How to Make Epic Happen in Your Life

by Blair Evan Ball on May 11, 2017

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Would you like a positive change in your life?

What if I told you that you could make Epic Happen?

Are you ready to read something positive and uplifting?

We are living in truly amazing times. In our hyper-connected, hyper-local and increasingly global world of do-ers, makers, tinkerers, innovators, disruptors, and creators, now more than ever there are endless and expanding sets of collisions, connections.

Let me share with you a story of a friend of mine Stephen Ritz. Stephen became a school teacher over 30 years ago in South Bronx where he was raised. The poorest most destitute school district in the country where poverty and crime run rapid.

No body wanted to learn, but Stephen had a heart for people.

I’m deviating a little from my normal blog post to write about him and his new book. The Power of a Plant. He doesn’t even know I’m writing a blog post about him. I had purchased his book, which arrived from Amazon in short order. It came out on May 2nd.

As fate would have it my family was out of town and I had to stay behind because of business commitments. It was a Friday when coming back from a business meeting I discovered that the power was out. Boy do we ever take the internet and power for granted. However, there was a reason why this happened.

As I continued to work using my iPhone, I quickly realized that soon I would be without power.

Perfect timing which was meant to be. I picked up The Power of a Plant at dusk and started to read by an LED flashlight. According to MLGW (Memphis Light Gas and Water), the power would be on in a couple of hours. Didn’t happen.

Stephen didn’t give me a lot of insight into the content of the book, which now I understand why.

I continued to read.

The LED flashlight at times continued to flicker and I thought the batteries would run out. I couldn’t put the book down. It was riveting. It gave me another view into Stephen’s world which I knew nothing about. WOW!

Inspirational, Yes! Uplifting Yes! Lights your fire, Yes!

It was slightly after midnight when I finished his book. I was fired up. I couldn’t hardly go to sleep yet had to be up at 5:30 to conduct an all day workshop.


From one Bronx block to the next, you could catch the same songs blasting out of boom boxes, and car speakers. The streets had a pulse all their own, as dramatic as a soundtrack.

During lunch breaks and after school, Stephen heard his students making their own beats, turning themselves into percussion machines and amplifying the rhythm of the streets.

Along with music, he used his big-voice, bigger personality and a grab bag of nutty stories from his own Bronx adventures to grab students attention.

But then what?

He was on his own to figure out the next move. Teachers as well as students routinely missed showing up for school. Nobody cared as much as Stephen. That’s his nature to love and make things better no matter what the circumstances.

Do you have that same kind of philosophy?

What’s your WHY?

He routinely questioned “How could I get students interested in content that they didn’t care about learning?”

What makes you interested in learning? For me, it was my Father. His philosophy was “The day you stop learning in the day you die!” He believed that until he drew his last breath. That’s why today I love to learn. It doesn’t matter your age.

Learn new things. Do new things. Grow your mind. Make Epic Happen.

Stephen wrestled with something we all do. How can I convince them they had the capacity to learn, after years of being told they couldn’t?

How about you? Has someone…a parent, friend, co-worker or boss told you couldn’t do it? You couldn’t learn a new skill or career?

Especially when you had no support.


Power of a Plant Book

Courtesy Stephen Ritz & Green Bronx Machine

What if we taught students and people that they have as much potential as a seed?

That in the right environment they can grow into something great?

The Power of a Plant tells the story of a green teacher from the Bronx who let one idea germinate into a movement and changed his students’ lives by learning alongside them.

The Power of a Plant is a story of hope, resilience, and regeneration.

It all started with a box of Daffodils sent by a group in Holland to his classroom. He didn’t even know what they were and stashed them in a closet behind a steamy radiator. Little did he know they had bloomed but weren’t supposed to until spring and this was October.

They were to be planted in Poe Park. It was where Edgar Allan Poe lived and wrote “Annabel Lee.”

Good Morning America was on hand to film. Even the drug dealers stopped by to give his students a quick smile. The longer they were there planting and cleaning up the park the more attention they drew.

The results were obvious, it became contagious. It’s not the norm to see eleven inner-city teenagers come together to garden in the park, and people loved it. Newspaper photographers snapped their pictures. One of his students on Monday brought in the newspaper and said “YO RITZ! LOOK! WE’RE IN THE PAPER!”

For once, his students were getting positive feedback from their community rather than distrustful stares.

Wanting to build on that momentum he formed a group called Green Teens which later became the Green Bronx Machine.


These teens tackled the courtyard at the school to clean it up and plant a green wall of growing plants and vegetables. More students were getting involved, and it was taking off.

They started to sell the vegetables and learned about working, setting goals and making money all while still going to school. Talk about unconventional…That’s Stephen.

Check out his Ted Talk: Stephen Ritz growing green in the Bronx. Over one million views.


One of the powerful lessons is to lead by example. Like most kids in the Bronx they are raised on carbs, sugar, cheap and easy food. My friend Stephen was no exception. What was once a lean wiry 6’3 inch guy who can jump, shoot lights out on threes in basketball, started to resemble the shape of the ball.

His weight ballooned. One pound at a time, he didn’t even notice. It adds up fast and his blood pressure was skyrocketing with his weight. His doctor prescribed medicine, but didn’t talk to him about changes in diet and exercise.

He was taking so many pills he got them confused. Even after the 911 call and the ambulance ride didn’t convince him of his own health.


Not for his weight, but for his classroom attendance. It went from 40% on average to 90%. Students were involved. They set GOALS!

They had a PURPOSE!

What began as a school project quickly turned into their shared obsession. They kept it up after school, weekends, and eventually during the summer. The first phase took about a year of effort by the Green Teens. Within eighteen months, the project had expanded to include students from other schools along with adult volunteers. People of all color.

By that summer back in 2007 Stephen had secured funding through the city to pay for sixty youth jobs.

As the garden wall continued to grow, it took up too much space and used too much electricity and water for the school. One of the students even engineered how to harness the power of the students peddling their bikes to provide energy.

Certainly there had to be a better way. By luck Stephen was presenting with the kids at a convention in San Francisco and saw this strange white plastic tower with 20 small holes that stood about 7 feet tall growing plants.

When inquiring about this, he was introduced to “The Tower Garden.” A product that another friend of mine here in Memphis purchased. Jay Martin founder of Juice Plus+ a company that produces and sells whole food supplements and other healthy products around the world.

Their mission “To Inspire Healthy Living Around the World.”

Jay a former school teacher himself and Stephen hit it off.

Stephen took to eating the vegetables they were growing. Each day he would try something new. Before he knew it, he was losing weight and feeling better.

Big Change! Have you ever fought change only to discover the benefits?

Anyway, he became obsessed with growing and eating healthy and instilling that in his students and others. 100+ pounds lighter he is the same vivacious Stephen with hugh energy and a hugh heart. Now he states he can jump higher.

Inspiring others. 

Stephen Ritz and Kids


Do you still have hope?

Even after all of these years of being beaten down and told no in our society?

  • What’s your Passion?
  • What’s your Purpose?
  • What’s your Mission?

Passion, purpose and hope is what Stephen was giving to his kids in the classroom. These are the principles that have been his cornerstone. Even after losing twins, one before birth and the other right after. How to you go on? HOPE and RESILIENCE.  A loving wife in Lizette.

He questioned WHY? Do you ever question WHY?

Stephen has a simple theory on education.

Stop placing the blame on poverty. Poor children can rise to high expectations.

What are your expectations for yourself, others, your career and business?

Nobody rises to low expectations!

For Stephen, it all starts with LOVE.

We’ve got to love children and others before they can learn to love themselves.

One of those students for him was Vanessa. A rough girl, cussed like a sailor, no father and mad at the world. To Stephen it was all about helping her love herself and others while making a difference.

One afternoon a beat up envelope arrived in his mailbox after being forwarded numerous times since he had moved and taught at other South Bronx schools.

When he tore open the envelope he burst out into a big smile. A photograph of Vanessa floated down into his lap. It was a photograph of her in a cap and gown. Vanessa buckled down, stayed clean and gotten her high school diploma with honors.

Several years later Vanessa his helping others in the South Bronx deal with poverty, drugs and loving people to be better.

What impact are you having on others?


There are only two reasons why kids, parents and everyday people can’t do something.

  1. That your non compliant – which means you don’t want to do it.
  2. That your’re incompetent – which means you don’t know how to do it.

In either case the answer is always to teach. You don’t give up on the kid, your child, you co-worker, your friends.

Not all his administrators shared his unorthodox methods of teaching, vision and sharing. He used those setbacks, not as failures but of temporary roadblocks to a bigger mission.

What obstacles have you faced? Have you persisted through them with a goal? Mission?

The opposite of courage is not cowardice, it is conformity. 

Even a dead fish can go with the flow.

If he could get others interested in greening their schools, maybe we could create a bigger disruption and change public education for the better. Look where it has taken him. That’s the Power of a Plant!


The famous author Tom Peters once said. I’ll take a monomaniac with a mission anytime. That’s my friend Stephen.

He inspires HOPE. If a lonely teacher growing up in the Bronx can inspire change not only in himself but others. What about you?

He inspires RESILIENCE. If he can survive in a downtrodden town, failing education system, failing health, losing twins with his high school sweetheart Lizette and wife who stands by his side. What about you?

He’s won numerous teaching awards. Educators from Dubai to Canada are learning from him and implementing their own sustainable growing systems and teaching their students about life, goals, hope, and resilience.

I’m not a fan of his Cheese head hat, being a Chicago Bears fan, but he was speaking in Wisconsin and picked some up and it’s now part of his persona. I’m now OK with that.

A few years back he was invited to the White House to meet the Chef for the president. The Pope invited him to Rome. He’s not met so many dignitaries. Yet remains humble and energized.

2015-02-Pope_Francis-Stephen Ritz

We discuss Social Media Strategies and how to use it to help spread his message.

A simple mandate for all: embrace the moment and MAKE EPIC HAPPEN! We can do this! We are the heroes we are waiting for!

Take the time to Connect with Stephen Ritz onand the Green Bronx Machine:

Stephen always starts and ends with LOVING PEOPLE. No matter there status. From a kid raised in the South Bronx, he was destined for a time such as this.

Epic builds upon and demands small collective victories that combine what you feel compelled to do with what you are paid to do. Epic involves collective decision-making and honesty, rigor and integrity from teachers, administrators, people and businesses.

Epic involves a sense of support – of collegiality, collaboration and accountability, top down and bottom up, wholly systemic – with a mindset that we are all in this together and that the sum far exceeds the total of the individual parts.

I encourage you to buy his book The Power of a Plant. You’ll be inspired, lifted up and helping a great cause. A portion of the proceeds go to help the Green Bronx Machine.

As Stephen Concludes: SI SE PUEDE!

Photos Courtesy of Stephen Ritz and the Green Bronx Machine

About Blair

 5 Golden Rules for Sharing on Social Media

Blair Evan Ball is a Social Media Coach and founder of Prepare1, a company that works with businesses, individuals and non-profits. He is a former executive with a Fortune 50 company, and his national division did $1Billion+ in sales annually.

Blair has written three e-books: Facebook for Business Made Easy, Facebook Pages for Business Made Easy, and WordPress Blog Setup Made Easy.

Blair also educates, trains entrepreneurs and business professionals how to amplify their brand, increase revenues, and raise more funds.

 5 Golden Rules for Sharing on Social MediaThe Race is ON! | PREPARE | Get into the Game and WIN!

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