Martin Storrow: Putting creativity toward the greater good
Name: Martin Storrow
Best-known for: #First100Ways
Little known fact: “I played cymbals in the school band. I was the disruptive person. At my mercy, a song could have a great or disastrous ending, depending on when I clashed the cymbals.”
From professional music to young adult engagement to projects of social good and activism, Martin Storrow, 34, approaches all aspects of his life creatively.
He co-founded #First100Ways, a campaign designed to mobilize people around small, positive actions they can take every day for 100 days to benefit a cause or an organization. Before that, he launched Keys for Refugees, a refugee-awareness campaign.
Storrow has worked for or volunteered with many Jewish organizations, including the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s (JDC) Entwine program for young Jewish leaders and Moishe House, where he planned and coordinated retreats for young Jews.
What do you consider your life’s central purpose?
To use creativity for good. That’s what ties it all together. I’m happiest and feel most fulfilled — through music or social good — when I’m doing something that utilizes my creativity toward what feels like the greater good.
What did #First100Ways achieve, and what’s the next step now that the campaign has concluded?
The best thing about it was we ended up with this team of people, the combination of whom was so weird: artists and policymakers in [Washington] D.C., and advertising and media professionals and lawyers. All these people together in the room would have been the funniest little party you can imagine. We started with an email — “Does anyone want to do something?” A group of 15 people were at our core, with an outer team of 100 people, and we were able to build it together.
The biggest lesson was that perception plays such a huge part in our experience. [After the last election,] people around us were living in uncertainty and, in the face of that, we were able to create productivity in a way that was in its conception nonpartisan and inclusive. Our goal was to be progressive but never to be partisan. The goal now is to figure out a meaningful next step for our community of 7,000 active users.
How have Jewish values helped power or inspire your work or creativity?
I grew up with creativity as a Jewish value. We are a part of creation, and just as creation is responsible for us being here, creativity is at the core of Jewish life. It feels really natural that those two go together: being encouraged to question everything, not always as a deconstructive process but as a constructive process building toward new ways that things can be done.
How did you meet your fiancée?
This is a wonderful Jewish Journal question. I met Rachel Brandt, who works in advertising, at a Moishe House retreat in Northern California. She was not involved in anything Jewish at the time. And now her parents always tell me how happy they are that we met! She has constantly raised the bar, encouraging me to be my truest and best self. When I get a crazy idea for what I want to create, she’s the one who tells me to do it, let’s just do it. I don’t think I could have done any of these projects without a partner like her.
We owe a lot to the Jewish community. We’ve had a lot of great experiences because of the Jewish community. Local organizations like the Pico Union Project gave us opportunities to get involved, and JDC trips to places like Ethiopia, Turkey, Georgia and Cuba have enhanced and enriched our lives. We can see the world because people are generous. There’s a lot of generosity out there.
What’s the most important business lesson you’ve learned?
You can’t do it alone. I had a mentor early on who told me this but I had to live it in many iterations to learn it. It’s a wonderful thing when people can dream with you and help make your dreams reality. Having an awesome team, we accomplished something together we couldn’t have accomplished individually. Finding the right people is important.
How do you stay inspired when things get challenging?
I read a lot. And I’m always looking at how I can get my hands dirty with whatever’s happening in the world. The thing that keeps me inspired is knowing that it’s a rare day when someone is going to knock and say here’s how you can help. But I know that you don’t have to be an expert to help out. If I’m feeling uninspired, I think about where the needs might be.
If money were no object, which issue in the world would you devote your attention to?
That we could ensure that every single person on this planet had a home. It wouldn’t be that hard if we just decided to do it.
Which three songs and three Jewish values would you say are essential to you?
Songs: “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” which I listened to for the first two months of this year on repeat. Paul Simon’s “Graceland” — it’s not a very Jewy choice, but still. And “Landslide,” by Stevie Nicks. One of the first songs I ever learned on guitar, but no one sings it like she does.
Jewish values: Tikkun olam, Tikkun olam, Tikkun olam.
What’s an interesting thing about you that most people don’t know?
I’m a secret writer. I have kept a journal for 13 years. It’s a Word document that is 1,300 pages long, single-spaced.
So, if you turned that into an autobiography, what would you title it?
“Just Make Up Your Mind Already: The Martin Storrow Story.”
Who would play you in the movie version of that autobiography?
Until Maya Angelou died, I had this dream that she was my spirit animal in some way. … She would have played me. I aspire to be the kind of person that Maya Angelou could have portrayed in a movie. But let’s not kid ourselves, probably Ben Stiller.