|By Admin1 (admin) on Monday, September 01, 2003 - 12:31 pm: Edit Post|
Zimbabwe RPCV Andrew Shue founds "Do Something"
Zimbabwe RPCV Andrew Shue founds "Do Something"
Andrew Shue: more than meets the eye
the melrose place survivor has some hard-won sense for what counts beneath the veneer and the venom of life in the fast lane.
I'd never seen Melrose Place but I was tempted, because the bar down the street from where I live used to advertise Monday-night MP drink specials on its sidewalk chalkboard. Meeting one of the show's heartthrobs, Andrew Shue, required putting my TV politics aside and experiencing the weekly soap on my (uh, really small) set, not the wall-to-wall screen in the neighborhood pub. (Last time I noticed, the bar's pavement marquis was pitching Tinky Winky cocktails.)
But when I tuned into Fox's mean-people-rule saga, Shue's character was absent among the West Coast glitz and greed. "I'd been on it for six years, and I just thought that it was the right time to get off the ship before it sunk," the former Billy Campbell said, explaining why he left the back-stabbing cast last year.
Researching Shues film career presented more programming difficulties. In The Rainmaker, the 1997 Coppola/Grisham creation, I hardly recognized Shue as the cleats-shod wife beater, actually sitting through the cheesy yet terrifically grisly scene twice to verify that the big brute wielding the aluminum bat on my tiny screen was in fact Shue. My film studies ended there because the video store didn't carry two more titles featuring Shue in small roles The Karate Kid and Adventures in Babysitting. Both starred his sister, the sultry Elisabeth Shue, whom Andrew credits with launching his post-Dartmouth entree into acting.
"I spent a lot of time watching her, going to movie sets," Shue said. "It just became one thing I thought I'd try, not put all my eggs in that basket. It kind of surprised me and worked out pretty quickly. So it just shows you anybody can act."
Not everybody, however, could resist the chance to simply coast through life as a well-paid TV hunk. But that's exactly what Shue did in 1993 when he achieved notoriety off the set and co-founded Do Something, the national nonprofit that's cultivating under-30 community leaders across the country.
When I met Shue in January, he was dressed in a blue suit and white shirt, surrounded by a wired crowd of sweet-faced third-graders. Looking like the student council president of his high-school days, the Adonis double was visiting P.S. 11 in Manhattan's Chelsea district to kick off Do Something's Kindness and Justice Challenge, a campaign inspired by the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Some two million students across the country participated in the two-week event, doing nice things for people, standing up for what's right, and following a daily lesson plan based on King's values.
Before the event, I had wandered into the Get Fat coffee shop around the corner, where I contemplated the Thai breakfast special and the pre-printed adage that had taunted me from my day planner on the train that morning: "The greatest pleasure I know is to do a good action by stealth, and to have it found out by accident." The words (British essayist Charles Lamb's) spoke to my gnawing discomfort with the KJ Challenge, which motivates students in grades K-12 to unstealthfully post their good deeds on Do Something's Web site so they can compete for trophies and prizes, including a year's worth of Blockbuster rentals.
My cynicism left when I entered the school and felt the kids' excitement. Later, I saw it in their wide-open eyes and earnest, fidgety stances as they sang, very staccato-like, "This/ was/ a/ man/ who/ had/ a/ dream/ that/ would/ not/ die/ This/ was/ a/ man/ who/ had/ a/ dream/ we/ can't/ deny . . . . " A boy named Terrence led me to the library on a brisk sprint up four dimly lit flights, in a stairwell splashed with a mural celebrating world peace. A class of 8-year-olds soon filed in, plopping down on the floor, craning their necks to get the best view of the morning's celebrities: the 32-year-old chiseled-faced Shue and Martin Luther King III, eldest son of the famed civil rights leader. Their arrival brought a hush, punctuated by the furious clicking and flashing of cameras in the crowded room.
The stout, quiet-spoken King reminded the children that the KJ Challenge doesn't come with an expiration date, challenging them to achieve a lifetime of just, compassionate acts. "That really was what Martin Luther King Jr. was about," King said. "He taught us that we can all serve because all of us have the capacity to give something back."
Many people these days are looking for a way to give back, said Shue, speaking with me after a swarm of reporters from The New York Times, People, and the evening news had cleared out. Talked-out and ready for lunch, Shue occasionally looked distracted and rolled his eyes; maybe six seasons of sharing the set with bitch-goddess Heather Locklear does that to a person. Still, he obliged my questions with answers that seemed more organic than canned.
"A lot of us have been too involved, too caught up in what's valuable materially. And I think that's swinging around to an intelligence or an understanding of what's valuable [intrinsically]," Shue said. He owes his own live-simply-so-others-may-too M.O. to a deep understanding of human connection, rooted in his travels to Zimbabwe, where he taught algebra and played professional soccer after college. Shue said hearing his parents' stories about teaching in Nigeria 30 years earlier had sparked his African journey and, talking with him, I'm convinced it was more than just some carefully placed extracurricular in the actor's well-rounded, upper-middle-class youth. "I spent a year seeing a culture that only values that kind of connection with people because they have nothing materially to value. So that was profound."
A family tragedy, in which he lost his older brother, William, also had a profound influence on Shue's worldview. The horrible accident was reported a few years ago in a Parade magazine profile of Elisabeth Shue. According to the national Sunday-paper pullout, all four siblings had gathered at the family's summer home in Maine to celebrate William's 27th birthday and the start of his medical residency.
Parade: "William, clinging to a rope, swung over the water, intending to drop with a great splash into the pond. Instead, the rope broke, and he was thrown into the branches of a tree and impaled. He died as his sister and brothers watched, helpless."
Though one of the less publicized scenes of Shue's patly documented life, losing his brother was pivotal. "I was 21 years old and he was such a great teacher and a great leader. And missing him, and his example, really showed me how that connection with people is what's most important. All this other stuff you can get caught up in career and money, success you see no value in it because tomorrow something could happen and you won't be here."
Shue says his brother's death and his early success on MP had a lot to do with his decision to start Do Something with long-time bud Michael Sanchez. Now that Shue and his wife have moved from Los Angeles to raise their two children, 2 and 5, in a pricey Westchester County suburb 15 miles north of New York City, he plans to spend more time working with the New York-based nonprofit. Of late he's been focusing on this summer's fund-raiser, the Coast-to-Coast Challenge, an eight-week bike tour from San Francisco to New York, organized by Cycle America.
Shue and Do Something president Sanchez grew up together in South Orange, N.J., where, at 14, Shue became a Boy Scout dropout, mostly because the troop's weekend excursions cramped his soccer schedule. The defection ended his chances for the vaulted rank of Eagle Scout. But his father, a liberal Republican who ran for the U.S. Congress that same year, urged him to do the Eagle Scout-like thing and create a community service project. The result was the ongoing Students Helping Seniors, which links high school students with older people in the community.
To Shue, that community was a perfect New Jersey suburb cool kids, terrific teachers, and a good ethnic mix. Add to that, Shue says, its proximity to urban blight and the unPleasantville-like Newark. "Being right on the edge of Newark, where you saw the realities of decay in many cities in our country, had an important impact. We knew we weren't living in some kind of fantasy world."
Yet, Sanchez says he and Shue got Do Something going with a good shot of imagination. "The idea had been floating around when I went out to visit him in L.A. for his birthday in 93. We went and had breakfast, and that's where the idea was hatched. It was a real dive place."
The locale may have been crummy, but their vision was colossal. "We wanted to build something that could have a big impact nationally, as well as create phenomenal local programs that give young people the tools they need to get involved," Sanchez said. "We were happily naive and our idealism has served us very well."
Noting one staffer's teaching background and another's Ph.D. in (I'm not making this up) 17th-century French science fiction, Sanchez says his team of twenty- to thirty-somethings brings a breadth of experiences to a big goal and several high-profile programs. Its MSN-sponsored Brick Award, for example, offers young leaders like 1998 grand prize winner Mark Levine a chance at a $100,000 grant to support their work in his case, a neighborhood credit union in a community where banks are scarce and loan sharks plentiful.
Do Something's newest initiative, the Community Connections Campaign, seeks to involve more young people in service organizations through a national training and awareness program. Supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the campaign is based on two years of research that found young people who are actively recruited by people they know teachers, friends, and relatives are much more likely to become involved in community activities. It's a pattern mirroring Shue's own youth, even as a gifted, good-looking athlete.
"By the time I was 16 or 17, I finally realized that I was my own person, that I had my own interests, and that I had the confidence in my own abilities. But that came after a long time of people assuring me that I was doing good, or I was a good person," he said. "There's so much fear and insecurity that you have to overcome in every individual. I strongly believe in what Hillary Clinton says 'It takes a village.' It takes the people in your neighborhood. It takes the parents. It takes the teachers. You won't find any person who exemplifies Dr. King who hasn't had that kind of community around them, building them up."
While there may be something Utopian about nurturing tomorrow's compassionate powerbrokers, the prospects of ignoring the challenge are frighteningly predictable, said Shue, sounding like he's having an MP flashback.
"If you think about the problems in our society," Shue said, "that's pretty much the root right there: You either have people who are caring and compassionate and doing the right thing or you have people who are mean, selfish, destructive and divisive."