As some of my readers may already know, I am a big fan of The Jubilee Project. Several months ago, someone shared with me a video by The Jubilee Project titled, Love Language, which creatively illustrates deep connections of love that we feel for others. The video was made to bring awareness to The American Society for Deaf Children. It was a beautiful, touching video, and I was instantly hooked. YouTube had always been more of a place I go to for how-to videos, real-life slapstick comedy such as a guy diving into a frozen lake head first, or fun cartoons for my kids. Love Language was the first time I really got inspired by a YouTube video all within 6 minutes!
I then went on to watch the rest of their videos and was even more hooked. My favorites have been the Back To Innocence video about child sex trafficking and the recent Fireflies video bringing awareness to autism. My boys’ favorite is their Call Me Maybe video celebrating their journey from quitting their prestigious jobs to uprooting to California to pursue their dream: The Jubilee Project.
I love reading inspiring bios, and their story just compelled me to email them about doing an interview for this blog. (Come on, three Ivy Leaguers and two of them Harvard alums quitting their careers to pursue their dream? Who wouldn’t be compelled by that!) To my pleasant surprise, they were more than happy to sit down and chat. Eddie Lee met my 6-year-old (Ethan pulled out all the stops for his silly face picture with Eddie) and I for coffee to talk about how he grew up as a child, how he grew and is still growing as a person, the challenges he faced, and how all of that ties into where he is today: pursuing his dreams with The Jubilee Project. Here’s his story.
Eddie’s parents emigrated from Korea to the States (Detroit, MI) when they were 26/27 years old with dreams of pursuing academics. They pursued Masters degrees in computer science and pharmacy and went on to obtain their Ph.D.s as well. He described his mom as a “superwoman of sorts” who managed to work full-time, burn the midnight oil studying after her kids were asleep in order to pursue her dreams of becoming a professor, and raise her two children (his brother Jason is about a year and a half younger). Although his parents prioritized their careers by moving the family around every two years and even living separately in different states for a time, Eddie learned and appreciated the strong work ethic that he saw. It was only until he was 15-years-old that the family finally united and settled down in Kansas.
Moving around frequently had a deep impact on his personality: he had a hard time developing close relationships and never fully grasped the feeling of stability. He was a shy kid growing up, and kept his head down while making academics his main priority in life. He was so shy in fact, that in 3rd grade when he needed to go to the restroom, he would always ask his best friend to ask the teacher for him. Luckily that teacher called Eddie out on that and would make him ask for himself. (Thumbs up for challenging teachers). In high school, his main purpose in life was to get into a great school. As if the stiff competition and stresses of applying to colleges weren’t enough, he also had a short but deeply impacting incident of bullying in the last year of high school.
His valedictorian competitor took the unpleasant liberty of using cyber-bullying to, in a sense, bring Eddie down. Eddie described the experience as a traumatizing and paralyzing blow to his confidence. It wasn’t until his good friend told the school principal about the incident that the bully was approached and asked to stop. Thankfully, the bullying ended and Eddie did have the courage stick up to him as well. From his experience, he advises that it is important to empower yourself by: approaching a teacher or the bully, talking to a friend, or talking to yourself out loud because doing any one of these things gives you the understanding that you are not a victim. He acknowledges that it’s not easy to talk to a bully directly due to feelings of being traumatized and being paralyzed by fear. He is happy to report that he has recently found closure and reconciliation by reaching out to the bully a month ago and burying the hatchet with him. Even though it happened a long time ago, he still felt relieved that there was finally closure with that chapter in his life.
So after high school, Eddie went onto Harvard which he thought would solve all of his problems, and he would be on top of the world. The colors of his parachute quickly changed as he realized that going to an elite school was not exactly what he had thought it would be. He felt empty and unfulfilled. The competitive climate and feelings of loneliness led him into depression during his second year of college. To shovel more salt onto the wound, during his junior year, he got rejected to all 15 internships that he applied for and the only position available was a volunteer job with the Obama campaign. At that time, no one had ever heard of Obama and Hilary Clinton was expected to win the Presidency.
Nevertheless, Eddie felt called and took the position despite his mother’s behest to just stay in school. During the Obama campaign, he just happened to have a camera on him and the campaign manager offered him a job to follow Obama around with the video camera. Eddie took the job and was pumping out 2-3 videos weekly of Obama’s whereabouts. He then returned to Harvard, finished up his degree in government and returned to the White House to eventually become the Director of Asian-American Outreach…a dream job for this young, dashing 24-year-old. Eddie was the youngest guy in the office and also the most under-qualified, but somehow by the grace of God, he was placed into that position. But the story doesn’t stop there.
Eddie still felt unfulfilled and he knew there was something else tugging at him. Then his brother Jason made a video to raise money for the Haiti earthquake victims. One thing led to another and then all at once a happenstance light bulb turned on: Eric who is their buddy attending Harvard Medical School, Jason at the prestigious Bain Consulting, and Eddie at the White House all felt the need to quit their jobs at the time and pursue making videos for good causes…full-time! So they quit their jobs (well, Eric is taking a year off but will be returning to Harvard Medical School next year), packed their things, and headed off to pursue The Jubilee Project with an official Obama send-off. Here’s a fun and interesting article I dug up and here are some cool photos from his White House days.
So here they are living and working in Southern California, pumping out one project after another. When asked if he and his brother were always close growing up he replied, “Growing up, Jason and I were close in the sense that we rarely fought. But it wasn’t until recently that I truly comprehended what “closeness” meant after living and working with my brother these past couple of months.”
Their success started with their Love Language video garnering half a million views within a matter of days. They will be going on a four and a half week tour of Southeast Asia next month to make a documentary on the state of AIDS in that region and also touch upon sex-trafficking issues. It will be the first documentary by The Jubilee Project, and they are excited to pour their heart and soul into it. They are also working on a short video on the story of the Prodigal Son, and they hope to release it (fingers crossed) before their trip to Asia. They have also recently uploaded a short film for their friend, Jeremy Lin’s foundation, titled The Last Pick, a video on helping others.
Although his parents were your typical “Asian tiger parents” initially, he wanted us to know that as they trusted him and his brother more, they let go more and evolved to fully support them in what they are doing. It was because of his parent’s strong work ethic that he was inspired to work hard in school. His parents are their biggest supporters: his mom runs a newsletter to report on the latest Jubilee Project news and runs their #DGIC online store that sells Jubilee Project t-shirts.
Jubilee Project also wants to be a strong, positive role model for young people, and they are an available resource to parents as well. They are happy to answer any questions from parents or young people via email! Just give them a few days to respond back because, you know…it takes time to write, shoot, edit, and produce these videos
How can you help support The Jubilee Project? You can follow them on their YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Blog. You can also purchase their shirts at their #DGIC (Doing Good Is Contagious) Online Store. Most importantly, please share their videos and bring awareness to empower and inspire others to do good in this world!
The Jubilee Project
#DGIC Online Store: dgicstore.com
Email: project.jubilee (at) gmail.com
What’s your favorite Jubilee Project video?