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Teen Leadership: Jacob Gardenswartz (2014) Speaks Out

Jacob Gardenswartz, 2014 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards recipient, launched his project Theatre of Peace (TOP) to address bullying. Through live performances, audience interaction, and post-performance curricula, Jacob’s organization raised over $10,000 and reached 4,000 students across San Diego county. 

Fast forward six years, Jacob is a writer and multimedia journalist who focuses on the intersection of politics, law, and media. Passionate about media coverage of politics and government administration, Jacob works as an associate producer for MSNBC Chief Legal Correspondent Ari Melber. We asked Jacob for his incite on teen leadership and tikkun olam

What does leadership mean to you?

Leadership encompasses so many different attributes and there are many different kinds of leaders, but for me, leadership is at its essence about a give-and-take between trusting your intuition and drawing upon others’ input. Every leader needs to straddle these two poles — trusting your gut instinct and taking the first step, while also ensuring every move you make is with the consultation and support of your team. 

What is different, special, or challenging about being a teen/young leader? 

Being a youth leader is in many ways liberating — it enables you to buck expectations and take risks. To be sure, there will always be those who question your credentials, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned that many of those same doubters will follow you no matter your age. Engaging in leadership as a young person helps instill a confidence to know that you can make change, and I’m fortunate that my time running organizations as a young person has helped me evolve into the leader I am today as I’ve gotten older.

What leadership tips would you give teens who want to lead a project?

I always encourage young people who want to make change in the world to first question what kind of impact they’d like to make, and why it is they’re interested in youth leadership. Starting an organization from scratch is exciting and meaningful, but also incredibly costly and limiting in some ways. There are a ton of different ways to engage in youth leadership — many of the most effective include supporting existing projects. Thinking about how you can maximize your impact while setting ego aside is quintessential to successful youth changemaking. 

How does tikkun olam inform your leadership?

I love that tikkun olam is such a broad term — the world has so many cracks in it that there are a myriad of ways to begin to repair them. In any organization in which I’m serving in a leadership role, I try to think about how my work is serving both tikkun olam at a global level — trying to make structural change to improve our world — but also tikkun olam at a hyper-local level, ensuring my team is inclusive and supportive such that everyone feels empowered to change the world. 

Each year the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards honor 15 Jewish teen changemakers. Learn more about the Awards and the outstanding teen leadership Awards recipients.