believed to be one of the first sports talk shows to ever air on FM radio.
Mitch Albom, musician and member of the Rock Bottom Remainders, a band of writers highlighted by Stephen King whose performances raise funds for various children’s literacy projects across the country.
And last, Mitch Albom, playwright, with the stage version of Tuesdays with Morrie opened Off Broadway at Minetta Lane Theatre.
But despite all of these identities often associated with making Mitch Albom the man and icon he is today, none of these individual endeavors that when standing alone, equate and even surpass the efforts of most careers, make him the living legend he is today.
Mitch Albom’s words have transcended paper to become a prolific provider of hope and faith, because his dreams were realized by embodying the diligence realizing dreams warrants.
“I am walking proof of that,” Albom told Sportz Detroit Magazine in response to the statement, “you do what you have to do in order to do the thing you love.”
He continued, “Take a look at my laundry list of jobs: factory worker, social worker, Pinkerton security guard, ice cream-scooper− all the while trying to write and make music. I never minded. I saw it as buying me my time. Thank god for caffeine.”
Like the myriad of artists from his generation and the next, Albom walked the fine-line-of-love and lunacy chasing his dream above and beyond the cosmos.
“I worked an eclectic set of jobs during the day and then I’d write until three in the morning. Twenty-four hours never seemed to be enough, but making ends meet is part of doing what you love,” Albom said.
“God makes us flexible, pliable, so we can fall over and not feel pain when we’re young. And when you’re 50, you know better, it’s the same way with careers.”
Nothing was given to the nationally syndicated native of Passaic, NJ, named best sports columnist in the nation a record 13 times by the Associated Press.
Albom’s ascension from freelance writer at SPORT MAGAZINE to the most decorated journalist of all-time is a direct result of his humble nature and hustle.
“I believed I had made it when I sold my first freelance piece to a newspaper in Queens. I aspired to see my name in print− it was so cool, I still remember thinking I couldn’t do any better. The thrill of it− I made 100 Xeroxes, I didn’t have a computer then; they cost a dime each. I remember thinking ‘this might be the only time I was ever published,’ I’ll never forget it,” Albom said while recollecting his beginnings.
In a time when far too many utilize god’s gifts strictly as a means of acquiring fame and fortune, Albomemploys his abilities to shed light in loom of darkness and provide means for those without them.
“We have an annual Christmas party at Booth Evangeline Salvation Army,” Albom said as the latest project for his charity, A Time to Help.
“It’s a huge event in its 14th year. In that time homeless children and their parents have come to rely on us. It’s the only Christmas party a lot of them will ever get. It lasts three or four hours, we really live it up.”
The middle of three children to Rhoda and Ira Albom, it could be argued that his tremendous good-will and giving nature stem from his passion to create and share music with the world.
Musicians are born with the ability to make order out of disorder, harmony in the place of dissonance, and ultimately, hope in those that are otherwise hopeless.
“Wow, well first I try to evoke perception and life lessons that line up with my faith that a person of any faith could agree with and believe. I avoid dirty words that might offend and focus on the hope and faith element. Hope and faith are very closely tied together,” Albom offered as the most immediate difference his faith has made in his writing.
Albom’s original dream was to become a musician. He played in a number of bands in high school and college, in addition to studying jazz piano under the renowned Charlier Banacos at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA.
After graduating in 1979, Albom traveled to Europe where he found work as a piano player and singer in taverna on the Island of Crete.
“Begrudgingly,” Albom described his parents’ support of his musical pursuit. “They didn’t want me to be a musician− they thought I’d make a good doctor or lawyer.”
While his mother recognized his passion for the creative, and encouraged him to be creative with his life’s work, his father was a traditional business man, who was less than thrilled at the idea of his pursuit of another uncertain “artsy profession,” in writing.
“Everyone doubts their talent and ability to make it as a writer. You will never meet a cocky young writer. Every day is spent hoping people will still want to read you and you never lose that insecurity,”Albom offered as advice to aspiring writers.
“You can’t write if you don’t read. Don’t just read what you like to write either. Through osmosis, find writers you like to emulate and find your own voice by listening to others. It’s the same with musicians.”
In 1983 Albom was hired full-time as a feature writer for The Fort Lauderdale News, almost 29 years later it’s safe to say he found his voice. His books have collectively sold over 28 million copies worldwide; have been published in forty-one territories and in forty-two languages around the globe; not to mention being made into Emmy Award-winning and critically-acclaimed television movies.
“I try to avoid writing from an orientation that’s just mine, at least in the first three books,” the sage said.
“It doesn’t matter what your background is if you can make sense of the humanistic and spiritualistic view of the world.”
Albom’s ability to permeate the soul of an individual amongst the masses makes him truly unique and awe-inspiring.
His philanthropic work reveals the inner-workings of man who continually chooses to make the world a better place by combatting the degree to which people mistreat one another.
Four years ago when Detroit hosted Super Bowl XL, Albom was disturbed by how the homeless were being treated to a “party” as a means to clean the streets of their occupancy, only to be herded back onto the streets come Monday morning.
As a result, Albom founded S.A.Y Detroit (Super All Year Detroit), an umbrella program that funds shelters and cares for the homeless.
Albom spent a night in a shelter to call attention to the issue, and as a result was able to raise over $350,000 in less than two weeks.
“The guy in front of me turned to me and said, ‘Aren’t you Mitch Albom? Well, what happened to you?’ That moment was really telling of a bigger story− ‘Why not me?’ That vaulted me more into the homeless issue than anything,” Albom said.
While the rest of the country sees Detroit for its corruption, desperation and despair, Albom continues to hold on hope and believe, like many proud-Detroiters, that the worst has come to pass and a once-great-city will rise again.
“I’ve had a chance to meet Mitch Albom and I think he’s a very personable and knowledgeable of the industry he’s in,” said 55-year-old president of G1NBC TV, Joe Malik, of Brighton.
“I know that he cares about what he writes and is a great example for people that want to get into the industry. I wish him many-more-years on the air.”
Malik had the opportunity to interview Albom during the rally to support Michigan’s Film Tax Credit in February.
In these times of economic downturn a man like Mitch Albom offers faith, love and unity in place of fear, doubt and dissonance.
No individual has made a greater commitment to the advocacy of this city, than Albom.
He is often perceived as a Detroit native because his words weigh heavy with their honesty and perpetual demand positive change in the interest of the community he has made a home in.
“Dreams have rocket-fuel and cannot wait. You’re tired by the time you’re 50− there’s a time and a place,” Albom said.
Despite an appointment book that rivals the president’s, Albom is committed to taking the necessary time to ensure his endeavors be treated with care.
“Mitch sat in my audition and he was really nice. He was on the set each day I was there and it seemed like he really cared about how the story was being told,” Arthur said of his experience on the set of “Have a Little Faith”, where he played Henry Covington’s son, played by Laurence Fishburne.
“He is a very humble guy and cares so much about the city of Detroit. I was thrilled to be part of such a wonderful and uplifting story.”
The Have Faith Haiti Mission is an extraordinary place of love and caring, dedicated to the safety, education, health and spiritual development of Haiti’s impoverished children and orphans.
The goal of the mission is to provide a safe, nurturing environment for Haitian children who aren’t fortunate enough to have one.
In the aftermath of the crippling earthquake in January of 2010, the mission experienced hardship before being taken over by Albom, and his A Hole in the Roof Foundation.
Inspired by his book, “Have a Little Faith”, the name changed to Have Faith Haiti Mission.
Students are taught in both French and English, with a goal of achieving at least a high school diploma.
Christian prayer and guidelines are a part of their daily life, as is a sense of giving back to the mission though work and responsibility.
Mark Mendelsohn, 54, of Birmingham, plays a critical role behind the scenes in the mission’s efforts.
“The kids are amazing. When we get out of the van they are eagerly anticipating our arrival and mob us,” Mendelsohn said with a brimming smile. “A majority of the young kids taken in last spring spoke no English, and there they were ‘Hi Mr. Mark’, I can remember the first things they learned, ‘How are you?’”.
The “Detroit Muscle Crew” set out on their first trip to Haiti a little over a month after the quake, three years ago.
“I’ve been back 14 times in two years, 15 after I leave tomorrow,” Mendelsohn said. “The best story was six weeks ago, the kids were playing when an older kid picked up a little kid and he said, ‘Let me go! Let me go!’ It was unbelievable… they were thinking in English, not Creole. It is amazing how quickly they learn.”
The Have Faith Haiti Mission volunteer was taken aback by the children’s contrasting appreciation to that of American children, including his nieces and nephews.
“I get more out of this than any of them, the kids are phenomenal. It’s not a knock on American kids, but they’re (Americans) more concerned with their PSPs and I Phones than anything I can offer,” Mendelsohn said. “They have different values.”
Despite people’s willingness to help in the form of donated goods, due to limited resources insofar as transportation, the Have Faith Haiti Mission can benefit most from monetary donations.
“I don’t like to be crass, but bottom line, we need money. We don’t have the facility to distribute truckloads of donations to Haiti,” the humanitarian said.
Roger Penske’s contribution in the form of the Penske company jet, to transport the Detroit Muscle Crew, four times annually, make the mission’s efforts possible.
“His generosity is unbelievable… He has enabled us to take these volunteers who have given up their time and money to help our efforts,” Mendelsohn said.
Visit HaveFaithhaiti.org and offer hope to children who previously knew none.
When asked who he would choose to tell the story of his life and what he has left behind, Albom paused with careful consideration, and responded:
“My two parents, my wife, my dear friend and radio producer Rosie, whom I’ve known since I was 12, and Morrie.”
Mitch Albom reminds us of the dreams we had as a child, yet seem to have let slip away in an effort to be the person the world often insisted upon us being.
His genuine and gentle nature towards those stricken with misfortune makes him vulnerable and thus tangible for readers throughout the world to identify with.
His unparalleled success despite humble beginnings inspires those who have too often been reminded of their origins and alleged potential.
Mitch Albom will be written about for decades to come because at the end of the day, he chose to make a difference: he chose to be different: he chose to care.
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