July 30, 2013 was a night honoring the social good movers and shakers of the world – specifically five young people who are taking action and making change. Sasha Fisher  (Spark MicroGrants), Ben Simon  (Food Recovery Network), Lorella Praeli (United We Dream), Daniel Maree  (Million Hoodies Movement for Justice), and Jillian Mourning  (All We Want is LOVE - Liberation of Victims Everywhere). These amazeballs individuals were our Do Something Awards nominees and last night Daniel Maree was named the grand prize winner of $100,000, which will go towards his work with Million Hoodies.
Check out our interview with Maree on what inspired this movement and what he's got planned next!
DoSomething.org: How did you feel when you first learned of the problem you're addressing?
Daniel Maree: When I first learned of Trayvon Martin’s shooting and the subsequent “Stand Your Ground” rationale used by George Zimmerman, I was overwhelmed with anger and sadness. Anger at the clear injustice perpetrated by Zimmerman and the Sanford Police Department, and sadness at the senseless violence and loss of life that continues to occur as a result of our nation’s awful gun laws, or rather the lack thereof.
DS: How do you feel about it now?
DM: I decided to channel that anger and sadness into positive action, and now I feel empowered and confident that we, as a people, can truly make a difference and change the world if we come together and each make a small effort to do something. I now find hope and reassurance in the words of Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
DS: What person or experience sticks with you from when you first started your project?
DM: The two main things that stick with me to this day are the black and white image of Trayvon Martin in a hoodie and his piercing cry on the 911 tapes shortly before he was shot and killed. I’ll never forget that image and that sound because I saw my little sister and myself in his eyes and heard our voices in his screams.
DS: Who or what is your inspiration to keep going?
DM: Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother, is my biggest inspiration to keep going. She suffered the greatest loss when Trayvon was killed and yet she continues to fight past the pain, tears, and shameful hatred surrounding her son. If she can do it, I can do it.
DS: Can you describe the moment you knew you were actually making a difference?
DM: There were several distinct moments where I knew I was making a difference: When I woke up to find #Millionhoodies trending on Twitter just a day after I posted it online; when I started receiving calls from mothers and parents around the world thanking me for the campaign and sharing stories of loved ones they had lost to senseless gun violence and Stand Your Ground; when an exhausted and seemingly defeated Sabrina Fulton arrived at the Millionhoodies rally and, thanks to the size of the crowd of supporters, found the strength and courage to speak those powerful words: “This is not about a black or white thing, this is about a right and wrong thing.” Although I was a bit frightened, when I started receiving death threats and racist calls, I knew I had actually done something right. There were many moments like these, not the least of which was when people around the world, including celebrities and politicians, began posting photos of themselves in hoodies.
DS: What was the most difficult roadblock you faced when you tried to start your project? When you were growing it?
DM: Within 48 hours of starting Millionhoodies it had already become a global news story. Given the size and speed of these events, the most difficult roadblock I faced was organizing all the various groups involved on the ground and making sure everyone stayed on message. There was a very big and real concern that the rallies would turn violent and people would lose focus on the issues at hand. Thanks to a small group of dedicated friends who came to my aid very early on in the process this did not happen. Those three women: Thenjiwe McHarris, Amy Frame, and Andrea Ciannavei are to thank for helping to build Millionhoodies into the well-organized, non-violent movement it has become today.
DS: What’s been the biggest lesson through the process?
DM: The biggest lesson is that it’s not enough to just criticize the negative things. In order to create real change, you must offer people a positive vision for the future and empower them to participate in building that future in more ways than one. Online and offline action must go hand-in-hand.
DS: What has surprised you the most about the journey that has taken you here today?
DM: What has surprised me the most is how much impact Millionhoodies has had not just in the United States, but also around the world. I used to think of it in isolation from the other major movements that have occurred recently: The Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, and so on, but I now realize that Millionhoodies is really a part of a larger family of movements driven by social media all of which have influenced and impacted one another in various ways. This is particularly evident when looking at the tactical influences Millionhoodies has had on the Chen Guangchen Movement  in China and the Million Hijabs Movement  for women’s rights in the Middle East.
DS: What advice do you have for other young leaders who are having a tough time getting their ideas off of the ground?
DM: First, believe in yourself. Second, boil your ideas down to their simplest form and leverage whatever unique skills you have to make your idea accessible to as many people as possible. Lastly, solicit the help of friends and family, if possible.
DS: What's next for your project?
DM: We have big plans for Millionhoodies. The immediate next step is to raise money to support our transition into a non-profit that will allow us to sustain and solidify the momentum of the people and have a lasting impact on the important issues at hand.
DS: If you could have any celebrity film a PSA for you, who would it be and why?
DM: Jamie Foxx. Because he has already showed support for the cause by attending our anniversary rally and calling for justice for Trayvon Martin. As an African-American man and a father he can also deeply identify with young people of color as well as parents who have lost loved ones to senseless gun violence. For those same reasons, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith would make excellent spokespeople for our cause.