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From 17 to 103: We Asked Disruptors What Their Very Best Year Was


  • It was a very good year” — as Frank Sinatra would say. We’ve asked 10 disruptors, including Ashton Applewhite, above, to share with us the year that defined them. You’ll be as moved as we were…

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  • The best year of my life … 
    “Sixteen was kind of magical. 2015 was the year I found real friendships and settled into a badass “girl gang.” We’re a unit of six — and they’re the most feisty, impactful, transformative group of grrrls on so many levels. This girl gang is a huge part of who I am, and I hope always will be.” —Hali Traina, 17, student, sole administrator of teenriotgrrrl, an activist Instagram blog

    And now … 
    Traina founded the feminist club Women Empowered in 2016 during her Junior year of high school. Her mother has been her biggest inspiration, as well as her siblings — and the punk rock feminist wave of Washington in the early ’90s! 

    —Roger Kisby

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  • The best year of my life … 
    “Easily, it was 2015, and I was 21. I started Unsung Heroes — a Facebook page profiling janitors, bus drivers — workers we college students are surrounded by — but don’t really “see.” Many are immigrants — just like my family. The stories got shared, liked and loved — and we made a difference. That feels good!” —Febin Bellamy, 22, student at Georgetown University  

    And now … 
    Febin Bellamy enlisted students to take on causes by fundraising for Unsung Heroes and plans to expand to 10 universities nationwide.

    —Roger Kisby
       

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  • The best year of my life … 
    “In 2005, at 22, I graduated from college, took my dream job and met my future husband. Now that’s a good year!”  —Aria Finger, 33, CEO, DoSomething.org
     
    And now ... 
    Finger is CEO at DoSomething.org, the largest organization in the world for young people and social change, with 60 full-time employees and 5.5 million members worldwide. She’s still married to that husband and has a 16-month-old baby boy.

    —Roger Kisby

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  • The best year of my life … “It was 1988. I was 21, owned a fire-engine-red VW convertible and spent hours writing and hosting shows at my college radio station. Life was full of possibilities — dreaming the dream about ‘later …’ ” —Richard Grunn, 49, writer, actor, radio host

    And now … 
    That “later” was right in sync with his college days. Grunn has designed several arts-in-education programs, including working with the Bronx Council on the Arts to introduce a radio theater program for senior participants. The pieces were based on original short pieces written by workshop attendees.
     
    —Roger Kisby

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  • The best year of my life … “2013 was the best year of my life — and the worst. I turned 52, started a new job in a software start-up where the average age was 26, and it was my first experience with discrimination. I hated it at the time — but it drove me to become an advocate for diversity — for not just age, but race and gender. 2013 was the year I woke up.” —Dan Lyons, 56, author
     

    And now … 
    Lyons is the author of the book Disrupted. He is also a coproducer and writer for the HBO series Silicon Valley. 

    —Roger Kisby

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  • The best year of my life … 
    “The best year of my life? Count 365 days back from today. Since my book came out last spring, I feel like I’ve been strapped to a rocket. It’s a sputtering, solar-powered, aluminum-foil-clad rocket, and I don’t know where it’s headed. But I’ve never felt so deeply energized, so daunted and yet so excited by the possibility of radical change. A movement against ageism is underway — and I’m all in.” —Ashton Applewhite, 64, author, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism

    And now … 
    Applewhite kicks off 2017 with a TED talk, a chance to introduce a whole new audience to ageism as a global human-rights issue. 

    —Roger Kisby

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  • The best year of my life … “In 2011, at 72 years old, I landed 8th place after qualifying for the CrossFit Games — just three months after chemo. When you’re determined to do something, no matter what’s in your way — you have to go in and kick ass!” —Jacinto Bonilla, 77, world’s oldest CrossFit competitor

    And now … 
    Bonilla is a three-time CrossFit competitor, placing 8th, 17th and 19th at the annual event with contestants from around the globe, and kicking some serious ass against men decades younger. 

    —Roger Kisby

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  • The best year of my life ... 
    “1959. The year I stopped painting ‘European art’ — flowers, still lifes — and started telling MY stories. And, have you noticed? I’m not European.”  —Faith Ringgold, 86, painter, author, inventor

    And now ... 
    Ringgold started the renowned “American People” series in 1959 and has since been exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. When she was 84, she invented her first app, Quiltuduko.

    —Roger Kisby        

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  • The best year of my life ... 
    “Believe it or not, I have to say the last 10 years — 2006-2016. Why? Because you cherish each day as you get older. I love my job. I teach sewing to women from 18 to 118. I’m active. I’m moving. Sitting? Sitting is poison.” —Ruth Taube, 93, director, Home Planning Workshop, Henry Street Settlement

    And now … 
    Taube teaches two times a week at the Henry Street Settlement in New York’s Lower East Side, and has for nearly 50 years. She says she still makes the best matzo ball soup in town.

    —Roger Kisby

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  • The best year of my life ... 
    “In 1993, I married my second husband, and the next 15 years were the happiest of my life. And guess what? I was 80 years old when I married him. So don’t give up!” —Marilee Shapiro, 103, artist

    And now ... Shapiro spent most of her career sculpting, but at age 88, she enrolled in a digital art course alongside students 70 years younger. Her last show of abstract digital prints was in Washington, D.C.

      —Stephen Voss

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