Chad Bullock, 21, grew up in big tobacco's backyard: Durham, North Carolina. He saw the terrible results of cigarette addiction on friends and family members, including his great-grandfather who died of lung cancer. After that, he decided to dedicate his life to anti-tobacco activism. He's since trained tens of thousands of young people to be anti-tobacco activists, led the successful charge to turn the Durham Bulls stadium into a smoke-free baseball park, and in 2008 founded HelloChange which is the largest youth-led anti-tobacco organization in the country. Bullock chatted with Fast Company about his passion for this issue, and how he does his work.
David Burstein: What was your big idea?
Chad Bullock: To start a national anti-tobacco activism campaign powered by youth from across the country.
What was the inspiration behind your idea?
Learning how tobacco killed my grandfather and kills 438,000 others Americans a year is one source of inspiration. Another is seeing how tobacco companies viscously market their harmful products to my peers.
What was your initial goal in addressing that problem?
I wanted to work with my peers to develop local projects to combat tobacco's deadly impact on our society.
What was the first milestone reached when you knew this was going to work?
I knew this was going to work after some friends and I took the initiative and successfully persuaded the Durham Bulls Athletic Park to become 100% smoke-free. This is huge for the extremely popular minor-league team. This is huge for a team named after an old tobacco company.
How did your goals change over time? And what is the goal today?
My goal has been the same since the 9th grade. I just want the level of impact to continue increasing as I move forward.
Where did you grow up?
Durham, North Carolina.
What College did you go to? Major/Minor?
Nyack College—BA in Mass Communications: Film/TV production.
What figures do you most admire, whose leadership do you follow and whom do you seek for advice?
How is your life different now than it was before you started?
When I first started I was incredibly shy, quiet, and would have never imagined what was to come. If you were to tell me that I was going to travel across the world sharing this message on tobacco-use and impacting thousands of young people, I would look at you like you were an alien. Today, I am more in touch with who I am as a person and feel confident about what's to come.
How has technology, social media affected your work?
Our current activism campaign is online and it stems from the response of a tobacco company spokesperson when questioned about their target demographic. His response was, "[If] they got lips, we want them." Now, people all over the world are offering up funny, sad, angry and even sexy photos of their tobacco-free lips at www.hellochange.org. We have already collected 5,000 tobacco-free lips.
What excites you or concerns you about your generation?
I become very excited when I see young people realized the amount of power they have. I think that it's becoming a growing trend to get out there and make change! Young people are realizing that activism is sexy and they can do so much.
What was or what is your biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge was and is figuring out innovative ways to get this tobacco-free message to my peers. Tobacco companies are great marketers and they have millions of dollars to do it. So if you have any cool ideas, let me know!
What assets or challenges do you have because you are young?
Young people have challenges just like old people but I love being young because more people seem listen more.
How would the world be different in 10 years if you had your way?
I would love to see everyone gain grounds in their pursuit of happiness. Everyone would also be in touch with who they are spiritually and mentally. Oh and everyone would choose to be tobacco-free.
If you had 60 seconds with President Obama what would you tell or ask him?
I wouldn't talk to him about politics or anything like that. I'd simply tell him that while I wouldn't want his job, he is doing a great one. I would also suggest that he follow add me on Twitter.
If you weren't doing this, you'd be ...
Anything else we should know ...
My grandmother recently quit after nearly 40 years of smoking! She was rushed to the hospital and they said that if she didn't come in she would have died of a smoking related illness. I have been trying to get her to quit to for years and she finally did!
David D. Burstein is a young entrepreneur himself, having completed his first documentary 18 in '08 for which he was awarded a $10,000 grant from Nancy Lublin's DoSomething.org. He is the Founder & Executive director of the youth voter engagement not for profit, Generation18. His book about the millennial generation will be published by Beacon Press in fall 2011.
David and Fast Company are producing Change Generation, a new series profiling a young generation of change-seekers. We'll be covering everything from educational activists to champions of political reform, creative entrepreneurs, and outright thrill seekers. We'll be hosting Q&As as well as video profiles with production partner shatterbox.