Phil Anschutz brings us Random Acts of Kindness Week -- but kindly don't mention that he did

Denver gazillionaire Phil Anschutz is a media mogul thanks to his ownership of and many other properties. But he remains so zealously protective of his privacy that he doesn't even want his name associated with something as positive as the ongoing Random Acts of Kindness Week.

Anschutz funds the Denver-based Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, which promotes a week-long celebration of niceness that continues through Sunday. But ask foundation manager Marilyn Decalo about the Anschutz connection and she politely defers.

"Our emphasis is on the message and not on the messenger," she says.

Fortunately, Decalo is more expansive on Random Acts of Kindness Week itself:

"In 1994, Congress passed a resolution declaring the week starting February 12, 1995 to be National Random Acts of Kindness Week," she says. "And for fifteen years, nonprofit organizations around the world have picked up that message and continued to promote Random Acts of Kindness Week.

"This happens not just in the U.S. but around the world. There's a World Kindness Movement, with people involved in kindness 365 days a year. But we have an opportunity to celebrate it this week and perhaps focus a little more on kindness in our daily lives."

Decalo notes that far-flung communities and schools have come up with their own twists on the week.

"The mayor of Nutley, New Jersey has declared that during this week, citizens should try to do several acts of kindness and report them back to share with other people in town," she says. "At the University of New Mexico, students have gotten together to do donation drives helping homeless facilities. The University of Dayton has created a Facebook page focusing on Random Acts of Kindness Week."

In addition, Decalo points out that numerous schools around the country are coupling Random Acts of Kindness Week with participation in Rachel's Challenge, named for Rachel Scott, one of the victims of the murders at Columbine High School.

"After Rachel's death, they decided to keep her spirit of compassion alive by starting a campaign to promote anti-violence and anti-bullying behavior," Decalo says. "So a lot of schools are having speakers come in this week to talk about kindness and compassion and help students challenge themselves to eliminate prejudice and choose kinder actions and words in their everyday lives."

Scott was a devout Christian, as is Anschutz -- which may lead some people to wonder if the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation is a stealth method of delivering a fundamentalist Christian message. (Rabbi Steven Foster makes the same charge against Senator Dave Schultheis's proposed Religious Bill of Rights proposal.) Not so, according to Decalo.

"We are not affiliated with any religion or any politics, and we're completely nonsectarian," she emphasizes. "We believe that kindness transcends faith, cultures, religions, all kinds of boundaries. Kindness is a human quality, and we have a choice to do kindness on a daily basis. That's where we put our focus -- on the choice that all human beings have on the daily basis to act kindly and to spread that kindness."

That may seem like to tough sell in this age of cynicism. But in Decalo's view, "I think the cynicism people talk about is overstated. The reception we see around communities and schools, especially with young people, is very inspiring and very uplifting. It feels to us that there's a groundswell, if you will, of people, especially young people, who want to do good in the world. Young people who are interested in taking care of the planet, in giving back to others and learning how to create sustainable business practices. To me, that's indicative of their desire to change the world for the better."

Presumably, such signs cheer Anschutz, too. But kindly don't mention it.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts