The world wide web can be a wonderful and weird place, because that’s how we humans are. This is the story of how an innocent family photo turned into a celebrated Internet icon, and eventually ended up saving a life.
Eight years ago, Justin and Laney Griner of Jacksonville, Florida gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, Sam. Like any couple, they took their son to play at the beach. And like any couple, they took a lot of photos. Little did Justin and Laney know that day would change their lives forever.
One of the pictures showed little Sam about to eat a fistful of sand, a peculiar expression on his face. It would go on to become one of the Internet’s most popular memes. And when Justin recently needed to raise funds for his medical expenses, this photo got the Internet to rally behind him.
It was 2007 when Laney uploaded that photo of Sam to her Flickr page. The Internet loved it. Someone soon photoshopped the words “I Hate Sandcastles” on it – it vent viral.
A little later, Sam’s photo was cut out and turned into one of the Internet’s favourite memes, Success Kid — a photographic representation of something going unexpectedly right. You can find out more about it on the Success Kid KnowYourMeme page, which serves as an encyclopedia of Internet memes.
If you’ve been on the Internet, you’ve probably seen Sam’s photo on forums and message boards, social networks, and the trend-setting community of Reddit. It got so popular that the Griners were invited to Comic Con as part of a panel on the real people behind the Internet’s biggest memes.
Laney told ABC News that she was initially uncomfortable with the fame, but has since made her peace with it. She even started enjoying stories like adults telling her that her son is their desktop wallpaper.
“By now, it’s just out there,” she said. “What am I going to do? At least it’s positive,”
Sam’s father, Justin, has been on dialysis since 2009 and the medical bills were mounting. It got to a situation where he needed a kidney transplant; his mother had died of a similar kidney failure, the family says. So Laney took to the Internet to try and raise funds for Justin in a GoFundMe campaign, which is a good platform to raise cash for personal causes. The goal was to find a kidney donor and raise $75,000.
At first, Laney didn’t mention that she’s the mom of Success Kid. But then she decided to embrace it and spread the word.
“We’re the parents of ‘Success Kid’ for goodness sake,” Laney told The Daily Dot. “If anyone understands the power, the mass, and goodwill of the Internet, it’s those of us lucky to experience it daily.”
A few newspapers got word of it, and soon a Redditor put the word out: “Calling All Redditors: Success Kid’s Dad needs a Kidney. Donate Here.”
It went viral and in a few days, the campaign hit $100,000 – well over the target. Laney couldn’t control herself:
Dear internet: I love you so damn much.
— Laney Griner (@laneymg) April 15, 2015
How the World Reacted
What makes the Success Kid story so wonderful to read is how it shows the human side of the Internet. Reading through the comments on Reddit, the GoFundMe page, and several websites, you’ll find something you don’t see often: an overwhelming response of positivism.
The web can be a dark place and it’s easy to be cynical and rude under the shroud of anonymity. But in this instance, people opened their wallets and their hearts. Several people signed up to check if they were a kidney match. The Reddit thread has other people with similar needs hoping to find a match.
Everyone did not react positively though. A few people even accused Laney of cashing in on her son’s fame. However, a Redditor named final_cut, who claims to be a friend of the family, put that into perspective too:
I’m friends (in real life) with ‘success mom’. She and her husband have been through so much. Between her dealing with her own autoimmune disease and her husband’s kidney problems, I really feel for them. She’s never a complainer and always making jokes about things. For as popular as her kid is, she sure is good to him. Some parents really milk their kids for all they are worth and try to reap the benefits of their kids success. Not these people. They are a success family. Well except health wise. The husband is and an amazing artist and dad.
And perhaps, just perhaps, this will finally give Success Kid Sam himself some closure.
“He’s been this meme for as long as he can remember. But he gets embarrassed by it plenty, too,” Laney told Buzzfeed. “(But) his dad is his hero; he’d happily do anything to help him get better.”
In the end, here’s what matters: a father got a kidney, thanks to his son’s accidental fame, and no one was hurt in the process. That’s a good day on the Internet.
Share a Feel-Good Story
This isn’t the first time that netizens have bared their heart. We’ve shared some stories about how the Internet has been a force of good, and if you have more tales to tell, we’d love some good news in the comments below.