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Matthew Joseph Thaddeus Stepanek (July 17, 1990 – June 22, 2004), known as Mattie Stepanek, was an American poet, who had six books of poetry and one book of essays all reach 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 has also won numerous[quantify] awards[which?].
Stepanek suffered from a rare form of muscular dystrophy, dysautonomic mitochondrial myopathy, that resulted in his death a month before his 14th birthday. 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.
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[vague]. 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 4 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, 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[quantify] attended that event, including Oprah Winfrey, Nile Rodgers, Billy Gilman, politicians, and others[who?]. 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 celebrateed 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.'
Jeni Stepanek 
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 refereed to as "Mama Peace." She also works as a research associate at the University of Maryland, College Park, in the field of special education.
- Official Website
- Washington Post Report on Funeral
- Jimmy Carter Eulogy for Mattie Stepanek
- Interview on public radio show "Humankind" by David Freudberg