An interview with Massoud Adibpour, founder of Make DC Smile

I’m so lucky to have amazing friends, like Sarah Shores, to introduce me to the amazing people in their lives. Sarah called me up and told me I had to tell my readers about Massoud Adibpour. I could not agree more. Massoud started Make DC Smile only a few months ago, and it’s already received lots of press coverage, and more and more people are joining.

What is Make DC smile?

Make DC Smile is a movement with hopes of getting people to smile. Whether it be holding up poster-size signs with positive messages during rush-hour traffic on Monday morning, or posting positive signs around town. We’re hoping people will stop and think a little differently about their day when seeing some of our positive messages, even if it’s just for five seconds.

 
When did you start it and what was the impetus?
The project started in February 2012.  I saw this sign on tumblr, which I thought was brilliant because it was completely different than any other tear-away post I had seen in the city.  I created my own copy to start off the project, posted it in my neighborhood and noticed that people were tearing away the words, which made me realize that maybe people needed more positivity in their lives than I imagined. I put them up every few days or weeks, but each time I would go out, I would include a new batch of different signs such as:
“Today is Awesome.”
“Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself”
“Make Today Count”
“Smile”
“When was the last time you did something for the first time”
 I started to make copies of the signs at work because I didn’t have a printer at home.  One day I accidentally left a copy of some signs on the copy machine and my co-worker found them and asked me why I was printing out so many positive signs, which led to my explanation on what the signs were all about.  She encouraged me to add an email address so people could contact me, but I was hesitant since I wanted the project to be anonymous.  I felt that posting these signs up anonymously would have a greater impact if people had no idea who created the signs. 
I gave in, and created a new email account and put the addresses on the back of a “Take What You Need” tear away sign.  I told myself that If I didn’t receive any feedback from that one post, then I would continue posting signs anonymously.  Late at night I placed the lone flyer at an intersection outside of my house. The next day I went to work and checked my email to see one message.  It was from a 13 year old girl who said that the tear away post made her day while walking to school and that the people in DC needed more signs like the one she saw.  I saw her email as a sign to continue the project, so I continued to include the email address on all the signs.  Before you know it I started getting lots of encouraging and positive emails from complete strangers.  
 
This was one of the things on your bucket list (which he carries in his wallet at all times). How long do you plan to do this, and will you move on after a certain point?
There isn’t a defined end for this project.  I’ll keep doing this as long as I have the opportunity to discuss and share the movement with students.  A teacher from Freedom High School in Woodbridge, Virginia reached out to me once The Washington Post article was published.  A few others who are involved with the project and myself held signs with the students in front of their school, discussed the movement, and in the end, they truly inspired me and made me realize that this project was much bigger than I ever imagined.  It was easily one of the most rewarding days in my entire life.  The icing on the cake was that the students have since committed themselves to holding up positive signs in front of their school during the first Monday of each month for the entire school year!
We’re currently building the website makeDCsmile.com.  The site will allow anyone to download signs from their home and to spread the positivity in their home, workspace, community and anywhere else others can benefit from the message.  Signs will be available in a number of different languages so we can reach people in all parts of the world. In addition, the site will explain how the movement started, ways that others can get involved  and allow photo submissions from users to be posted on our site. Just last night I started up a tumblr & twitter page so we can reach out to people using different social media platforms.
 
Is this your full-time job? How do you pay your bills?
The short answer is, no, but at times it feels like a full-time job.  Lots of time is spent on reaching out to people, responding to emails, updating the Facebook page and other social media, making new signs/posters and also dreaming big to come up with new ideas on how we can promote positivity in the area.  It’s something I’m passionate about, so I’ll spend as much time as needed to get this movement up and running in all parts of the nation, and eventually the world.
I work full-time as the director of contracts and as a concert promoter at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC.
 
What is the funniest reaction someone has had to Make DC smile?
My friend, Maggie, was holding the “HONK if you love someone” sign and a guy driving on the other side of the road slowed down and said “I love YOU“.  It definitely put a smile on everyone’s face that morning.
 
What do you get out of doing this?
Positivity is infectious. The joy of seeing people have a positive start to their work week undoubtedly brings a smile to my own face.  When you see commuters with a serious look on their face, then do a double take and slowly change their blank stare into a smile is evidence that something this simple can change the way people think.  I have no idea what they’re thinking inside, but if I can get someone who was having a bad morning take their mind off of something bad for a few seconds, then mission accomplished.  I used to hate getting up early during the first day of a work week, but for the first time in my life, I actually look forward to Monday mornings, which says a lot.
 
What were your friends and family’s reaction when you first told them your idea?
It wasn’t well received because the initial idea is crazy when you explain that you plan on holding up signs at a busy intersection on a Monday morning.   Asking my friends to help out wasn’t an easy task, but once we went out our first time to hold signs, we quickly realized that we’d be back the following week.
My friends and family are happy to see how far the project has progressed and that’s led to a big part of the success with this project because their support means more to me than they will ever imagine.
 
You do so much for strangers. What is one thing a stranger could do for you that would absolutely make your day?
I see too many blank stares everyday when I’m walking down the street, so a stranger who greets me with a smile would make my day!
 
You’ve gotten a lot of your friends involved. How important is it to do this as a team?
Having my friends involved in this project is a big reason why this project is where it is today.  Without their help or support, this project would be nothing.  I would have never gone out the first week of holding signs if my friends weren’t there by my side.
 
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I’ve received a lot of great advice from a number of people, but the one that sticks with me right now is, “Why not?”  It sounds cheesy, but whenever I have an inkling of doubt in my mind when making a decision, I just ask myself, why not?  By asking myself this I think things through instead of making a rash decision.
If you’re interested in spreading some joy in your community, don’t hesitate to contact Massoud at MakeDCSMile@gmail.com . How awesome would it be to have people championing happiness in every city. And don’t forget to connect to him through his  tumblrtwitter and  Facebook page!

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