November has left me feeling short on words and heroes.
Knowing I had to write this blog post didn’t make it any easier to find the right ones—words or heroes—but I gave it a try, searching my memory for people and moments in recent history that inspired me. Here’s what I came up with.
Esther Htusan, Margie Mason, Robin McDowell and Martha Mendoza.
Recognize any of those names? Probably not. These women are all reporters for the Associate Press. In 2015 they conducted a dangerous and exhaustive investigation of the fishing industry in Southeast Asia. As a result of their reporting 2,000 people were freed from slavery—yes, I said 2,000—dozens were arrests, and a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service was awarded to The Associated Press.
Heroic work is being done by news reporters and the media. Why aren’t stories like these highlighted on the nightly news or in a Barbara Walters during special? These women risked their lives to uncover the truth and used the power of the printed word to stop injustice and cruelty. Freedom of the press is one of this nation’s greatest gifts. Maybe our job as American citizens is to recognize that our own search for the truth cannot begin and end with what can be absorbed from watching FOX news and MSNBC or flicking through headlines on our social media feeds. Not when these four women had their lives threatened and spent four days hiding in the back of a truck to indentify the ships carrying the seafood obtained from slave labor.
Here’s a more complete story about these extraordinary women.
Next, I’d like to mention the courageous individuals who testified at the bail hearing of the alleged killer in the Charleston, S.C. church massacre.
Two days after a prayer meeting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church ended in a violent death for nine church members, survivors and family members of the victims stood in a courtroom and spoke directly to the alleged killer. They had suffered an unimaginable loss and had every right to feel hatred toward the person who had caused their pain. But they choose another path instead.
Nadine Collier, whose mother Ethel Lance died in the rampage, was the first to speak. “I forgive you. I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you … If God forgives you, I forgive you.”
Her mercy and grace were echoed by all those who testified that day including Felicia Sanders, who survived the attack only to watch her son die, Bethane Middleton-Brown, who lost her sister, and Wanda Simmons, who lost her grandfather.
It takes an extraordinary person to stare hatred and evil in the face and offer mercy and forgiveness. I was awed and inspired by their ability to embrace love when it would have been so much easier for them to hate. Heroes, every one of them. This country and the world would be a better place with more people like them.
Finally, I’d like to mention all the artists out there who use their voices to fight injustice, bring about social change, and give a voice to those who lack the platform to speak. There were two wonderful moments recently—the cast of Hamilton addressing our next vice president and Ellen DeGeneres receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama. The Hamilton thing? Awesome. On so many levels. As for the courage shown by Ellen DeGeneres when she risked everything and came out on national television more than 20 years ago? President Obama says it better than I can.