When I first encountered James Wildman, I only knew him from his wildly successful humane education videos. With millions of views on Facebook, his presentations have been translated into over two dozen languages.
But unlike so many uber successful social media influencers these days, who gain fame for, well nothing really, James has definitely earned his place.
Born in South Orange, NJ, James lived in a household with more dogs than humans. His compassionate mother who had been vegetarian for many years would often bring dogs home from the local shelter without any notice. But even James’ father, the family’s avid carnivore, couldn’t resist the cuddly canine companions.
“I remember coming home from middle school to the exuberant greeting of more than a half-dozen dogs, and the occasional puddle of pee, if I took too long on my walk home.”
James’ childhood was filled with the love and compassion of these furry friends. As an impressionable youngster and understandably so, he never questioned the hypocrisy between the animals in his life and the dead animals in the refrigerator. Despite his mother’s diet he grew up as a carnivore – never questioning what was prepared.
When he entered college – Clark University, a small institution in Worcester, MA, he noticed that the cute girls gravitated towards a vegetarian lifestyle.
“My decision to be a vegetarian was far from noble. On the first day of school the freshmen were lined up for lunch in the cafeteria. When my group, made up of myself and nine women, got to the front of the line, all the girls went for the veggie burgers, so I followed. And when one of the girls turned around and said, ‘Hey James, are you a vegetarian?’ I smiled and replied ‘I am now!’”
During James’ college years, (1997-2001) as a vegetarian, veganism and animal rights were not popular topics of discussion; but this is where his teaching journey began. His undergraduate major was in English, although he had no real desire to enter any field related to that degree. He applied to work with youth at a local YMCA and was hired on the spot. What started out as a work study job, getting paid to play basketball with kids, became an opportunity to create activities that would challenge them both physically and mentally. He began developing programs that encouraged team-building and cooperation, environmental stewardship, and volunteer opportunities within the Y and the community. It was here he discovered his passion for guiding children and being a positive influence for them.
After graduation things would change when James’ brother suggested he get his hands on a copy of Animal Liberation by Peter Singer – that book seemed to have connected the dots for him and he decided to extend his compassion to all animals. He recalls reading the first chapter and realizing that any argument he made against veganism was an argument defending animal cruelty.
He fondly recalls telling his mother about his decision to adopt a vegan lifestyle. His then vegetarian mom replied, “What about the Challah?” A sweet bread made with honey and eggs, Challah is typically eaten on ceremonial occasions such as Shabbat and major Jewish holidays. James then realized that even vegetarians had their own set of belief systems that didn’t necessarily consider all animal’s lives.
So as an ethical vegan at the age of 23 and wanting to continue working with youth, he decided to join his two passions – working with youth and animal rights, to empower young adults through compassion.
His excitement to become more involved in animal rights led him to participate in animal rights demonstrations and a variety of protests but this would only satisfy half of his dream. He knew he wanted to bring veganism and animal rights into the classroom, without being confined to the core subjects of math, english, history, and science.
James’ brother at the time happened to be on the board of the Institute of Humane Education (IHE). Knowing his brother’s desire to work with youth, he suggested that James enroll in their Master’s Humane Education program. Humane Education being a holistic approach to education that focuses on human rights, animal rights and environmental issues and the interconnection of them all.
Class is Now in Session
In 2007 James earned his Master’s of Humane Education degree from IHE through Cambridge College, just as a Humane Educator position at the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida (ARFF) happened to open up. He applied for the position and was hired.
“As the Humane Educator for the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida (ARFF), I now get to use my degree to help inspire and empower others to make compassionate and sustainable choices. I don’t hope for change, I create that better world.”
For the last 15 years, James has brought the topic of veganism and other animal rights issues into South Florida schools and beyond. Each year, he gives approximately 500 presentations, reaching over 10,000 students and adults in South Florida, including presentations at the University of Miami, Florida Atlantic University, Florida International University, and over 75% of the high schools in Miami Dade and Broward counties. The presentations cover a wide range of animal rights issues including, veganism, wildlife conservation, companion animals, and animal testing.
James has also gone above and beyond by creating materials to help people transition to a vegan diet, including a wallet-sized vegan shopping guide and an on-line vegan starter kit. His signature style of teaching is a combination of using interactive activities with a conversational, Socratic-like method of presenting information. The information he presents to youth is the same information he presents to adults, however, the style and mannerisms are different.
He incorporates humor as a way to get the audience to think critically about their behaviors.
“Habits can be hard to change, especially habits of eating. But, if you can get your audience to laugh at their own behaviors, then you’ve won half the battle. My memory of secondary school is one of boredom and monotony. So when I present, I try to make it as entertaining as possible.”
He accomplishes this by using very well thought out methods. For example, the speed in which he presents is premeditated. The students respond to a quicker pace and sometimes ask him if he is a rapper. For adults, he presents a bit slower, still with the same energy and enthusiasm.
“When I first started presenting, I focused almost solely on the ethical side of veganism. But, what I soon learned is that if people think they need to eat meat, dairy, and eggs for their health, the ethical argument will not be enough.”
He relies on his understanding of people and their need to acknowledge the harm that animal products can cause to themselves as well as to the animals. Therefore he spends just as much time discussing the health and environmental arguments as he does the ethical side of veganism. His goal is to get the audience to think critically about these issues and not just force feed them the information.
The best audience is engaged and participates in the presentation. An audience who feels talked to, scolded or told how to think is a lost opportunity. James uses his own past behaviors while presenting. This shows the audience that he held similar beliefs to those they may have right now. His presentations provide the information needed to help students make informed, conscious choices that align with their values.
He has also presented in Norway, Ontario, Texas, Wisconsin and New Jersey and receives requests from all over the world to speak on behalf of animals.
“One of my most memorable teaching experiences was when I gave the presentation on wildlife conservation to all the 5th graders at an elementary school in Palm Beach County. One of the teachers later informed me that the students collectively decided to cancel their end-of-the-year field trip to SeaWorld after my presentation; the kids no longer wanted to support this form of entertainment.”
He also recalls when an entire High School classroom decided to go vegan after seeing his presentation. They decided it would be easier if they all went vegan together and could support each other on the path. While in Norway, he was concerned that many of the cultural references and his sense of humor would not translate well in another country. But his fears were unwarranted. At the end of the presentation, he actually received a standing ovation from all 100+ attendees.
Animal Rights Activism
As an activist his enthusiasm and dedication are just as prolific. During his early years at ARFF on every Saturday night he and his friend would go to Miami Beach and set up a table with a TV playing Meet Your Meat. Handing out vegan literature as hundreds of people would stop by the table to watch the 10 minute video. He remembers on numerous occasions, people would come by and confess how they went vegan after visiting the table. Some even joined to help spread the message.
In 2018, he volunteered to help end greyhound racing in Florida. As the Broward County Area Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Dogs, James helped organize 40 volunteers (Grey2K) on the successful campaign that saw Florida greyhound racing finally come to an end (Amendment 13) Statewide passed by over 70%.
“Anger is a great thing when you can transmute it into motivation.”
Another great victory James was involved in was the final 2017 closure of all The Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus events. James had been an intricate part of the last 10 of the 25 years that ARFF had been involved in those protests. Every January, for two weeks, they would protest the circus outside of American Airlines Arena in Miami, handing out literature and informing the public about the cruelty animals endure in the circus. It was during one of those very protests that Ringling Bros announced their end.
Back in 2009, his now renowned presentation 101 Reasons to Go Vegan was filmed and uploaded to Vimeo, and then by others, shared to YouTube. Even more people uploaded it to their own channels and it slowly started to generate more views. Eventually it was translated into different languages and people from all over the world were emailing James asking him questions about veganism.
Then in 2017, Kinder World, an Israeli animal rights group, responsible for the beginning of Gary Yourofsky’s success noticed James. Acknowledging his signature style and engaging manner, they uploaded a 10-minute version of his presentation to Facebook. The next day, he woke up to 123 Facebook friend requests. Since then, it has generated over 43 million views and has been shared thousands of times.
The popularity of the 101 Reasons to Go Vegan video has opened the door for him to present in more places and to more people. He’s been invited to speak throughout the U.S. and many parts of the world, and with virtual presentations becoming more popular, he is now able to reach even more people. He recently gave a virtual presentation on veganism to an entire university in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Today James’ mother and brother are both vegan, his dad went vegetarian at the age of 70, and the majority of his friends are also vegan. A very strong testament to the saying – teach by example.
Advice from the Master
“Sometimes the best way to get through someone’s mind is to go through their stomach. If someone is interested in going vegan and is concerned about how their family and friends might react, make them an awesome vegan meal to show them just how good vegan food is. See if their family and friends would be willing to eat vegan for at least one day out of the week. Veganism is an ever growing movement. More and more people are transitioning to a healthier, more compassionate and sustainable lifestyle. When you go vegan, you become a part of this movement, and with you, others will follow. Just stay strong! Do not be afraid to speak out for the animals, for compassion, for health, and for the environment. Look for vegan groups on social media to help you along and to give you a boost if you are feeling alone on this path. You can look into joining a vegan or animal rights group in your area and attend an event. There are a lot of vegan potlucks, vegan outreach events, vegan movie screenings, animal rights marches, and other events that are happening every month throughout the world. And, there is always a vegan restaurant to support. Veganism is a state of mind. And, once you’re in that state of mind, it becomes harder to “cheat” on your principles.”
Want to attend a LIVE James Wildman event. You are in luck – James will be presenting a 3 part webinar series complete with Q&A, polling, and interactive exercises on Sundays – October 3, October 10, and October 17 all at 8:00 PM EST.
FREE registration here
Questions for James? Want to book James for a presentation? Email him [email protected].
Follow James on Instagram – instagram.com/thejameswildman/
Facebook – facebook.com/james.wildman.336/
You can support ARFF by signing up for their email action alerts – arff.org/get-involved
Follow ARFF on Facebook – facebook.com/animalsflorida
Or make a tax-deductible donation – arff.org/donate