From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Be The Best You Can Be


Over a decade ago, I concluded that my primary philanthropic goal should be to promote religious tolerance, and I decided to start at the university level. In November 2003 I met with Malcom Gillis, then president of Rice University, and proposed making a pledge to endow a program to promote religious tolerance at Rice University. Six months later, in April 2004, The Boniuk Center at Rice was established.

The Center did good work, and hosted a variety of excellent programs, but it did not take long for me to realize that the goal of universal tolerance would be very difficult to achieve, and that a greater effort would be required. Historically, our world has been one where religious differences, and the desire for wealth and power over others, have been the primary reasons for most major conflicts.

During 2012 and 2013, after a series of discussions with the current Rice President David Leebron, my wife Laurie and I decided to make a further commitment to tolerance, and a mutual decision was made to expand The Boniuk Center into The Boniuk Institute for the Study and Advancement of Religious Tolerance. Part of this new commitment was to support new projects that we felt would be helpful in changing our society for the better. Hundreds of organizations worldwide have tried to eliminate hate speech, and to promote interfaith relations and diversity. In spite of all those efforts, the world has actually become less tolerant, especially in the area of religious tolerance.

As a member of the Houston Holocaust Museum board since its founding, I have witnessed the wonderful efforts that education programs for students and teachers can have, but I have felt that many students, who were positively affected initially by the programs, frequently went home to prejudiced parents who countered the positive effects of these educational programs. In addition, the abuse of our constitutional right to freedom of speech, and the spread of the Internet and social media, has resulted in the promotion of hatred and intolerance.

We recognized a need for new approaches. At The Boniuk Center in 2010, I came up with the idea of sponsoring symposia on intra-faith conflicts starting with the Abrahamic religions, and The Boniuk Center hosted symposia on Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. A survey on the religious background and tolerance attitudes of students at Rice University occurred in January of 2015. We hope this survey will be replicated at other universities throughout the country. We hope the survey program will help us determine what students and others feel are the changes necessary within themselves, their religions, and society to promote universal tolerance and peace.

We are also working on projects to foster better understanding of different approaches taken within major religions toward their religious texts. One of these projects is the Quran project, which is primarily educational, and is scheduled to begin soon under the direction of Emran El-Badawi, PhD, Program Director and Assistant Professor of Arab Studies at the University of Houston. This project will entail the publication of two volumes. The first volume will be an original Arabic edition of the Quran with an accepted English translation. The second volume will contain a brief history of Islam, a list with description of the seventy-three potential sects, and a discussion of controversial areas by representatives of the major Islamic sects.

Still, it is not enough. We need to start with a younger audience. We need to supplement our existing worldwide programs with educational programs that start with preschool children and continue throughout the entire scholastic experience. In conjunction with education, it is important to try to transform our religions, many of which have a long history of violence and intolerance, toward a more tolerant viewpoint, not only toward other religions, but also within branches or sects of some major religious groups.

I have long been a fan of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books, and I realized that this type of book could be of great help in reaching the younger demographic audience that I wanted to reach. I decided to pursue that possibility. I reached out to Chicken Soup for the Soul, and I was answered with enthusiasm. I was given the opportunity to meet with Bill Rouhana and Amy Newmark, the CEO and Publisher, respectively, of Chicken Soup for the Soul since they led a group that acquired it in 2008. Bill and Amy hosted me for an all-day meeting at their offices in Connecticut in late September 2014. Subsequent to that meeting, we entered into an agreement to publish three books utilizing stories that I, and my helpers, would select from their library of more than 20,000 stories that had appeared in more than 250 books. Chicken Soup for the Soul has sold hundreds of millions of copies of its books worldwide and they have been translated into more than forty languages.

Part of the agreement with Bill and Amy was a plan to provide a set of books for students and teachers for each classroom in Harris County, Texas (more than 900,000 students) and to promote a program to be used by teachers in public, private, and charter schools throughout the county. We also agreed to support a thirty-minute TV program for families to be shown on Saturday mornings on a major TV network, which we expect to reach millions of viewers. This program is expected to start in October of 2015, and will promote integrity, good choices, respect, compassion, and tolerance.

This book, the first of three to be published this year, is for children and preteens. We hope that parents and teachers will also read these stories, and we hope that they will provide a forum for discussion and feedback.

In our discussions with President David Leebron about the formation of The Boniuk Institute, he suggested that my wife and I form The Boniuk Foundation, as a separate 501c(3) nonprofit organization, for any nonacademic programs or potential legislative advocacy activity we wished to pursue. It is for this reason that our “Chicken Soup for the Soul” program is sponsored and funded by The Boniuk Foundation, which will also devote most of its efforts to the problem of religious tolerance.

I would like to acknowledge the assistance of the following individuals who helped select the stories for inclusion in this book: my wife Laurie, my son David Boniuk, Yan Digilov, Mike Pardee, Dr. Sylvia Orengo-Nania and her daughter Julia Nania, her nieces Anna Hanel and Marisa Rao, Dr. Ron and Wendy Pelton and their son Lee Pelton, a freshman at Rice University. I would also like to thank David Leebron, president of Rice University, Malcom Gillis, former president of Rice, Bill Barnett and James Crownover, former chairmen of the board at Rice, and Charlie Landgraf, member of the board of trustees and current chairman of the advisory board of The Boniuk Institute at Rice University, for their support.

~Dr. Milton Boniuk

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