Wei Min “Al” Sheen always kept his word.
“When he said he’d be there for me, he showed up,” his son, Alex, told students Wednesday at Nord Middle School in Amherst. “There’s not too many people in this world good at keeping their promises.”
He remembers holding his father’s hand in the hospital on Sept. 4, 2012, hearing the last breath as the cancer that started in his lungs and moved to his liver, pancreas, and brain took Al’s life.
When Alex gave the eulogy for his father, it was about the importance of promises. As a tribute, the younger Sheen drafted a “promise card,” a small slip of paper on which to write a vow and give it away until fulfilled.
That night, back at his Lakewood home, Sheen posted online that he’d mail 10 promise cards to anyone who wanted them.
He never expected it to go viral.
Five requests is no big deal, he said. Fifteen thousand in a single day is another story.
Since his father’s funeral four years ago, Sheen has sent more than 5.4 million promise cards to 153 countries. In cities far away in nations he’s never visited, the cards have been used to build “promise walls.”
The cost was enormous. Sheen, at the time the youngest manager at a Fortune 500 software company, quickly found himself spending tens of thousands of dollars to buy envelopes and stamps to mail the cards.
It was worth it, he said.
“Look me in the eye and tell me this life is just about money,” he asked of Nord kids. “It’s not. It never will be.”
Sheen quit his job and founded Because I Said I Would, a nonprofit social movement that preaches every person’s power to make a promise and keep it.
The movement is about accountability to yourself and others, Sheen said. In America, there are too many pointed fingers and not enough “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
Sheen told students it won’t take a miracle to put the United States on the right path — that can be done by being kind to a stranger, sitting with a lonely child in the cafeteria, and actively helping when problems arise.
When he realized that truth, Sheen found himself pitching in with relief efforts to New York City after Hurricane Sandy; to Ferguson, Mo., after riots; and building a playground in the Philippines.
His biggest promise of all came true on March 21, 2013, at Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation of Nevada, for kids facing the same horrific disease that killed his father. Sheen pledged 20 promise cards, each for a free trip for one young cancer patient to Disneyland.
When he arrived at the hospital, he told the children he hadn’t been able to raise enough money for 20 people to go — he’d raised enough for 100 so kids could take their friends and families too.
Last year, Sheen kept another promise, walking 245 miles in 10 days from Cincinnati to the Seymour Avenue home in Cleveland where kidnapper and rapist Ariel Castro kept Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight his prisoners for years.
Most of the walk was lonely and Sheen said he wanted to give up. But in the last 10,000 feet of the trip he was joined by a throng of people who believe in making the world a better place.
“The truth is there’s no such thing as superheroes,” he told Nord students. “It’s only you and me on this Earth to balance the equation, to bring good to this world.”
In his call to action, Sheen gave every Nord student 10 promise cards.
“You can help others. You just have to make a promise,” he said.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
Jason Hawk | Amherst News-Times “I don’t believe in superheroes. I believe in us,” Alex Sheen tells Amherst fifth- and sixth-graders, asking them to make and keep promises to help others.