Berkeley teacher wins $1K as part of inaugural 'Kindness Award,' aimed at celebrating acts of kindness

On Dec, 7. 2022, Berkeley teacher Michele Williams was named the inaugural winner of the "Chris Kindness Award."

A grade school teacher was named the winner of the first ever Chris Kindness Award, an initiative created by a University of California at Berkeley professor to promote acts of kindness in his community.

Michele Williams, a fourth grade teacher at the Berkeley Arts Magnet (BAM) School, received $1,000 as part of the recognition. 

Last Wednesday, she was announced as the program's inaugural winner in a special ceremony held during a packed assembly at the school. 

Williams was submitted as a nominee by a parent of a former student who wrote, "My child has special needs and, as a result, has very few friends and he’s never been invited to a birthday party nor playdate at someone’s house. But the one friend who reaches out every other month to get together is his 3rd grade teacher, from several years back, Michele Williams."

The parent went on to note that Williams not only had children of her own but was also busy teaching her current class of students. Yet, she still made it a point to make time to connect with her former student and see how he’s doing. And it seemed the kindness was passed down from the teacher’s own father, who also contributed to the thoughtfulness and bond between Williams and her former student.

"Knowing his love of WW2 history, she has brought him books her elderly father finds around town," the parent wrote, adding, "He glows when he hears Ms. Williams wants to meet for their impromptu chats." 

During Williams’s ceremony, the teacher spoke of her father, saying he demonstrated kindness in how own life and taught his kids to always "make space at the table" for others, especially those in need. 

While graciously accepting her award, Williams deflected the spotlight on herself by celebrating her colleagues for the acts of kindness they demonstrated every day. 

"Kindness is something that we all need more of in this world," Williams said. "There isn't a teacher in this auditorium that doesn't deserve an award like this. Kindness really goes hand-in-hand with teaching. It's just a part of our job, a part of our calling, a part of our mission." 

Alan Ross, a professor at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, launched his kindness initiative to promote, celebrate, and reward those who engaged in acts of kindness in his city. 

He said his new program received more than 100 nominations and included many who gave back to their community by helping to feed the hungry. 

The public was invited to participate by nominating candidates and then voting for a winner. As part of the program, a winner will be announced each month and awarded $1,000, with the cash prize coming from Ross's own pocket. 

SEE ALSO: UC Berkeley professor to award $1,000 to a winner each month for acts of kindness

Despite the offers he’s received from those who have wanted to donate to his initiative, Ross said he has declined, as the project was his way to give back to his city, and he encouraged others to launch similar efforts in their own communities. 

The award was named after a beloved preschool teacher, Chris Walton, who taught Ross’s children at the JCC East Bay preschool in Berkeley. Walton died from cancer several years ago. He was remembered by the professor as someone "who believed in the power of kindness and practiced it every day."

Nomination entries were currently be accepted for December’s award. 

In order to be eligible, the nominee must live, work or attend school in Berkeley.