Stepping Up Always Creates a Ripple—How a Statue Changed a Neighborhood

Stepping up can make a ripple in work and in your neighborhood.

Today I want to share the story of one man who performed a simple act that effected a powerful result. He bought a statue of Buddha and placed it on a street corner that was corrupted by crime, which radically transformed the area to one of peace. Before I tell you that wonderful story let me remind you that in my book Stepping Up (How Taking Responsibility Changes Everything), I talk about a few important concepts. Among them are the simple ideas of “Do Something, Do Anything” and what I call the “Responsibility Ripple.These concepts have made a huge difference for companies like Qantas Airlines where 20,000 people have been trained to step up to be agents of change.

Stepping Up: Do Something, Do Anything

Do Something, Do Anything means that agents of change never wait for the perfect step to try to change a situation at work or society. They simply take action. That is exactly what Dan Stevenson did. Dan is neither a Buddhist nor a follower of any organized religion. But the 11th Avenue resident in Oakland’s Eastlake neighborhood was simply feeling something needed to change when he went to an Ace hardware store, purchased a 2-foot-high stone Buddha and installed it on a median strip in a residential area at 11th Avenue and 19th Street.

Dr. John Izzo's books help leaders step up in work and in life for better results.

That particular street corner was filled with trash and was a frequent spot for crime. Stevenson decided to place the statue of Buddha there in hopes that just maybe his small gesture would bring tranquility to a neighborhood marred by dumping, graffiti, drug dealing, prostitution, robberies, aggravated assault, and burglaries.

The Responsibility Ripple

In my book and keynotes, I talk about the “responsibility ripple” which is what happens when one person decides to step up to do something. This creates a ripple of others taking action.

What happened next in Oakland was nothing short of stunning! Area residents began to leave offerings at the base of the Buddha: flowers, food, candles. A group of Vietnamese women in prayer robes began to gather at the statue to pray. And the neighborhood changed. People stopped dumping garbage. They stopped vandalizing walls with graffiti. And the drug dealers stopped using that area to deal. The prostitutes went away.

Since 2012, when worshipers began showing up for daily prayers, overall year-to-date crime has dropped by 82 percent. Robbery reports went from 14 to three, aggravated assaults from five to zero, burglaries from eight to four, narcotics from three to none, and prostitution from three to none. A police spokesperson said, “I can’t say what to attribute it to, but these are the numbers.”

Back in 2009, when word got around that Stevenson was the person who’d installed the statue, offerings began to appear on his doorstep. It was like a scene straight out of the Clint Eastwood film “Gran Torino.”

“They left a ton of fruit and Vietnamese specialty foods and candy, but there’s only me and my wife, Lu, here and we can’t eat all that stuff—but it’s so good,” said Stevenson.

To this day, every morning at 7, worshipers ring a chime, clang a bell and play soft music as they chant morning prayers. The original statue is now part of an elaborate shrine that includes a wooden structure standing 10 feet tall and holding religious statues, portraits, food and fruit offerings surrounded by incense-scented air.

“This used to be a huge spot for dumping stuff,” said Alicia Tatum, 27, on an early morning walk with her dogs Lulu and Mya. “But over time, it’s blossomed with more and more and more flowers—and they are out there every morning like clockwork.”

“The dope-dealing has stopped, the ladies of the evening have stopped,” Andy Blackwood said.

The Buddha has withstood two attempts to remove him from his watch, one criminal and one governmental. Neither has worked.

Stepping Up is not complicated at work or in life. It is simply looking around and asking: What can I do?  So maybe each of us can simply look around and do something, do anything. You never know what ripple you might start.

Check out our website for more stories of people stepping up and information on the great work our team is doing to challenge companies and people to become agents of change.


Dr. John Izzo has spoken to over one million people, advised over 500 companies, authored nine best-selling books, and helped some of the world's most admired companies. He has been a pioneer in creating successful businesses and emerging work trends for over twenty-five years.

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