It’s a “where are they now” story that I was intrigued to read, since I had missed the first installment back in 1996. The 2013 update promised drama, forgiveness, lessons learned and perhaps racial reconciliation. Oh, and as a bonus: a faith element.
Darn the ghost.
Courtesy of GetReligion reader Kate comes this feature from BBC Magazine — an inspiring piece about a young black woman named Keshia Thomas. At a 1996 rally in Michigan, Thomas shielded a white supremacist from the sticks of a crowd of anti-Ku Klux Klan protesters.
In summary, the day of a planned KKK rally in Ann Arbor dawned with opposing sides separated by barricades of officers.
Thomas had participated in the protest and was photographed standing with other students. Events turned violent, however, when a woman with a megaphone shouted that there was a Klansman in their area.
A mob mentality rippled through the angry crowd, which chased and then began to punch the man, kick him and jab him with the pointed ends of their placards, according to the story:
“It became barbaric,” says Thomas. “When people are in a crowd they are more likely to do things they would never do as an individual. Someone had to step out of the pack and say, ‘This isn’t right.’”
So the teenager, then still at high school, threw herself on top of a man she did not know and shielded him from the blows.
So what gave Thomas the impetus to help a man whose views it appeared were so different from her own? Her religious beliefs played a part. But her own experience of violence was a factor, too.
“I knew what it was like to be hurt,” she says. “The many times that that happened, I wish someone would have stood up for me.”
Thomas has never heard from the man she saved, but she did once meet a member of his family. Months later, someone came up to her in a coffee shop and said thanks. “What for?” she asked. “That was my dad,” the young man replied.
Kate, who came across the story after a friend linked to it as an inspiring example of compassion and mercy, saw more. She saw an impetuousness born of religious conviction, thanks to the story’s allusion. She and I want to know more about Thomas’ background, specifically her faith upbringing.
It appears that Thomas dropped plenty of hints that should have prompted faith-based questions from the reporter. For example, she offered this insight when asked what she was feeling when she decided to intervene:
“When they dropped him to the ground, it felt like two angels had lifted my body up and laid me down,” Thomas said.
I want to take the reporter’s pen and notebook away and ask the questions myself. Truly.
Sadly, it seems no other outlet spotted the ghost, either. The Huffington Post took a crack at recasting the story with a trendy lede. The Ann Arbor News focused more on the present, telling how Thomas plans to return from Houston to her home state to help with economic recovery and fight the high crime rate.
Perhaps as this courageous woman’s story continues to be told, someone will ask her about the higher power that she believes enables her to be so kind-hearted and forgiving. And who taught her grace.