The men of The Jubilee Project — Jason Lee, Eddie Lee and Eric Lu — are full time dreamers, big time huggers and determined to spread love wherever they go — but mostly through hugs. It may seem like a strange thing to stand out in an interview, but reader, I’m not kidding when I say these guys like hugs. After being hugged numerous times by each member of the group — totaling in at least six hugs, which is the amount I normally receive in 6 months — it’s safe to say I had my fill of embraces for the next 11 months. Spreading the love, done.
Started in 2010, The Jubilee Project was built on the potential of social media to ignite others’ passion for change. They are dreamers that quit their jobs at the Obama administration, a career in business consulting and took a leave of absence from Harvard Medical School to drive across the country to set up shop in Irvine, California, and pursue their united passion for philanthropy and filmmaking. Each month, The Jubilee Project creates a personal and thoughtful video that advocates for that month’s cause. In the past 3 years, The Jubilee Project has produced 60 videos that supported 15 different causes and raised over $30 thousand. Ultimately, the group wants their video content to inspire viewers to become activists for social change within their local communities. Throughout December, The Jubilee Project will be encouraging others through their 12 Days of Kindness campaign to go out and help within their communities. This month, The Jubilee Project will release 12 challenges to give back this holiday season, asking Jubelievers to send in photos of their completed efforts to be shared on the site. After corralling these guys into the dining room for an interview, The Jubilee dreamers bounced off one another, excited to tell us more about their upcoming campaigns, respect for one another, and the incredible potential they see in YouTube to create social movements.
Has there been a moment when you thought, “This can become something we can do for the rest of our lives?”
Eric: There have been a series of moments that have affirmed this journey that we’ve been on. In the beginning, I’d say our “Love Language” video was a big factor that propelled us and gave us this glimpse of the potential of social media creating social change, reaching people and impacting people’s lives just by the sheer number of responses that we’ve received. I think along this journey just by the people that we’ve met and the opportunities that have come up with different shoots, have all reinforced this conviction in our hearts that this journey is the right one for us. There was this sort of desire and longing that we could do something more and something greater than ourselves.
How have you seen the project grow till now and how do you want it to grow in the future?
Jason: Initially it grew very organically. We never intended to start The Jubilee Project, so as we started getting more traction, we said, “Oh wow, this is really cool that people are really engaging with us and really seemed inspired by the work that we’re doing.” Over time we’ve steadily grown a group of people who are passionate about what we’re doing. We like to call them “Jubilievers,” and so we’ve gotten to a point where I think we are starting to get a little bit of traction because we want to start creating almost a movement of young people who are interested in doing good.
Eric: I think the idea is that no matter how many videos or how many views we get, if we can’t translate that into a tangible impact then we haven’t fulfilled our mission. And so with these chapters we’re hoping to engage and support young people to go out into their communities to make a positive difference. So on our end, our job is to help equip these individuals so that they can take action.
Jason: We would be more happy if we inspired 30 people to do something, to act, to be inspired, to do good, then to have 30 thousand people watch our video. For us, it’s more about impact and how could we actually speak to people and encourage them to do good.
For each of you, what has been a memorable video and organization that you’ve partnered with?
Eddie: The most important video for me was actually a video that is not as well known. It is called “Back to Innocence,” and it’s a video about sex trafficking. It was something that was very near and dear to our hearts because we sort of learned about it very recently and thought, “What if we did something with our stories to raise awareness for this cause and shine a light on the fact that this is happening not only around the world but it is happening here in the United States?” It’s happening within urban areas, and it’s happening not only to adults, but it’s happening to kids.
The average age of young people that go into sex trafficking is 11 or 12 years old, and you think about that and the gravity of that situation and we were very lucky to do work with an amazing actress named Megan Lee. The idea was that through this four or five minute film we would just show what it would be like if you took a glimpse about what happens between these closed doors. That was a labor of love for us; it took us about a year to shoot, edit, produce it, and it was like giving birth to a baby because we had worked so hard on it, and we were just in love with the concept of it.
Eric: I think for me, one of the most impactful videos that we’ve made is called “Picture Perfect,” and it was used to support “Be The Match.” The idea of this film was inspired by this individual named Janet Liang, and she was diagnosed with leukemia about a year ago. Unfortunately, she passed away just a couple weeks ago but not without having left a legacy behind. She created this incredibly powerful social media campaign and movement to get the Asian American community rallied behind the registry to become bone marrow donors and potentially save hundreds of thousands of other lives in the future.
Jason: Yeah, that was a good one. I was going to say that. I think one of my favorites would probably be “Dear Daniel,” and that was our first short to medium length film. Traditionally, most of our stuff was about 5 to 6 minutes, but that was the first one that was about 20 minutes, and we spent a good week together filming that, but I think that was really, really special because in a lot of ways that story told our story. It was about a young Asian American who was coming of age and trying to figure out what his life passion is and this idea that we have to have a courage to live a life true to ourselves, and that’s something we continue to struggle with ourselves but something we wanted to depict, and we were really inspired by the people that we’ve met and we want to share this story with other people to. We are really excited about that because it’s a longer piece. We think it turned out pretty well.
You guys come from very diverse backgrounds — how do you think that having those backgrounds and experiences has added to this project as opposed to just going straight into The Jubilee Project?
Eric: I think there are a couple ways. I think we have different working styles. Jason comes from more of a business background, and so he brings that sort of mentality to the workplace. I mean, Eddie worked at the White House as well, so he has more of a professional view of how things get done. I’ve been in school for like 20 years now [laughs], so not very professional. They are making me more professional; they made me wear this today. Also, because of our different backgrounds we also have naturally different issues that we feel are compelling. For Eddie in politics, he cares a lot about human rights, about education; he worked at the Department of Education as well and government related issues. Jason with poverty and education, and for me, health, and so I think with these different issues from this different backgrounds that we come from it really adds a lot to the entire process.
Tell me a little bit about your “Love Language Challenge” and the response you’ve gotten with that?
Jason: “Love Language” has been one of our biggest videos to date, and we’d actually had a tremendous response so far. We’re really excited because we really believe that with something as simple as a Post-it note, you can really encourage someone or really change someone’s day or change someone’s life. We love inspiring young people to action. We just launched a series called Doing Good is Contagious or #DGiC where we are going to actually be encouraging people to act.
Eddie: Just to put it simply, our lives were changed by a simple sticky note. This short film pretty much gave us the capital to actually go out and do the Jubilee Project full time. As we talk to young people around the country and do our college tour and visit schools, we’ve noticed that there is a deep sense of hunger, deep sense of passion in kids who want to feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves. Our role isn’t just to make films, it’s actually to use these stories to empower people and to give them the resources and the push to actually go out there and do something. The best part of what we’re doing is the ability to go out and meet these people who say to us, “You have been an inspiration,” but the reality is they are more of an inspiration to us. The Jubilee Project is so much more than just three guys; it’s about a movement of young people around this country and around the world who have collectively decided that their lives would matter for something bigger.
Eric: What was really cool when we were putting the challenge together was we had a chance to watch all the remakes of “Love Language”; there are at least 100 of them on YouTube, and what really stood out to us was how diverse all the videos were. It was really amazing to see how this one video was able to inspire countless of other remakes that ultimately brought people together from different backgrounds, geographies, experiences.
Jason: It’s like a simple message, right? Regardless of who you are, what you look like or what you’ve been through, you’re still beautiful and we are really proud of that.
What do you think the capability is for social media to create social change?
Eric: We see ourselves as a small part of this larger movement of social media creating social change. We see social movements progressing throughout history in this interesting fashion where a lot of it took place on the streets, and you still see that today but with the introduction of social media. With the Internet connecting people from all over the world, it’s been a lot easier to mobilize hundreds, even millions of people, through social media. An example would be the Arab Spring that overthrew a dictator, and they were saying how they were able to use Facebook to organize and schedule the protests, Twitter to mobilize the day of and YouTube to tell the entire world of what was happening.
Eddie: I think a lot of people give the millennial generation — they sort of discredit this generation for being sort of a different generation from the past. I think there is a lot of arguments for that, but you’ll also see that in this generation there is this sense of interconnectedness that you’ve never seen before. I think what you are going to see moving forward is that these young people who are growing up with technology and social media are going to be able to tap into that to create sort of a spark. We have seen it with Japan/ Haiti earthquake relief, and what we’re going to see is young people are going to start becoming leaders through this social media to change the world.
What is the project you are working on now, and what are some things you are moving towards?
Eric: One of our major projects this next year is a film on the end of AIDS. Talking about social media, this is really where we are trying to tap into the potential of social media; it really makes it possible for ordinary people to do extraordinary things. For people to have a voice, whether you want to become a teacher or doctor, lawyers, filmmaker, musician, anyone can have a voice on social media, and this is what we’re really trying to tap into in the end of AIDS film. Right now, we have the scientific instruments, the medicine, the treatment to end AIDS. If we are able to get treatment to people, we can stop HIV/AIDS which has been around for 30 years. It’s taken over 30 million lives; 1.8 million people die from AIDS every single year, and millions more are getting infected as well, but if we can simply get the treatment to those that need it the most, then we can stop it. The challenge right now is that there are not enough political will to get this going, that people are feeling a little bit too complacent, too comfortable, and so with this film, we want to create a greater sense of urgency. We want to tell people, “Hey, this is still a problem, and this is a problem that we can solve.” There is not a lot of times in history when we can say, “We can end an epidemic that’s killed millions of people.” We wantedto create a film that really sparked the end of an epidemic and brings treatment, creates energy and excitement, especially among young people to end the disease.
Jason: I think it’s hard to say that we are going to create a film that is going to actually end AIDS, but really we are excited because as we’ve seen there is the power of social media that is so vast and so powerful. We are excited because we want to just be a voice in that push. We want to make sure young people are aware of that. If we are able to accomplish this, it would be the greatest accomplishment to end AIDS. We are excited to play our part.
What are ways that people can support your organization?
Jason: Firstly, just by supporting what we do. We love it when people love our stuff and share it with their friends. We love it when they tell us what they thought about it and they share with us their stories. Really, our favorite part of what we do is hearing people’s stories about how they have been inspired or impacted, how this one video caused them to think about certain things differently.
Eddie: What we want to do with Jubilee Project is also to create chapters, and so I think we are going to start talking about how you can bring the Jubilee Project to your own community. It’s not just going to be us; it’s going to be young people who are going to be leaders in their own communities. We want to not only create awareness, but we want to create action, so how do you as a young person watching these videos, how can you be that change in your community? That is the question we want people to answer.
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Photography by Melly Lee