It all started when the 4-year-old Birmingham boy and his dad, TJ, watched a show about pandas. The mother panda abandoned her baby, which sparked a conversation between them about homelessness.
When Austin learned that hunger was also an issue among people, he decided that any money his family had formerly spent on toys and his allowance should be used to buy sandwiches. Then, Austin donned a superhero cape and delivered the food to hungry people around the city.
The media quickly picked up on Austin’s crusade. He was featured everywhere from TeenVogue.com to CBS News, USA Today to CNN.com. Articles and videos were shared all over Facebook, and positive comments poured in. People followed him on Twitter, and fanned him on Facebook. Word spread to other parts of the world, including France, Belgium, the U.K., and Africa.
TJ set up a way for people to donate so Austin can pursue a number of goals: fighting hunger, donating to a local shelter, and establishing a facility to help with food, toiletries, drug rehabilitation, and shelter
For TJ, Austin’s global success isn’t as surprising as one might expect. He has long studied the strategies of great parents, including Tiger Woods’ father and Venus and Serena Williams’ dad. One, in particular, stuck with him: He saw an interview with Venus Williams during which a reporter asked if she’d expected her fame and success. Her response was that it was all she’d ever known—that her father “brainwashed” them starting around age 3 to know they’d be the best at tennis, so they never knew any different.
Taking a cue from this parenting strategy, TJ began telling Austin early on that he’d be the best—whether the best baseball player, the best wrestler, the best tennis player—and the little boy soaked up the positive message. Today, TJ says, he tells his son that he’s one of the best philanthropists and best humanitarians in the world.
“That message I embedded early on has started to work earlier than I expected,” TJ says.
There’s no denying Austin is a special kid. With the love and support of both sets of grandparents and both parents, he is happy and thriving. Mom Rhonda is a nurturer, and she’s taught him to read and do math. TJ has signed him up for football and hopes he’ll enjoy the sport.
But philanthropy will remain a focus. These days, Austin drops off food and drinks every week, bringing hope, encouragement, and kindness to those who need it most. Though he looks like a superhero in his red cape and blue #SHOWLOVE shirt, he’s not Superman. His preferred moniker? President Austin.
And President Austin’s advice for the people of Alabama displays a wisdom you might not expect from a preschooler. “Even if you help just one person,” he says, “you’ve made a difference.”