Investing in Relationships: Snowflakes build mountains. Bridges build opportunity.

Investing in Relationships: Snowflakes build mountains. Bridges build opportunity.

Investing in Relationships.

For someone not in the world of construction I’m surprised how much of my life I spend building and maintaining bridges.  These bridges create support for my vision with UNITY Charity and my personal achievements.

Last year was filled with inconceivable life changing experiences I could never have dreamt would come about.  I look at these experiences as beautiful mountains built from the accumulation of tiny snowflakes over many many years.

The past year I’ve had unforgettable experiences because of relationships I built and maintained over the years. These experiences are the results of many snowflakes (relationships, friendships, and hard work) that slowly accumulated into vast mountains (opportunities).

People ask me how I built UNITY.  It is an impossible question to answer in a simple way as the amount of effort that went into each result spans across over a decade of hard work both building and maintaining bridges.
(Hint: bridges = relationships 🙂

Building anything worthwhile stems from the power of maintaining connections with super solid human beings.  This simple and powerful concept has helped me build foundation for UNITY and in my personal life.

Planting seeds for the future.  Ävlsbyn, Sweden – June 20, 2015
Three years ago I met a Bboy named Mark Laino at an International break dancing competition called The Notorious IBE in Holland.  Mark and I became good friends in a very short time as we partied together at IBE.

On our last night in Holland we thought it would be a good idea to go out in Amsterdam and party all night.  We put our bags in lockers at the Schiphol airport and decided not to rent a hostel that night. We ended up not finding a place to go out and hung out on the cold streets talking and chilling (literally).  Eventually we got tired and ended up sleeping on a bench in the freezing cold.  Even though sleeping on a freezing bench sucked I made a great friend out of it.

Mark and I stayed in touch over the years and maintained the bridge we had built many years before.  In June of 2015 Mark invited me to teach a dance camp in his home town in Northern Sweden.  The relationship we had built turned into a beautiful opportunity to share dance with young upcoming dancers.  I also worked with Mark and his crew (Exhiled crew) to create a school based outreach project similar to our work with UNITY Charity.  Today Mark and his crew are launching this program in several schools across Northern Sweden.

This was a true full circle.  Not only did I get to catch up with Mark and go to Sweden to share my craft but I also planted seeds that inspired Mark and his crew to start their own school outreach program.

Jumping in the deep end.  Harvard University, Boston – July 12, 2015
A member of UNITY’s Board of Directors, Amy Baryshnik, recommended I apply to Harvard University’s Strategic Non-Profit Management program in Boston and request a scholarship.  At first I thought it was way out of my league but then I looked at it the eligibility requirements just for fun. After over 12 years building UNITY I realized I JUST barely make the cut off to apply.  Many bridges built to even be able to submit an application.  So I built up the courage to write an application and poured my heart into it.

Once I applied I immediately forgot about it.  I try to forget about potentially exciting things once I put them out into the world so I don’t get my hopes up.

A few months later I got a call to come in for an interview with the Harvard Business School’s Toronto chapter. They drilled me with a series of difficult questions.  In the end, I felt honored to have even made it this far.

A few days later I got the call… I had been accepted into the program on full scholarship to Harvard. Tears flowed down my cheeks uncontrollably. The flow got even heavier when I called my mom and dad.

Hip Hop at Harvard baby!!

This was truly a life changing experience.  I felt like a tiny fish in a vast ocean.  There were over 150 non-profit Executive Directors from around the world and I was well below the average age of those attending.  I learned so many valuable lessons that I brought back to UNITY.  Ultimately, I would not have been able to access this opportunity without building over a decade of bridges from our work with UNITY.  Now we have the skills, ideas and support network to take UNITY to the next level.

Missing the bus but making a friend.  Hong Kong – Oct 3, 2015
In 2008 I went travelling throughout Asia.  On my journies I met a Bboy (“breakdancer”) who lived on the outskirts of Hong Kong named Shingo.  I took transit over an hour to go practice with Shingo and his crew called the “Relax Crew”.  Little did I know that transit closed at midnight and I missed the last train.  I was too focused on what we were doing, dancing.

We practiced outside on the concrete for over four hours sweating through about five t-shirts.  At this point I was stinky and sweaty and had nowhere to go.  The train did not open until 6am the next morning.  Shingo offered to hang out with me on the street corner all night.  We talked about work, relationships, dancing and life.  Shingo became a great friend.

In summer of 2015 I received a phone call from Hong Kong, it was Shingo.  I was very excited to see him call.  He was calling with good news.  He now runs a breakdancing battle in Hong Kong and confirmed sponsors to bring me out to judge his event!  I never would have expected this from the day we battled each other in the blazing heat on the hard concrete.  Shingo became a great friend overnight and I never would have even met him if I did not take a chance and get on that bus.

A lot of people ask me how I built UNITY.  There is a long journey and process that leads to each exciting outcome. Anything great that I have achieved has come from years and decades of relationship building.

Build bridges.

Invest in relationships.

Watch your snowflakes form beautiful mountains.

– Pcz

This is dedicated to the ARMY beside me.

The work we do at UNITY Charity is a result of the incredible people who work with us; our staff, the artists, and everyone who supports us.

I am a product of my mentors, my family and everyone who inspires me.  My values, attitude and approach to life are absorbed from the many many unbelievable people that I look up to.

I could not do this (and you could not do what you do) without everyone around you. Sometimes we forget to acknowledge the collective efforts that make incredible things possible. Do not forget!! We work together to achieve great things.

Alone we are just… alone.

Below is a video of my acceptance speech for the Bryden “One To Watch” Alumni award from York University talking about just that.  Out of over 300,000 York alumni I was truly honoured to accept this award.

I’m not big on awards however I realize I am standing here representing an army of incredible people. This is something never to be forgotten.

I am just the vessel that represents this important cause.

Our success is our people.

My success comes from the beautiful people I’ve met over the years who make me who I am.

Check out the video below

The internal battle. WINnipeg.

The internal battle. WINnipeg.

This weekend I proved to myself that I can achieve anything.

I am on a flight home reflecting after battling at a “Bboy” competition in Winnipeg. The battle was put on by a good friend of mine Bob aka “Boob Jester” who is one of the key dancers who built up the Bboy/Bgirl scene in Winnipeg.

Excuses, excuses! Bob texted me a few weeks ago asking if I wanted to come to his battle “Believe the Hype”. At first my answer was no. I thought of tons of reasons why I was too busy. Then I realized I was making excuses and just booked my ticket.

I knew I would have an amazing time hanging out with my homies and testing my skills against the upcoming Bboys in Winnipeg. As the Executive Director of UNITY Charity I want to continue to prove to myself that I am relevant on and off the dance floor. I felt it was time to hit a battle and represent.

I entered the “7 to smoke” battle. This battle has eight dancers who compete for a total of 30 minutes. The battle is judged round for round. Each round you win you get one point. The dancer with the most points by the end wins.

The battle begins. I won my first 3 rounds but started getting tired. I lost my fourth round. I was sent to the back of the line. When you lose a round in a 7 to smoke you are sent to the “back of the line” and have to wait until each dancer throws down before you get a chance to dance again.

Losing a round is the ultimate feeling of shame and regret.

You have to stand in line while the other dancers gain more points and all you can do is wait and plan your next round.

Finally I got to the front of the line again. It was my turn to reclaim the winner spot so I could gain more points. My mind blanked and I did not execute strong. I lost again. The walk of shame to the back of the line.

This was the ultimate feeling of defeat.

The clock continued to count down. We passed the half way mark in the battle. If I did not win my next round, I would lose the entire battle.

Then I snapped.
If I make it to the front of the line again before time runs out I AM NOT LOSING. Failure was not an option in my mind.

Finally, I got to the front of the line again and with all of the energy in my being I executed 100%. I won the round. I then moved to the winner side and got my chance to gain more points. I won another round.


I began to get tired but remained focused.
I repeated in my head “I will not give up.”

I won again.

and again.

At this point I was totally out of breath and got a terrible stomach cramp. Again I said it to myself “I will not give up.” With every ounce of strength in my being I threw down as hard as I could. I won AGAIN.

The clock began counting down and I threw my last round so I didn’t injure myself. I had the most points now by far at this point and time was running out. Finally the clock hit 30 minutes and I had the most points of all 8 dancers. I won.

This was the ultimate battle with myself.

My mind was fighting my body, my body was fighting my will.

In the end, pushing through the pain led to achieving my goal. This truly made me feel like I could accomplish anything. Once I committed to my goal I would not throw in the towel.

It is a true gift to have Bboying in my life to push me to new limits outside of my comfort zone. Battling in dance parallels many aspects of my life.

Winning is not about ego, it is about focus. To be honest, I’m not the best at anything. I put in work. Hard work and relentless drive is often rewarded with success. People always ask me how I continue to achieve new heights in my dancing and with UNITY Charity. The answer is simple.

When I get knocked down I get back up, alter my approach and try again. When I want something to happen I put in YEARS of sweat and effort to sharpen my tools so I can slice through roadblocks.

To truly achieve my dreams I need to push past comfort, past my physical/mental limitations and beyond all doubts. It is a fight worth fighting.

This weekend I battled myself and won.

– BBoy Piecez

3 lessons I wish I learned earlier!

There’s so much to catch up on over the last 3 years!

I figured I would start with 3 awesomely important things I learned to get this blog rolling before the long weekend!

1. Give when it feels right. 

In my life I always give when it feels right. Some of my most giving moments became my most strategic successes. The question to ask is did I give for the sake of getting something in return? Absolutely not!  If you look more closely at the times where I gave shamelessly and got the most in return it was ALWAYS in the situations that did not seem like it would have a big carrot at the end.

It just felt right.

Example, one free show I did I was approached by an audience member who later became one of my most incredible mentors. He later got me to keynote a national sponsorship conference. The next year he got me a keynote at another conference. The Governor General of Canada happened to be speaking at this conference. The Governor General’s office called me because his spouse Sharon Johnston was into youth causes and they saw my bio on the conference website.  Her Excellency Sharon Johnston visited a UNITY program and loved it. She later brought her husband His Excellency, The Governor General of Canada to visit a UNITY program. He loved UNITY too. They both became patrons of UNITY after these visits. All a HUGE snowball from one free show I did 3 years ago.

Moral of the story, I give when it feels right. Not to get something in return.

2. Make decisions!

This one sounds obvious but it’s proven that most people avoid conflict and therefore do not make decisions that should be made (ie: me). Another common issue is that we wait until it’s really obvious to everyone around us why we should make a certain decision. If you know for sure, then just make the damn decision.

Don’t let things drag on, don’t feel like you are being a nice person by not addressing real issues head on. Not making decisions creates major problems. Sometimes a painful decision today will save me many months of pain and regret. There were too many times in the past few years where I did not make a decision because I thought I was being nice but I really hurt everyone including UNITY.

3. Lead by example.

We have all heard this before. However, why don’t we actually do it? The ultimate leaders are addicted to their organizational goals. They work harder and smarter. Teams follow great work ethic. It is key to lead by example, make tough decisions and people respect your vision and become part of the movement. Take ownership of your role! Especially when something goes wrong you need to own it. Lead by example and those around you will take pride in their responsibilities and learn from their mistakes.

I figured 3 years deserves at least 3 lessons, but my journal is overflowing with ideas to share!  I’ve learned a ton in the last few years from managing and growing UNITY to where it is now.

I’m so excited to finally be back in the blog! 🙂 

Follow above to get the updates when future posts come out!
Talk soon chums,

– Pcz

Pouring my heart out. The relaunch.

Pouring my heart out. The relaunch.

I was thinking the other day, I really want to start a blog!

As I began to think where should I start, I realized something pretty important…
I already have a blog! That’s right here we are! My blog has existed I just haven’t given it love. So now we re-unite and I’m here to stay.

If you’re a social entrepreneur, non-profit leader, artist, innovative mental health practitioner, or just anyone awesome this blog is for you.

I have a lot to say, so here is the place to dive into my brain for a bit and see how everything somehow comes together.

I plan to share how I achieved my best successes and survived the most painstaking failures.  My new posts will be much more about sharing my learnings and experiences with the world.  Follow above and get ready for an amazing journey!

So you have my word.
My blog is back and here to stay!

However, that does not fix the fact that my last post was in January 2013!

That being said, you can expect my next post coming out soon will be EXTRA awesome as we need to catch up on 2.8 years!

To close I want to share a note of inspiration from a teacher who experienced one of our UNITY Charity programs this year:

“This letter is late in coming, but the effects of that visit are still rippling through my classes, and in my mind, and heart. It was such a gift for my students to have two young talented men to come into my classroom and show these students so much love and respect. They delighted in each and every student- and met their responses with honesty and good will, and loving humour!  They showed them the power of spoken word poetry, the pleasure and delight in making noises, (in a context which so often tells students to sit down and shut up!).

And it was a true gift for me as a teacher. I learned so much about my classes as I observed their reactions, and heard their responses. Voices that I hadn’t yet heard, this early in the semester, broke out in jubilant swagger!

It was also deeply important to me that one of the Unity team performed a poem that recounted his experience of experiencing appalling racial injustice by policemen in Toronto. While I believe Toronto is one of the better cities in the world for people of all races to live, I know that racism exists here. Yet, many of my students insist that since Canada embraces multiculturalism, therefore, no racism exists here.  I, as someone who passes for white, cannot tell a personal story about racism in Toronto, in Canada. I can only offer statistics and essays by people these students have never met. But the poem that David shared reached my students, viscerally.

Thank you again. I know how much time and effort it takes to organize things like this.

I’ve seen a lot of programs that want to reach young people in a similar way.
Unity is the only one I have seen that I would put my money behind, if it were my money.
They clearly vet and train the staff.
They value our students enough to give them the best.

I quietly cried during both of the Unity sessions in my classes- because I was so moved that these young men were bringing their joy, their love, their talent, and especially their honesty to my students.
– Katherine, English Department, VP Collegiate

NEXT POST (coming soon!) = Top lessons from last 3 years 

Consider this the official relaunch !
(*cue awesome party music*)