DUDE. be nice: Making Kindness Cool

Brent Camalich hopes to inspire people to treat others better. As CEO of DUDE. be nice (www.dudebenice.com)—an apparel company based in Southern California—he’s changing the world by creating clothing styles that are trendy and promote a simple message: Be excellent to one another. His goal? To build a brand that positively impacts campuses and communities across the country through selfless programs that young people want to be a part of.

If Kindness Is Going to Stick, You Have to Feel It!

Overwhelming research suggests that the best way to develop kindness in young people is by actually feeling it, not just thinking about it. Antibullying and kindness weeks/months are well intentioned, but I’ve come to discover a couple of issues with this approach: 1. They often don’t do a very good job of inspiring action, and 2. Just using terms like “anti” to describe what’s supposed to be a positive week is counterintuitive and has become cliché in the eyes of young people. Understanding this, my team and I decided to create a brand that inspires young people to treat others better—DUDE. be nice.

There are so many brands that young people are wearing every day that are negative or insignificant. We want to stand for something positive. I’m sure you’ve noticed some of the trendy brands young people are wearing to school these days that sometimes make you shake your head with confusion and disappointment. Often, there is a complete lack of awareness that the clothes a young person is wearing say a lot about their own personal brand. At a middle school recently, I noticed a kid wearing one of the more popular teen brands today called Young & Reckless. When I asked him, “What happens when you’re ‘young and reckless?'” he took a moment, dropped his head, and responded, “Ahhhhh, you probably get hurt or hurt someone else.” I asked him how cool that was, and he quickly recognized it actually wasn’t very cool at all.

Companies like that are making millions of dollars from young people, and I’m not sure they care too much about making a difference in their lives. The ultimate goal of Dude. be nice is to motivate young people to do nice things for others. We’ll tell you more about some free resources we’ve created for you to make DUDE. be nice a part of your school, but first, here’s why building this brand for and with young people is so important to us.

What’s the Motivation?

I was one of those kids in high school who participated in everything—a sort of “student leader,” really—so I should have been the kind of guy that always went out of my way to make others feel like they mattered, right? Wrong. While there are plenty of things I’m proud of from my high school years, I am also super embarrassed about how I handled some situations and how that negatively impacted people’s lives. I recently reached out to a person that I tore down consistently in high school to apologize. While he accepted my apology, he made it very clear how much of a negative impact I had on his life. He let me know that I “made high school a time that he would never want to relive.” This breaks my heart, and I don’t want anyone to ever experience either side of this situation.

My motivation for being involved in leadership in high school was mostly about me: I wanted to be sure my college application was nice and full, and I liked being in the limelight. I wish leadership for me would have been more about creating opportunities for my classmates that made high school better for them. DUDE. be nice gives us a platform to help young people reshape what being a true leader really means. We want kids to grow up and feel proud of the person that they were in school.

In college, I directed all of my attention toward opportunities that would land me a career in journalism after I graduated. And before I graduated, I got hooked up with a job producing the 11:00 news for a CBS affiliate in California. I thought I had “made it.” I worked 12 hours a day, almost seven days a week for a year-and-a-half writing the news, putting our show in the order I thought would create the most viewership, and directing the anchors during the show via fancy earpieces. Have you watched the news lately and thought, “Wow, what a wonderful world we live in!”? I know I haven’t.

Unfortunately, I became addicted to telling tragic news stories because those were the types of stories that typically generated the most viewership. More viewers meant better ratings and more advertising dollars. I fell victim to the newsroom mentality “if it bleeds, it leads.” I quickly became disenchanted with this mentality and moved on.

Fortunately, during a couple of months in college, I worked at a youth summer camp where we took kids wakeboarding, skateboarding, backpacking, and taught leadership skills-we basically got paid to do whatever we could to positively impact kids’ lives. I loved it, and I knew it was time for me to reintegrate myself back into this type of atmosphere.

After I realized that producing the news wasn’t my dream job, I went back to working at the youth summer camp. It was an incredibly meaningful experience, but my parents eventually suggested that I get a “real” job because they were tired of me asking for a little extra cash at the end of every month to cover my rent. When the camp wasn’t in session during the summer, I spent my time marketing the camp. In other words, I was responsible for telling families and their kids why going to our camp was a great thing. I enjoyed finding new ways to influence people to sign up for camp, especially since I believed in the product I was selling.

Through different relationships and persistence, I eventually moved on to a “real” career spanning sports, entertainment, and traditional marketing. I had some amazing experiences that I could have only dreamed of as a kid. While I’ve worked in what some would consider “dream jobs,” I’ve still always wanted to feel like my work is having a positive impact on youth while also leveraging my favorite career experiences over the past decade.

A Tangible Way to Make an Impact

Dude. be nice comes to life through the DUDE. be nice Project, which is a platform to get young people stoked about doing nice things for awesome people in their communities. It encourages young people to find those unsung heroes and recognize them in a super fun, creative, and meaningful way. The best part is the students choose their unsung hero, not the staff. Amanda from Loara High School in Anaheim, CA, said, “We always talk about doing nice things, now we are finally going out and doing it.

“In our celebrity-crazed society, often times our “heroes” are the people on the covers of magazines or that person with hundreds of thousands of social media followers. The DUDE. be nice Project encourages young people to “zoom out” and identify the true heroes in their community—the people who dedicate each day to making others feel special. We’re really good at praising people for outstanding academic and athletic achievement, but we often neglect to recognize people for outstanding character achievements.

The DUDE. be nice Project helps kids reprioritize the type of lifestyle that is truly admirable and will create a more happy life for themselves and others. What if schools made it a priority to recognize compassion, honesty, and simple acts of kindness? Research suggests that kids would be more compassionate, unselfish, and more focused on other people. This initiative is a kick-starter to reinforce good character.

We’ve had the opportunity to work alongside dozens of schools and students to plan special surprise events for those under-appreciated members of the community, including but not limited to a school custodian, parent volunteers, and a crossing guard. It used to be a priority for me to tell tragic stories, but now I get to work with young people to create incredibly good and uplifting ones. The coolest part is that we’ve documented our experiences with schools, and you can watch these stories for inspiration on our website, www.dudebenice.com. We hope your students create their own DUDE. be nice projects and share stories with us and your communities.

This type of activity isn’t just for student leaders, but rather the entire school and surrounding community. Jimmy Gleich from Bishop Manogue Catholic High School in Reno, NV, can attest to that after surprising his big-hearted food-service worker: “It was an event that the whole school could embrace. Everyone was able to have ownership of it. It didn’t matter if you were a leadership kid or not. It was our whole school, our community, and it changed our kids. They’ve never had more fun being selfless.”

Plus, it’s important to us that people understand this generation actually cares a whole lot more for others than they may have previously thought—these stories help make these kids shine. More than 2 million people have enjoyed videos of these stories from our Facebook page, and the most common comment goes something like this: “Man was I wrong about kids these days …” That gets us pumped.

Did We Solve the World’s Problems?

We don’t expect that the DUDE. be nice Project will solve all of the cultural challenges facing your school. However, we’re fueled by the fact that we can play a small part in creating meaningful and positive memories for young people. We’re all trying to figure out how to be happier in this world, and the most time-tested way to do that is by intentionally doing nice things for other people—making other people smile is good for you, and it’s good for them. And the good news is significance doesn’t have to be monumental; the little things we say and do each day can leave a lasting impression. —

Brent Camalich is the CEO of DUDE. be nice. He may be reached at brent@dudebenice.com.


Sidebar: How do you make DUDE. be nice come to life on your campus?

We’ve created a few resources to make being kind a little cooler and easier:  

  • Check out the free videos from the DUDE. be nice Project at www.dudebenice.com for inspiration. Warning: You may need a tissue or two.
  • We’ve also built a free DUDE. be nice Week Activity Guide to help students create a week of positive events on your campus under a more relevant umbrella. This guide also takes a deeper dive into why all of this being nice stuff actually matters. You can download and print it out at www.dudebenice.com/pages/dbn-week. Note: This week is meant to be student-led. Teachers should provide encouragement and parameters.

Here are some additional online resources you can use to promote kindness and a welcoming school climate: