2000 Michigianian of the Year
He dedicates his life to making things better for kids
Jim Tuman never learned the name of the old man who changed his life.
Lost in Amsterdam in the 1960s, the scruffy teen in dirty jeans relied on a stranger for directions. Disoriented himself, the man drove Tuman through confusing streets for more than two hours, long after the teen insisted the stranger had helped him too much.
At last, they arrived. A lonely kid from a demanding family, Tuman couldn't thank the guy enough.
"The man said, 'Isn't that what it's all about? Aren't we all on Earth together to help each other?' " the now-white-haired Tuman remembers. "Everyone has a defining moment in life. I knew what I wanted to do after that."
The chance encounter -- what Tuman calls one of many "God jobs" -- fueled a lifetime of charity. The national youth speaker works dawn to dusk for others. The Royal Oak resident's activities are dizzying: An inspirational speaker who has addressed more than 2 million pupils, Tuman has created programs to reduce youth violence, steer youngsters from trouble and give 28,000 toys annually to special-needs kids in Metro Detroit.
A washout working for a handful of Fortune 500 companies when he was younger, Tuman has done stints as a circus clown and a volunteer at Ethiopian famine camps. He now prides himself on attending more parades annually than some do in a lifetime.
The experiences honed a message Tuman has spent decades fine-tuning: Discover what makes you happy and do it, despite what others think.
It's a compassionate creed that Tuman delivers in screams. Disappointed by his belief that rampant consumerism has made Americans more alienated and lonely, Tuman can seem like a prize fighter as he prepares for one of his dozens of annual speeches to high schools.
For 30 minutes before the speech, Tuman relentlessly paces. He stares at walls. He psyches himself out. He arrives on stage with a roar.
"Screaming is more of a wake-up call," Tuman says. "I know a lot of my pain and a lot of my hurt is in there. I bleed for those kids, but it's a labor of love."
The message seems to stick. Tuman's many fans said he's helped countless youths with numerous programs, from the Jimmy's Kids gift effort and Michigan Youth Speakers' mentoring program to the Voices of Reason which allows gang members and teen mothers to warn peers not to make the same mistakes.
"Jim Tuman's singular mission is to give kids a voice to tell adults what they want and need so we adults can make intelligent choices about their futures," says Alex Montaner, a former Michiganian of the Year who nominated Tuman.
Scores of youths still keep in touch with Tuman, who says his work is far from done. He says he fears that society is becoming more alienated as families continue to falter.
"I never wanted to pass through this Earth thinking I didn't make a difference," Tuman says.
-- Joel Kurth, Detroit News
Article Copyright © 2001 Detroit News