To date, 2012 has been a year of triumph, tragedy, growth and change. 2012 has seen the Trayvon Martin shooting, the Kony 2012 campaign, the London Summer Olympics, the Aurora massacre, and will soon see a U.S. presidential election. In the midst of the fray, a few have stood out as true catalysts; those who have made an undeniable impact this year.
In her younger years, Sarah Blakely worked as a door-to-door fax machine saleswoman, failed the LSAT, and was hardly the poster child for success. However, earlier this year, 41-year-old Blakely became the world’s youngest female billionaire. Blakely is the inventor of the wildly successful Spanx women’s bodyshaping product line. Back in 2000, Blakely cut the feet off of a pair of pantyhose to achieve a more smooth look under a pair of slacks. In the process, she realized that she was in need of an item that did not yet exist. The idea for Spanx was born through her serendipitous discovery, and Blakely spent the next several years tenaciously and aggressively marketing her product. Today Blakely continues to lead the Spanx empire as Chief Executive Officer.
At 28 years old, Invisible Children CEO Ben Keesey was doubtless unprepared for the response his organizations “Kony 2012” video received after its release on March 5. In less than a month, fueled by an unparalleled viral spread through social media, the video reached over 86 million views on YouTube and over 16 million views on Vimeo. Despite subsequent scrutiny and criticism about their accountability controls and spending policies, Invisible Children, with Keesey at the helm, stays committed to their vision of bringing an end to the atrocities of Joseph Kony’s “Lord’s Resistance Army” in central Africa. This important mission notwithstanding, perhaps the greatest testament to Keesey’s impact this year is the evidence “Kony 2012” displayed of the power that social media holds in today’s world.
On August 2, 16-year-old Gabby Douglas became the first African American woman to win a gold medal in the Olympic all-around gymnastics competition, as well as the first American woman to win gold in both the individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympic Games. Douglas was quick to share her faith in God with the media cameras rolling. During an August 5 press conference held in London’s North Greenwich arena, where she claimed her landmark victory just a few days prior, Douglas said, “God has given me this awesome talent to represent Him. Glory goes up to Him, and the blessings fall down on us.”
On February 26 in Sanford, Florida, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in the midst of an altercation with neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. After battles raged in the public square over racial bias, gun laws, and what was viewed as a botched and prejudiced investigation, on April 11 Zimmerman was formally charged with second degree murder in Martin’s death and currently awaits trial. The incident has revived the discussion of race relations in America, as well as prompted serious examination of American handgun and “stand your ground” laws. Regardless of one’s personal thoughts on the shooting, it is undeniable that Martin’s death will have far reaching impacts for years to come.
Marissa Mayer originally gained notoriety as Google’s 20th employee and first ever female engineer. However, Mayer made headlines this year when she was announced as the new CEO of Yahoo on July 16. After hiring and firing three CEO’s within the past year, and after steadily losing ground to Google in recent years, Yahoo has called on Mayer to spearhead a brand revival. Additionally, evidencing the continued positive direction of attitudes towards women in the workplace, Mayer was offered (and accepted) the CEO position in the midst of a pregnancy. Mayer is scheduled to give birth in October, and the Washington Post reports that she is planning take a very brief maternity leave during which she will work as much as possible. The same Post article quotes Mayer saying, “They showed their evolved thinking,” referring to the Yahoo board of directors not allowing her pregnancy to impact their decision to hire her.
23-year-old New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin was just 15 games into his NBA career when he led his team to a 92-85 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, shocking the world. In the February 10 game, Lin scored 38 points, 7 assists, and 4 rebounds in 39 minutes on the floor, outscoring even superstar opponent Kobe Bryant and sparking global “Linsanity.” Lin’s sudden rise to fame was even more captivating considering his Asian ethnicity and Harvard graduate status, both of which shatter the stereotypical mold of an NBA superstar. To top it all off, Lin is an outspoken Christian and displayed incredible humility in the midst of becoming a household name literally overnight. Lin, then and now, is quick to give the glory to God and to share his faith publicly at every opportunity.
Until early 2012, Jefferson Bethke was an unknown twenty-something living in the Seattle area, with little more than a passion for the spoken word and a friend who happened to be quite skilled in the art of video production. On January 10, Bethke uploaded a video onto YouTube entitled “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus.” The word “viral” is inadequate to describe what happened next. The video reached six million views within three days, sparked a firestorm of controversy and debate in evangelical circles, and thrust Christianity (and Bethke himself) into the mainstream public eye. Bethke has released several videos since, garnering a more modest response, and has leveraged his newfound fame to become a blogger, speaker, and soon-to-be author.
In 2008, Christine Caine and her husband Nick founded the A21 Campaign out of a desire to mobilize the global church to address the human trafficking epidemic. Today, A21 (thea21campaign.org ) has anti-trafficking awareness initiatives spanning the globe, and has “boots on the ground” with prevention and aftercare programs in Greece and Ukraine. In speaking at the Passion 2012 Conference about the church’s response to trafficking , Caine said, “It’s easy to ignore suffering when it’s nameless and faceless.” She later added, “Compassion isn’t compassion until you cross the street and do something about it.” On top of being a wife and mother, Australian native Caine has authored seven books, spearheads international anti-trafficking initiatives, and is called on regularly to speak at venues around the globe.
On July 31, American swimmer Michael Phelps won his 19th Olympic medal, surpassing the previous record held by Russian gymnast Larissa Latynina to become the most decorated Olympian in history. After a tenuous start to the 2012 Olympic Games, Phelps went on to win a total of 6 medals in London, ending his swimming career with a grand total of 22 Olympic medals. Phelps struggled tremendously in school as a child and was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD) at age 9. In a 2008 interview with Everyday Heath, Phelps’ mother Debbie shares how swimming helped Michael develop a laser-like focus, harnessing his energy to produce legendary greatness in the pool. Having overcome the odds against him, Phelps’ record will likely stand for decades and may never be surpassed.
24-year-old Lauren Scruggs stands as an icon of strong faith in God and the resilience of the human spirit. On December 3, 2011, Scruggs suffered crippling injuries after walking into a moving plane propeller. Scruggs lost an eye and a hand in the accident and has walked a long and painful road of recovery since. In an August 9 “Today” show interview, Scruggs said, “Emotionally, days are hard sometimes, just accepting the loss of my eye and hand,” But it just gets better and I realize God is in control of my life and there’s a purpose to this story.” Scruggs has written a book about the experience entitled Still Lolo: A Spinning Propeller, A Horrifying Accident, and a Family’s Journey of Hope. That book will be released in November of this year.
As you reflect on these 2012 impact makers, consider how you can make a difference in your world. Oftentimes, greatness is found in how one handles times of challenge and adversity. Never give up, and aways trust that God is working all things together for your good (Romans 8:28)!