POSTED ON BEHALF OF LEAH THOMPSON
I first learned about Mattie Stepanek from his interview on the Oprah show in 2001. I was struck by his childlike innocence and inquisitiveness, and impressed by his sense of maturity and worldly wisdom. Mattie Stepanek appeared on the Oprah show at age 11. He suffered from a rare form of muscular dystrophy, a disease that confined him to a wheelchair and tethered him to an oxygen tank. His message was about hope and peace. Mattie was a philosopher, a poet, and a peacemaker. He has over 8 published books of poetry, several of which are New York Times Best Sellers. Mattie’s appearance on the Oprah show was commemorated as one of the top 25 moments in Oprah Show history. Click on the link below to watch a clip of the Oprah Show interview where Mattie talks about his poetry or heartsongs. Mattie says that everyone has a heartsong and “no matter what it is, it still sings the same beautiful message of peace and love. People are fighting over how our heartsongs are different. But they don’t need to be the same. That’s the beauty. We are a mosaic of gifts. Each of us has our inner beauty no matter how we look.”
Watch Oprah’s reflection on her meeting with Mattie:
I encourage you to explore the Mattie Stepanek website at:
On this website you will find Mattie’s full biography, information about programs and resources, and a description of the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation. The mission of the Foundation is “to further Mattie’s message of hope and peace by providing access to the message, promoting understanding of the message, and motivating people to action in sharing the message. Our vision is to offer educational and recreational programs, projects, activities, and resources that encourage peacemaking as a deliberate choice for individuals and for our world. We celebrate Mattie’s belief that “We have, we are, a mosaic of gifts, to nurture, to offer, to accept.” Like Mattie, we believe that “Peace is for all people!” and that “Peace is possible!”
Resources from this website can be used for students of all ages, and in a variety of settings. A possible lesson for middle or high school students would incorporate reading one of Mattie’s books of Heartsongs during a language arts, reading, or poetry unit. Students could read a poem by Mattie and then use this poem as a model or format to help them in writing their own poem.
The website below provides a specific lesson plan based on Mattie’s poems for a 4th, 5th, or 6th grade level literature lesson:
Or perhaps you are looking for a field trip idea? The citizens of Rockville, Maryland created a Mattie Peace Garden and Park in 2008, shortly after Mattie passed away. According to the website the park has a life-size bronze statue of Mattie and his service dog surrounded by chess tables. The Peace Garden was created based on visual imagery and quotes from Mattie’s final book, Just Peace. At the park visitors can listen to Mattie’s voice from a sound post that plays excerpts from his poetry, peace speeches, and songs.
Additional information about the park amenities and location can be found here:
Engaging students with Mattie’s life story and his books of poetry will be an empowering lesson. Mattie’s biography is an inspiring chronicle of a young person who rose above all sorts of barriers and challenges, with a courageous and inspiring spirit. Amid adversity, Mattie spoke a message of peace, love, and acceptance of all. I think a lesson based on Mattie’s poetry would allow students the opportunity to tap into their heartsongs (as Mattie calls them) to realize their message and their purpose. This will encourage students to become self aware, by providing an existing example of a young peacemaker, his message, and his goal for a more peaceful world.
This resource most supports the pillars of Nurturing Emotional Intelligence and Exploring Approaches to Peace. By exploring Mattie’s poetry, or heartsongs, students will reflect and be sensitive to their emotions, and perhaps discover a new message or goal for themselves. By sharing their heartsongs with their classmates they will build community and empathize with one another. Poetry and written expression is also a way to explore a new approach to peace. Mattie often talks about how he didn’t intend to sit down and write poems, but instead he just wanted to capture on paper the song inside his heart. Peace through poetry is a powerful force that captures the true essence of a person’s emotional journey during his/her pursuit of peace. Mattie lived a remarkable and inspiring life, and left behind a legacy of hope and peace. In closing, I will leave you with Mattie’s words…
Follow your heartsong.
Hope is real.
Peace is possible.
Life is worthy.
Believe, and celebrate!