One would be hard-pressed to find Fred Quartlebaum without a smile on his face, a byproduct of his contagious charisma and genuine interest in the lives of others. His consistently positive outlook on life is apparent, even just by talking with him over the phone.
“Whether it be our country [as a whole], whether it be families, whether it be individually, we all have certain struggles that we have to deal with,” Quartlebaum told the Kansan. “So I think just a dose of positivity can just add a dose of fire, add a little spunk and hopefully sometimes change the attitudes of how we live our life each and every day.”
Over the past few months, Quartlebaum, the director of basketball operations for Kansas men’s basketball, has incorporated that mindset into his daily routine with the "Positivity Pole" — a telephone pole at the end of his street where he posts words of encouragement for his neighbors. Now, it’s become a series of videos posted to the Kansas men’s basketball Twitter account every Monday.
While posting videos of encouragement on social media is certainly an effective way to reach people, it wasn’t Quartlebaum’s original goal.
One of Quartlebaum’s good friends Chris Wirth, whom he’s known for over 20 years, created these “Positivity Notes” in May 2019. Wirth — who hosts the “No Quit Living” podcast — started handing them out around the western Connecticut and eastern New York area.
Wirth would place the notes underneath windshield wipers of cars on the street. And even though the notes themselves resemble parking tickets, Wirth still said the message was received.
“I did it with the single hope of just spreading positivity,” Wirth said.
In September 2019, Quartlebaum connected with Wirth to send him some note cards. A month later, he asked for a refill. Quartlebaum started writing down words of encouragement and positive messages, but wanted to do more.
Wirth came through again in March 2020, setting up a weekly Zoom call with a group of 19 others from across the United States. The group has met for 13 weeks every Tuesday night, and call themselves the “Positivity Tribe.” The group also hosts live events called “Stronger Together: We Rise by Lifting Others Up Forum,” with the next event at 9 a.m. Saturday, June 20.
“Out of the 20 dudes that are on the call, I only know two of them in terms of physically, actually [meeting] them,” Quartlebaum said. “And now after 13 weeks, it’s like these dudes are my brothers.”
Quartlebaum used them as a sounding board for an idea he had — changing that telephone pole on the end of his street to the “Positivity Pole.” So Wirth sent him some more notes, and Quartlebaum got the rest of his family involved — his wife, Christy, and his two sons, Trey and Mayson.
“That was our way as a family to have some light, some positive light that we can share with our community,” Quartlebaum said.
The Quartlebaum family is used to spending time with each other. Fred said movie nights, playing card games and family dinners are all common occurrences, so it wasn’t surprising when his idea was met positively.
“I thought it was interesting because with the stay-at-home orders, it was a creative way that we could spread positivity to the community without face-to-face contact and stuff like that,” Trey said.
For Mayson, it’s helped give him perspective and a tangible way to help others in his community.
“I feel like it’s made me grow a little bit just as a person, because it’s doing something that also benefits other people in the neighborhood,” Mayson said. “Because as they’re going by, they could be having a bad day and look at [the 'Positivity Pole'] and get inspired or feel good about themselves because of what’s posted on that pole.”
With a newfound void of content due to the coronavirus pandemic, Kansas men’s basketball got involved.
Fred’s first video was posted April 29 to the Kansas men’s basketball Twitter account, with five more videos posted in the weeks since. Not only was this a way to get more people involved, but also spread Fred's work across the U.S.
“With the content [shortage] — with our players not on campus and just a lot of things have obviously slowed down — we wanted to get as much content out to our Jayhawk fans, to Jayhawk Nation,” Quartlebaum said. “And this is one of the things that we felt was a positive message going out to our community and beyond.”
While Quartlebaum recognizes the videos have been well-received by fans, he said he’s not interested in looking into feedback. Wirth added that there’s a greater purpose than just walking down the street and posting a note.
“It’s about how one person can have a huge impact by making the decision to genuinely connect with somebody,” Wirth said.
The impact is there, though, as Quartlebaum has had people walk up to him on the street asking when the next notes will be posted.
“‘This is so much bigger than me or you,’” Wirth recalls telling Quartlebaum.
With that in mind, Quartlebaum doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon. Really, he can’t, because it’s part of his DNA.
“It’s beyond the telephone pole,” Quartlebaum said. “We’re trying to reach the masses about the power of positivity."