Massoud Adibpour knows that nobody likes Mondays.
But with an arsenal of cardboard signs adorned with positive messages like, “don’t be so hard on yourself” and “smile,” he’s determined to change that.
Adibpour, the 29-year-old founder of Make D.C. Smile, spends his Monday mornings standing with friends on 14th Street during peak traffic hours, holding signs bearing optimistic messages to commuters.
“The first minute was crazy. It was just super intimidating – going out there and letting people judge for themselves,” Adibpour said. “I was like, maybe we should just bail on this thing. But after a while, some people just started honking. It’s just one of those things where one person honks and another is like, ‘Oh, okay, I’ll honk too.’ ”
Now, signs throughout Columbia Heights and an interactive, mobile “What Makes Me Smile” wall – reminiscent of GW’s own “Before I Die” wall in Kogan Plaza – offer individuals an opportunity to write positive messages.
Community members are also encouraged to write about what makes them smile on individual chalkboards, a visual movement chronicled on the organization’s Facebook page. Adibpour, who also works at the 9:30 Club, said he plans to take one picture each day and make a video compiling all the images at the end of the year.
Sophomore Emily Hirsch, a member of Make D.C. Smile, said the project challenged her to think about what truly makes her happy. Hirsch said the movement’s message is crucial in what she called a world dominated by pessimism.
“I think Make D.C. Smile is really important, because it’s reminding people to focus on optimism and encouraging each other. We could use as much of that as possible,” Hirsch said.
In her photo, she holds a sign which says that making other people smile makes her smile.
Adibpour’s act of kindness has parlayed into massive media recognition, garnering more than 1,700 “likes” on Facebook and an interview on the Jeff Probst Show.
Upon hearing of the project, Sophia Pink, a sophomore at Washington International High School, created a documentary on the movement called “Honk If You Love Someone.” The title is drawn from a message frequently scrawled on Adibpour’s posters.
Pink joined Adibpour and his fellow sign holders on K Street one Monday morning after making the documentary, feeling compelled to further spread the message.
“I hoped that making a documentary about Massoud and his awesome project would encourage people to think about the ways they could do small things to make other people’s lives a little better,” Pink said. “It’s easy to get caught in the dreariness of day-to-day life. A simple kind action can have a much greater effect than you expect.”
Adibpour hopes to expand his brainchild into a nonprofit that plasters positive messages on billboards and ads on the Metro. After receiving emails from interested people in Norway, Portugal and countries in the Middle East, Adibpour plans to translate the signs into different languages.
“The way I look at it is, if you change one person’s day, the entire mission is accomplished,” Adibpour said.