"When we ask Giraffes, the people honored by the Giraffe Heroes Project, why they've gotten involved, most tell us, in so many words, that their motivation comes from deep inside. What they're doing is meaningful to them at a profound level, and that insight helps keep them going, especially when the going is tough. From what I've seen, operating with meaning also helps make them as effective as they are. "
--John Graham, quoted at The Giraffe Heroes Project website.
Growing up in post-World War II Tacoma, Wash., John Graham recalls that he saw a photograph when he was nine. It showed a group of Harvard University students. In that era, a kid in a public school in a small city north of Seattle wasn't likely to end up at Harvard. But Graham was determined -- and he convinced his parents to let him enroll in a Jesuit-run high school where, as he recalls, "they made me write, and read classics and pushed me beyond myself." He graduated from Harvard in 1964.
More of Graham's story is on the website of the Giraffe Heroes Project an international organization moving people to stick their necks out for the common good. It had just been launched in 1982 by Ann Medlock, a free-lance writer in New York, when Graham, fresh out of the U.S. Foreign Service, met Medlock. The two of them have been running the operation since 1984 -- for the last fifteen years from a window-filled, second-floor office in Langley, Wash., a seaside community of 1,000 on Whidbey Island, 45-minutes by ferry from downtown Seattle.
Graham, a passionate environmentalist, and Medlock, who also writes articles and poetry, work with a staff of three and a set of volunteers to find and research stories of individual personal courage and to get those stories told on the Giraffe Heroes Project website, in books, in a K-12 curricula and in the media. Over 23 years, they've built up many file drawers filled with the profiles of about 1,000 giraffes -- and in August 2006 they began putting many of the inspirational stories in a searchable web database.
(The Giraffe Heroes Project is separate and unaffiliated with The, Media Giraffe Project at the University of Massachusetts, although Graham serves as an MGP advisor).
In 2005, Graham was thrust inadvertently into the limelight when he tried to board a plane to see his grandkids in Oakland. In the post-9/11 world of airline security, Graham was told that his name was on the U.S. government's "no-fly" Watch List. For Graham -- who as a Foreign-Service officer once held top-level security clearance -- the experience was an eye-opening revelation about the denigration of civil liberties in Post 9/11 America. While he continues to be able to fly if he arrives early at airports and submits to special procedures, Graham has been unable to get his name removed from the Watch List, or even to get anyone to tell him why he is on it.
MORE ABOUT JOHN GRAHAM AND NO-FLY (also see video link, above):
CIVIL LIBERTIES: A giraffe hero trapped in government 911 web
MORE FROM THE GIRAFFE HEROES WEBSITE:
"John Graham is the project's president and principal speaker/workshop leader. He was a US diplomat for 15 years, where his assignments included revolutionary Libya, Viet Nam, NATO, the US Mission to the UN and a stint as foreign policy advisor to Senator John Glenn. Since leaving the Foreign Service in 1980, he has lectured and led seminars worldwide, helping individuals, organizations and communities successfully tackle the challenges of risk and change (more). He joined the Giraffe Heroes Project staff in 1983. His degrees are from Harvard and Stanford, and his mountain climbing credits include the first ascent of the north wall of Mt. McKinley, a climb that's never been repeated. He is the author of Outdoor Leadership, 'It's Up to Us' and 'Stick your Neck Out.'" " . . . The couple say Medlock started the project in 1984 "as an antidote to the mind-numbing violence and trivia that pervaded the media, eroding civic energy and hope . . . People needed to know about the heroes of our times and all that they were accomplishing as courageous, compassionate citizens.
"Ann's strategy for the Giraffe Heroes Project was simple, she would find unknown heroes, commend them as Giraffes for sticking their necks out, and get their stories told on radio and television and in print. Giraffe stories would show the public that there was headway being made on the problems of the world, that there were individuals who had solutions and the courage to move into action. The stories would feed people's souls, inform their attitudes, and get them moving on public problems that mattered to them.
OTHER WRITING BY JOHN GRAHAM: