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Every year, we are introduced to new characters in this ongoing and never-ending story we call life. While some of these characters have fame, notoriety, or name recognition, there are a few with smaller billing that are quite worth knowing. We wanted to look back on some of our favorite unknown and lesser known heroes from 2023, so we asked our staff writers to nominate their choices.

Jay Heltzer

I salute you, internet citizen who chose to walk the path of kindness. The warm-hearted soul who read the latest debut-author best-seller and thought it was a pile of crap, and kept their opinion to themselves. The wondrous individual who witnessed online racism and shook their head, tsk’ed their tongue, then did something else with their time. The vigilant supporter of democracy who knows deep in their heart that certain politicians are heaping piles of horseshit and instead of tweeting a response to some flag-waving patriotic warrior, opted to close their browser, get up from the computer and bake delicious warm and gooey chocolate-chip cookies instead, just like mama used to make. You, sir/ma’am, are the best of us all.

Josh Bard

My “unknown” person of the year is Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a Catholic priest who has shown compassion and bravery in stepping outside his faith’s antiquated doctrines and begun to offer blessings on LGBTQ couples. He even suggested that other leaders in his faith do the same. The Catholic church is not one that is known for its inclusivity, and people like Bergoglio are here to help, making strides so others can feel welcomed, possibly for the first time.

Also, Bergoglio is The Pope.

Natalie Brandt

I nominate a brave woman in a pink vest in Manhattan, at the corner of Bleeker and Elizabeth Streets. Last Saturday, as I walked back to my hotel in tears, you moved into my path, forcing me to slow down and make eye contact. I promised you I was okay and not in need of an escort. But I am endlessly grateful that you and those other women in pink vests spent your Saturday ensuring safe passage into that Planned Parenthood. We could really use you down here in Texas.

Devin Householder

Here’s a shocking statistic: Nearly 4 million stray animals are euthanized in this country annually, and about 90 percent of them are not chronically unwell or otherwise unadoptable.  Most are from Southern states with no leash laws and no spaying or neutering initiatives in place.

We recently became aware of rescue operations that transport these animals from southern “kill shelters” up to New England, where adoption demand is higher.  My wife joined their all-volunteer operation where dogs are fostered until “forever families” come forward to adopt them. This particular operation has successfully placed thousands of lovable dogs to date.

Fostering a puppy, who often comes with both health and behavioral issues (given the extreme strain of their circumstances) can be a difficult burden for a family, but we’ve witnessed many in our community shoulder that burden happily.

I nominate everyone who has either fostered or adopted a shelter pet.  You’ve saved an animal, and in many instances, they end up saving you.

We’re fostering Red Rover, a Great Dane/hound mix, while we await his forever family (maybe it’s us?!?).

Kelaine Conochan

As a person who writes for and reads The Prompt Mag as a recreational activity, literacy has been transformative for me. I genuinely cannot imagine my life without reading, writing, and being a pontificating windbag of the internet. And as “an overeducated ass,” as my mother once called me, I was shocked to recently learn that 8 million adults in the U.S.—more than 2 percent of the population—are functionally illiterate. I don’t say that with any value judgment, and neither should you. I was given the gift of learning to read and write as a young pup; but by adulthood, learning to read is a whole different ballgame. And it’s fucking HARD.

Not only are your neural pathways more rigid and difficult, but you also have a bunch of schmoes out there trying to make you feel shitty for trying to grow and learn.

Which is why I have been so utterly delighted to learn of Oliver James, my 2023 Unknown Person of the Year, who recently became a TikTok star for sharing his experience teaching himself to read at age 34. I’ve found the internet increasingly dismal these days, but James is someone actually worth following:

I don’t know about y’all, but I think it is super courageous to admit that you can’t read and then to take the steps to teach yourself. He set an ambitious goal of reading 100 books in 2023, and he succeeded in reaching his goal. No, he’s not reading Anna Karenina, but tbh, neither have I, and I’m still out here acting like I’m smart.

James, a personal trainer, could have just kept his limitations a secret. He could have just kept doing what he was doing. He could have just posted workouts and been another dude. But instead, he performed an exercise in vulnerability and bravery, and we are ALL better for it.

Sarah Razner

This year, I would like to bestow my nominee for Unknown Person of the Year to a group of people: the baristas at my eastside Starbucks. Retail is not an easy field to work in. You tend to experience people at their rudest, and when you’re serving people who are caffeine-deprived and many times in a rush on their way to work, that rudeness and irritability can go to another level. One could simply default to returning that attitude to customers, but the Starbucks crew has never failed to greet me with a smile. On days when I was dragging, when I was aching from the inside out and seeing another human being was one of the last things I wanted to do, the baristas with their jovial “good morning’s” and kind hearts brightened my day and boosted me in a way that caffeine never could. As one of the hundreds of faces they see daily, I am sure that impact is not limited to me.

Mikael Johnson

My “Unknown Person(s) of the Year” nominee goes to the teenagers (pretty sure) that duped me into walking several blocks on Georgia Avenue last February, as what I assumed an attractive Dominican dress designer was on her way in an Uber. Well-played, gentlemen. Fool me once (the night before, “she” was having car trouble), shame on you; fool me twice (car was logically in the shop), shame on me. I was most impressed by the Facebook business page that you thoughtfully curated that hooked me into your vessel, the S.S. “Bertha” (that was “her” name… plus I Googled: “Is Bertha a common name in Spanish?) As the cold night air melted my delusion, I called you via WhatsApp (huge red flag… well, a lot of people outside the U.S. use WhatsApp… it was plausible… sigh), ya’ll answered giggling, and I said to you then, what I still mean today, “You win.”

The Prompt Staff

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