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Matthew Joseph Thaddeus Stepanek (July 17, 1990 – June 22, 2004), known as Mattie J.T. Stepanek, was an American poet, who published six books of "Heartsongs" poetry and one book of "Just Peace" essays. All seven of his books reached The New York Times bestsellers list. He became a peace advocate and motivational speaker, and lobbied on Capitol Hill on behalf of peace[neutrality is disputed], people with disabilities, and children with life-threatening conditions. He is the lyricist for Music Through Heartsongs, an album produced by Sony, performed by Billy Gilman, and which debuted at Number 15 on Billboard. He also won numerous awards.
Life and legacy
Stepanek suffered from a rare form of muscular dystrophy, dysautonomic mitochondrial myopathy. His sister and two brothers also died from the disease during early childhood, and his mother has the adult form, diagnosed only after all four of her children were born. Mattie Stepanek died a month before his 14th birthday at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., on June 22, 2004. He was interred at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Shortly after Mattie's death, citizens in his King Farm neighborhood of Rockville, Maryland, established the volunteer-based, non-profit Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation with the mission of making Mattie's message accessible to everyone. One of the primary goals of the Foundation is to create curricula programs to support teachers in helping students of all ages understand Mattie's concept of Heartsongs, and embrace his "Three Choices for Peace". Thousands of people have joined the Foundation as members of "Mattie's Peace Network" and in support of the "Pathways to Peace" programs. In 2011, the Foundation launched a "For Our World Campaign" to have Mattie's 9/11 poetry translated into languages for people around the world. Mattie's poem has been translated into dozens[quantify] of languages now, from Albanian to Zulu. In 2012, Mattie's Peace Club (a Foundation membership with categories for people of all ages) and a Peace Certification Program were both launched.
In 2005 a two-room "Peace is Possible" exhibit dedication to Mattie's message of hope and peace was opened at the Children's Peace Pavilion in Independence, Missouri. The Pavilion offers a membership program called Peace Champions inspired by his work. Also in 2005, Madison Cross, a good friend of Stepanek, wrote and recorded a song dedicated to him entitled "He Was Just Like Me". The Rosalynn Carter Institute set up the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Intergenerational Caregiving Scholarship, which is given to four individuals each year.
In 2008 the We Are Family Foundation hosted the first annual international Three Dot Dash "Just Peace Summit" based on the message Mattie offered in his book "Just Peace". Thus far, more than 15 million people[quantify] worldwide have been directly and positively[neutrality is disputed] impacted by the peace projects created by the Global Teen Leaders who have participated in the Just Peace Summit (see www.threedotdash.org for more information). The We Are Family Foundation also annually awards the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Peacemaker Award to an individual who has used their talents and gifts to meet the basic needs of others and promote peace[vague]. Recipients who have accepted this honor[neutrality is disputed] include Maya Angelou, Quincy Jones, Paul Simon, Deepak Chopra, Desmond and Leah Tutu, Emmanuel Jal, and Pastor James Wuye and Imam Mohammad Ashafa (aka Nigeria's "The Imam and The Pastor" peacemaker team). In 2012, Mattie's mom, Jeni Stepanek, was named the honoree of this award.
On October 18, 2008, the 26-acre (110,000 m2) Mattie J.T Stepanek Park in Rockville, Maryland, was dedicated. Thousands of people attended that event, including Oprah Winfrey, Nile Rodgers, Billy Gilman, politicians, and others. Pepper Choplin set words from Mattie's final peace speech to music, and a 100-voice choir performed the debut of "Look Up Way Down". Central to the park is the "Peace Garden", which was designed based on the peace imagery Mattie used in his essay book, Just Peace: A Message of Hope. In the Peace Garden there is a life-size bronze statue of Mattie and his service dog, Micah, surrounded by chess tables. Throughout the park are quotes and soundbites from Stepanek. Twice a year, new bricks are added to the 'mosaic of gifts' walkways and concentric circles of support in the Peace Garden; these bricks represent sponsors from more than 20 countries.
In 2007 the mayor of Carlstadt proclaimed May 22 to be Mattie Stepanek Day, with flags to be flown at half-mast in honor of Mattie's quest for peace[neutrality is disputed]. On the same day, the Peace Library in honor of Stepanek was dedicated by the Carlstadt school board. In June 2009 the citizens of Carlstadt, New Jersey, dedicated their own "Peace Park, in honor of Mattie J.T. Stepanek". Since 2001, children in Carlstadt have begun studying Mattie's poetry and writings in sixth grade.
On November 3, 2009, Messenger: The Legacy of Mattie J.T. Stepanek and Heartsongs was released. The book, written about Mattie by his mother, Jeni, has a foreword by Maya Angelou. The books tells her son's life story, including many details of Mattie's life at home with his mother. Concurrent with the book release (which was also released in audio format, read by Mattie's mom, with Maya Angelou and Mattie's voices as well), the five books of poetry that Mattie audio-recorded prior to his death were re-released in a collection of CDs called "Heartsongs Collection: The Poetry of Mattie J. T. Stepanek" [AUDIOBOOK]. The paperback version of "Messenger" was released in 2010, and became a New York Times Bestseller during the summer of 2011.
On June 6, 2010, the world premiere of "Heartsongs" took place at Carnegie Hall, NY, featuring Mattie's message and poetry set to music by composer Joseph Martin, and performed by a 200 voice combined Children's Choir (many of them from Houston and one, the Mississippi Girl Choir, from Jackson, MS) and other members of the Distinguished Concerts Singers International under the direction of conductor Stephen Roddy. The event was such an overwhelming success[neutrality is disputed] that a CD with the music is being created.
In 2010 the citizens of Lapeer, Michigan celebrated their fifth annual "World Trade Day" on September 11. (Mattie Stepanek described his vision for "World Trade Day" in his book "Just Peace", as a way of commemorating the tragic events of 9/11 while moving forward.)
In 2011 Oprah Winfrey named Mattie as one of her all time most memorable guests in the 25 year history of her show. During the final studio audience taping, Mattie's mom and Oprah shared memories of Mattie, discussed his life story in the "Messenger" book, and Oprah called him "a messenger for our times." Both during the show and in her June, 2011, "O The Magazine," Oprah shared that Mattie was the singular force who changed her mind about ending her program at 20 years. Mattie encouraged her to go 'five more years' for a number of reasons, a decision she considered, made, and has 'never regretted.'
On September 21, 2012, the Feast of St. Matthew the Apostle, the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Guild was officially initiated. The purpose of the Guild is to gather information and investigate Mattie's life for the possible Cause of Canonization in the Catholic Church. In 2013, the National Catholic Partnership on Disability posthumously honored Mattie with the Youth/Young Adult Leadership Award. On June 22, 2014, a Memorial Mass at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington, DC commemorated Mattie's ten year anniversary. It was concelebrated by several priests from the Archdiocese of Washington, DC and attended by hundreds of participants.
In 2013, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) sent a letter to US President Barack Obama declare July 17 (Mattie's birthday a national peace day in Mattie's honor. A growing number of politicians and thousands of global citizens have given support to a national Mattie J.T. Stepanek Peace Day by signing an online petition posted by Mattie's Foundation and writing letters of support for the campaign. During July, 2014, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) joined Sen. Mikulski in introducing a House Resolution (#509), which was approved by the Senate and honors Mattie's life and peace legacy, and his Foundation's campaign for a national peace day.
Because of the way he lived his life and the way he faced his illness and impending death, not with fear but almost a joy knowing he would go to heaven and be a peacemaker there, many Roman Catholics are pushing for his sainthood.
Mattie received several awards for his writing and public speaking including:
Nu Skin Force for Good Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award 
Melinda Lawrence International Book Award for inspirational written works from the Children's Hospice International, 1999
Jeni Stepanek, Ph.D., (Mattie's mother), continues to work as a motivational speaker, writer, advocate and consultant. She serves as a national vice president for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, a governor of the We Are Family Foundation, and as executive director of the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation. As one of the Key Members of the Three Dot Dash Just Peace Summit, she is often affectionately referred to as "Mama Peace." She also works as a faculty associate at the University of Maryland, College Park, in the field of special education.
- Johnson, Darragh (June 29, 2004). "Celebrating the Courage of Mattie". The Washington Post.
- http://www.forceforgood.org/ffg/en/about/lifetime_achievementaward/mattie_stepanek_--lifetimeachievementawardwinner.html. Retrieved 2 September 2013. Missing or empty
- "Meet the Writers: Mattie J.T. Stepanek Profile". Retrieved 3 September 2013.
- Official Website
- Washington Post Report on Funeral
- Jimmy Carter Eulogy for Mattie Stepanek
- Interview on public radio show "Humankind" by David Freudberg
- New York Times article published June 23, 2004