The Torch Flash Mob

If you are not familiar with the concept, a “Flash Mob” is a large group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and predetermined act for a brief time, and then quickly disperse. The phenomenon of Flash Mobs has inspired hundreds of people to turn up for good ole fashioned pillow fights on city streets, zombie parades, rush hour subway parties and synchronized dance parties (you can check out the post I wrote here to watch an awesome video of this occurring at a Black Eyed Peas show).

I have no doubt that these events have created mayhem at times, but what I love is that they also bring much stress-releasing laughter and joy to otherwise routine moments in people’s lives. Flash mobs are all about turning an ordinary moment into an extraordinary experience.

This past Friday night on the Food Revolution, Jamie Oliver did exactly that!  He staged a culinary-inspired Flash Mob with students from Marshall University, whipping up healthy stir-fries with a synchronized dance party in the center of campus. Jamie’s passion and energy had a very specific focus, that being to raise awareness for healthy eating in Huntington, West Virginia.

Jamie had been challenged by Rod, the skeptic radio show host for the town, to teach 1000 people in town to cook a healthy meal in 5 days. Rod was definitely doing his part to bring Jamie’s Revolution to a screeching halt. Without launching too much in to a recap of the show, suffice to say, whether it was the Flash Mob or not, Jamie succeeded in his task and hopefully really is on his way to creating lasting change for Huntington. He’s even got the governor on board, so I’d venture to say he’s headed in the right direction!

Today’s post is about a very personal and extraordinary experience with a Flash Mob, memories of which came flooding back while watching the show. Back in 2001, I was on staff for a teen leadership training called Torch, in Minneapolis, MN. Having already been through the adult trainings, it was an honor to participate in leading this group of amazing teenagers through a journey that I can only express as life-changing, beautiful and beyond inspiring.

At this point, I’d like to introduce you to my guest blogger for today’s story ~ one of my best friends in the world, my brother Matt Nelson. Not only was Matt instrumental in bringing the Torch movement to the twin cities, but he served as Staff Leader, and did so with energy, fun and a whole lot of love! So here is Matt, to share the inspiring story of our Torch Flash Mob.

…………………………………………………..

The kids returned from lunch, and we had no idea what to expect. We had been working together for several weeks in a very challenging leadership training, and now they returned to our little make-shift training room in the Hennepin County Library, to present their very own community service project.

We had only two requirements for their project. The first was that they had to reach at least 1000 people. To be honest, we figured it would be nearly impossible for 15 teenagers to accomplish this in just a couple of hours, but we all knew from experience that lofty challenges more often than not create profound results. The second requirement was that they had to engage in truly meaningful conversation with those they were reaching out to. If you know any high school students, you probably realize this second requirement was actually the harder of the two.

Roughly four hours earlier, before our morning session began, I must admit I was feeling quite proud of myself. I had come up with a community service project that I thought was a very unique opportunity for the teens, and I knew they would both be challenged and rewarded in taking the project on. As I described the project to the adult small group leaders, I could sense the excitement in the air. This project was big. It was going to require these kids to tap into parts of themselves they likely never had before.

Having already printed 200 contracts, we described the assignment to the teens. They were going to head out into the community, which in this case was the business and shopping district of downtown Minneapolis on Nicollet Mall. The goal was for the teens to engage random adults in conversation, and get to them to sign a contract promising to help a teenager in their life with something of substance that they would not have otherwise done. We told them to use their imaginations, anything from taking a kid to lunch and having a real conversation with them about life, helping them apply for college, or encouraging a dream.

The contract was basic, but read something like this: I, ______, commit to helping ______ by doing the following things ______________. Signed, ________.

For two hours that morning, the teens performed just brilliantly, approaching everyone from businessmen in tailored suits, to random mail workers in Birkenstocks, to causal window shoppers roaming the mall. Granted, a few of the teens needed a bit of prodding, and most of them waited for ‘just the right person’, but by the end of the session, each had stretched way beyond their own perceived limitations and fears.

When they were finished with the morning session, they had over 120 signed contracts. We were floored by their success, and couldn’t have possibly been more proud and inspired by what these teens had accomplished.

That is, until they returned from lunch and proceeded to describe the community service project they had come up with, all by themselves!

At this part of the story, I should point out that we (the adult small group leaders) had been working very hard with these teens for several weeks. They were used to being challenged by us, and we were just getting the hang of what it takes to get a teenager to do something they were uncomfortable with doing. We had already spent a lot of time laughing together, and a fair amount crying together as well. We had shared our best stories, along with our most painful ones. We had gotten to know each other as people and friends, along with the great range of emotions that comes with being a human being on this planet. We had become a team, we had become a family.

So when these young adults returned from their lunch break, we were more than eager to find out how they thought they could serve 1000 people over the course of an afternoon. I was prepared for a breakdown, as my worst fear was that they couldn’t agree to anything.

Much to my surprise, they were 100% ready to take it on, and in a really big and meaningful way.

They had made it a working lunch, sending a team to a local drug store to spend the remains of their lunch money on colored tissue paper, construction paper, and an assortment of pipe cleaners. Over the next hour after lunch, using time we had set aside, they proceeded to make a couple hundred tissue flowers. Attached to each flower, was an empowering message.

Be Free. You are beautiful. Kindness. Happiness. Believe. Dream bigConnect. Love. It is Possible. Share. Peace. Do good. You are loved.

Passing out a couple hundred flowers with empowering messages sure seemed to be a quick way to reach a 1000 people. Even under the pay it forward theory, one would expect that anyone receiving such a gift from a stranger would be so uplifted that they would pass that positive infectious vibe to everyone they encountered throughout the day. But they knew they also had to engage these strangers in a meaningful conversation, so they decided this would be a great opportunity to persuade them to give the flower to another stranger as they went about their day. Brilliant.

So their plan was to hand out the flowers to random strangers, introduce themselves, engage in conversation, and to be sure the person receiving the messages understood that is was sincere. In these conversations, they planned to ask the people to pass it on to another person, bringing the pay it forward concept to life. If they were able to authentically communicate and connect with these strangers, they could turn the 200 into 400, into 600, then 800, and on to 1000 people being affected, and even beyond.

With the morning session serving as the perfect warm up, they put everything they had as caring, committed leaders into their project. Watching them in action was truly a thing of beauty, bordering on miraculous. There were hugs, tears, laughter and love exchanged downtown Minneapolis that day. There were even people who were so floored and inspired they even tried to make donations. It was simply amazing.

Hearing the stories from the teens during our wrap-up showed me that they truly loved this community service project they had created. They had risen to a challenge that we assumed was virtually impossible, and had outperformed the expectations of every adult in the room. In many ways the students became the teachers as they shared their experiences from throughout the day. Everyone in the room was deeply affected and forever changed, and there was hardly a dry eye in the room.

The moral of this story is to never sell kids short. If you give them a chance, and a bit of a push, they just may surprise you.

Now it’s your turn, so go out and do something wonderful for a kid in your life. It just might end up changing yours.

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34 Responses to “The Torch Flash Mob”

  1. I love the flash mob concept, Beth. We’re so fortunate to have the freedom to express ourselves publicly to educate, entertain and engage our fellow citizens.

    Sometimes we take this freedom for granted, although historically it’s been absent from the vast majority of civilizations.

    So thanks so much for reminding us how fortunate are to be able to express ourselves in this way. Now, let’s take advantage of it! (P.S. One way might be through targeted tribal activities on the internet)…
    .-= David Merrill´s last blog ..Blogging Essentials For Tribal Syndication =-.

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    bethallen Reply:

    Right on, David. I’ve had thoughts of tribe related flash mob type stuff ~ we should chat! 🙂

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  2. Beth;

    “Flash Mob” brings our hearts and heads together for a greater cause and when done, ALL have been raised to a higher vibrational level!

    When our young people take part in a community project, they amaze themselves; as well as, those who have been touched by their generosity of Being!

    Thanks for Inspiring!
    .-= Dr Linda Douglas´s last blog ..ENERGIZE YOUR BODY WITH CHINESE MEDICINE PLUS =-.

    [Reply]

    bethallen Reply:

    Hi Dr. Linda ~ Yes indeed, i’d say the children amazed us, the community and themselves ~ truly magical!

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  3. Beth,
    Wow, the power of a group of eager youth wanting to share and empower others to their greatness. They will carry those feelings of community and sharing with them forever.

    Thanks so much for sharing,
    Val
    .-= Val Wilcox´s last blog ..I See YOU! =-.

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    bethallen Reply:

    Val ~ I am still in touch with man of the kids (well now young adults), and yes, the work we did really has made a lasting impact. They are an awesome bunch! 🙂

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  4. Flash mobs are so cool:) Great post by you and your brother!
    .-= Glyna Humm´s last blog ..Got Videos? =-.

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    bethallen Reply:

    Thanks Glyna!

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  5. Flash Mobs, what a cool concept. Never heard of it before. The flower thing makes me wonder if somebody giving ideas grew up in the 60’s. LOL Great story.

    Bill

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    bethallen Reply:

    Well, considering the flower idea was all the kids, i’d have to say maybe they had a hippie parent. 😉

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  6. Beth,
    How nice that you have a great memory and event to share with your brother. It seems to have made a lasting impact.

    The Flash Mob is always fun to watch. I’ve not been fortunate to see one in person but anytime I’ve seen it online I’ve always enjoyed it.

    Thanks for sharing this.
    .-= Don Enck´s last blog ..Master This Skill and You’ll Discover a Goldmine! =-.

    [Reply]

    bethallen Reply:

    Yes, it is a great memory to share with Matt, and we really enjoyed the reminiscing!

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  7. Beth,

    We are very much on the same wave length! Gotta love those “annoying” teens! My house is full of them all the time and I love it! Check out Guerilla Theater! There were not as many people involved, but somewhat similar in nature. As a young woman, it was very exciting and we spoke to some very important issues. Thank you for sharing! Happy Birthday Matt!

    Mentor Mama

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    bethallen Reply:

    Your kids are beautiful Nancy! I will definitely have to check out Guerilla Theater ~ sounds very cool! Thanks!

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  8. I’ve never heard of the Torch Mob called that but I did so enjoy the ones I’ve watched on Youtube so thanks for enlightening me!

    I’m also so happy that Jamie Oliver is starting to work his magic on the USA and those people who could probably do with some weight reduction after his experiences last week and the tears…!!
    Proves to me that if you’re passionate enough about something you CAN win through if you stick with it.

    Thanks for keeping me in the loop on my fellow Brit’s fortunes! To be continued I hope…?

    [Reply]

    bethallen Reply:

    It’s actually a Flash Mob ~ Torch was the name of our teen leadership program. 🙂 Yes, true passion always prevails!

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  9. That was an incredibly awesome moving moment! I have only seen one other flash mob- which was the subway. I was so proud of those teens and you could see the genuine pleasure and excitement in their eyes to be part of such a moment. They for sure made an impression and got the attention of a lot of peoploe towards a much needed subject matter. The power of our kids!
    .-= Julianna Brower´s last blog ..Health Crushers =-.

    [Reply]

    bethallen Reply:

    Yes, it was awesome, thanks Julianna. Power to our kids! 🙂

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  10. I’ve never heard of the Torch Mob called that but I did so enjoy the ones I’ve watched on Youtube so thanks for enlightening me!

    I’m also so happy that Jamie Oliver is starting to work his magic on the USA and those people who could probably do with some weight reduction after his experiences last week and the tears…!!
    Proves to me that if you’re passionate enough about something you CAN win through if you stick with it.

    Thanks for keeping me in the loop on my fellow Brit’s fortunes! To be continued I hope…?

    [Reply]

  11. Hi Beth,
    The term “Flash Mob” is new to me, and so I found this post very intriguing. While I am familiar with mobs in general, I had just never heard this term until reading your post.
    The power we have as people to gather in public places and show our excitement or allegiance for something is a freedom most people in the world covet greatly when they look to this country. Yet we take it for granted too often, thinking we are stuck with things the way they are. This post really showcases how mob mentality when channeled for good can really make a positive difference!
    Thanks for sharing, and for showing me how guest blogging can work. 🙂
    Mary Lou
    .-= Mary Lou Kayser´s last blog ..Lose Weight While Watching TV! (Thanks, Doctor Oz!) =-.

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    bethallen Reply:

    Thanks for your great comments, Mary Lou. Yes, a group (or mob) channeling good energy really is what creates real and significant change!

    [Reply]

  12. Beth,

    This post just goes to show the power of a tribe, our youth, and our commitment to doing something good in this world!

    Thanks for this post 🙂

    Take care,

    Becca

    [Reply]

    bethallen Reply:

    Power to the tribe. Power to our youth! For sure! 🙂

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  13. As an actress/singer, I always wished I could burst into song in a very public place, like they do in the movies, and suddenly everyone knows the words, the dance steps and there’s a convenient orchestra just to the right!

    I’ve seen Flash mobs do the same thing with a supposedly random dance number in a mall food court.
    And the absolute best thing was to watch the skepticism and embarrassment on viewers faces turn to sheer, heart warming delight.

    I believe the power of these moments is the shift in our reality – the complete about-face of our view of normal.
    And it makes us question the lack of magic and impromptu miracles in our daily lives and we wonder … what if?

    Because if a full-fledged chorus line can develop in a food court, what else could we make happen???

    Wonderful post, Beth.
    This goddess is off to go sing in the streets!!
    .-= Jacqueline Gates´s last blog ..The Facebook Diet =-.

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    bethallen Reply:

    Such great comments, thanks Jacqui! You put a smile on my face, that’s for sure. Great visual of you busting out in a chorus line! Yes, if such things can happen, what else?! 🙂

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  14. Hi Beth,

    Flash mobs are pretty cool in general. The teen experience is totally awesome, thank you to you and your brother for sharing that! It’s amazing what can happen when people are thinking about what could be possible and going beyond their previous limits. It gives me hope. I feel the beginnings of an idea stirring in my brain because of this – which could be a good thing:) – Rob
    Rob Wilson´s last blog post ..Really Bad Customer Service or Time to Celebrate

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    bethallen Reply:

    You’re welcome, Rob. Yes, it was a truly awesome experience as both the adults on staff and the teens stretched beyond what we previously thought possible. Truly powerful!

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  15. Those teens getting out of their comfort zones to do something they have not done before is something we adults can take a cue from. Thanks for sharing that story. very inspiring!
    fred´s last blog post ..The next iPad – iPad 2 available to buy here!

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    bethallen Reply:

    Absolutely, such an inspiration I tell ya! 🙂 Glad you thought so too, Fred, thanks for stopping by.

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  16. What an inspiring post. To think that such a small group of teenagers can create such an impact is so amazing. We should never underestimate kids as they can be full of surprises that are beneficial to the community.

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  17. Flash Mob Blanket Freeze

    In Utah ~ Costco Parking lot on 300 west 1818 south Friday Oct 21 12:30

    Bring Blankets to Donate/ Pose and Freeze with to the length of a song ~ Drop our blankets and go~ New and Used blankets will work.

    just show up or Email addy and cel # to adrianne@karmaexperiment.com We will be doing world wide flash mob in April if u are interested in setting up a mob in your town let me know!

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  18. A group of people who appear from out of nowhere, to perform predetermined actions, designed to amuse and confuse surrounding people. I’m really amused when watching flash mob.

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  19. I like it

    [Reply]

    bethallen Reply:

    Thanks, it was pretty awesome. 🙂

    [Reply]

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