Iles School Gets Surprise Visit From Gandhi Ashram Resident Artist

May 1, 2018

Last week, Springfield's Iles Elementary School got a surprise when a musician and speaker who travels the world made a stop in town for the day. His message helped inspire acts of kindness and compassion.

the students who led the "Kindness Parade" with a banner 5th grade students collaborated on
Credit Rachel Otwell / NPR Illinois

What do hip hop and Mahatma Gandhi have in common? Well for one - Nimesh Patel. He goes by "Nimo" for his music projects. His parent are first-generation Indian immigrants who raised him in L.A. Growing up, they didn't make much money, but they always focused on their kids getting a quality education.

Patel went on to become a rapper seen on MTV, and to own an animation studio. But, he says one day at the age of 30 - he had a sort of epiphany. "It was like - 'What I am doing?' And this was in the midst of where I thought I wanted to be. I was not feeling joy in the heart," said Patel. Fast-forward nearly a decade, and he has now spent several years living in India at the Gandhi Ashram.

His service work has focused on the immediate community and the world at large. "When that realization came I took the steps needed and luckily it's been a beautiful growth and learning experience - to live life in a different way, in service," said Patel. He was inspired by a performance he saw in New Jersey which featured kids who came from the slums around the Gandhi Ashram, they sang unifying messages - and helped Patel change course. After moving to the ashram in Ahmedabad - a place where Gandhi lived for over a decade, Patel connected with the impoverished area youth and helped them produce more performances and recordings focused on universal "oneness."

Now, he travels the world sharing messages of selfless giving. His latest album is called Empty Hands, because he says - we all enter and leave this world with nothing. In the end, the world will know you by the kindness and love you leave behind, he told a classroom of Iles Elementary students. "When we plant seeds of love from our heart - to do good for others, I guarantee, and it's my personal experience, that the world will always support your good intention," he told them.

Sherry Frachey invited Patel to Springfield. She heads student support efforts at Iles and helped localize a national effort called the "21 Day Kindness Challenge" - where kids are urged to help each other out with thoughtful acts.

"The biggest thing I realized is it shifts the normal - kids start recognizing when kids are being kind or not being kind. Sometimes we focus on the negative, and then it grows - but if we focus on the positive, that's what will grow," Frachey said.

Patel speaks with students in Frachey's classroom
Credit Rachel Otwell / NPR Illinois

When students arrived to school - they knew they were celebrating "Everyone Matters Day." What they didn't know - was that Nimo was there to celebrate with them. As they sang, he made his way out into the audience. There was a collective gasp, as the kids held up heart signs with messages about love and acceptance. Some of them cried. While Patel spent much of the rest of the day at Iles talking with individual students and classrooms, that morning he shared a message that seems to be at the center of his work. "We all have the same heart, the same blood. When people ask me where I'm from, you know what I say? Planet earth," he told the crowd.

Patel says its a message for everyone, not just kids. Still - he appreciates their pureness of heart. "With children we're planting seeds for the future. If we look not for our own benefit, (but) for the future benefit of the planet and the world, then we start with our children."

As Patel heads off to the Philippines and Japan in his effort to be a humble "servant of humanity," he leaves a Springfield elementary school, that for one day got to sing and hug and focus on the positive all around them.