Monday, January 16, 2017

Modern Day Heroes

From Martin Luther King Jr., from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 1963:

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.

photo by Mike Licht

LUCY BURDETTE: King was only 39 years old when he was assassinated, and yet he left such a large footprint. He identified civil rights as his life’s work back when he was a teenager. And he never let up on that. And he was willing to sacrifice his own life to stand up and speak his mind.

Ricci Coughlan/DFID
His “holiday” has me wondering, are we making heroes the way we used to? I mean grand-scale heroes who are willing to sacrifice their lives either literally or figuratively to protect something vitally important for the rest of us. I would put forward Michelle Obama as one of mine. Over the past eight years, she has been consistently classy and strong-minded supporting issues she believed to be important, and managed to raise two amazing daughters while under the microscope. Whom do you admire, and for what?

RHYS BOWEN: I'd agree about Michelle. One classy lady who has raised two daughters with the idea of service and dedication. Another of my heroes was Maya Angelou. When I tried to go through our current crop of politicians I'm afraid I couldn't come up with a single "Ask what you can do for your country, not what your country can do for you."  It's been more "Ask how I can accept kick backs from lobbyists while denying the other party the chance to do anything." But there are plenty of small heroes: those who teach in inner city schools and buy all their own supplies. Nurses who sit by the bedside of a dying child. Those who minister to the homeless and go to war-torn countries to provide help to refugees.

I think we are all called upon to be heroes in our own small way. It involves not turning a blind eye to injustice, speaking up even though it may make us feel foolish. Never allowing bullying or intimidation. Choosing our charities that mean something special to us and then giving generously. Volunteering. Showing compassion. Vowing to do one small act of kindness every day and to leave the world a little better than we found it. A great challenge, but worth undertaking!

HALLIE EPHRON: I agree on Michelle Obama. And in that vein, another heroic first lady was Eleanor Roosevelt. She found her own niche. lobbied for the needy and oppressed, and had Franklin's ear. And I'll second teachers and nurses and politicians who are motivated by a desire to serve for the public good. And the suffragists and suffragettes and abolitionists. Reminding us that it's easy to sign a petition but actions speak louder.   

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Chiming in on Michelle Obama. I'm looking forward to seeing what she does as a private citizen (and she has so many years ahead of her! She's younger than many of us.) Politicians, leaders... I find Sen Tammy Duckworth incredibly inspiring. Someone who has given as much as she has to our country and who is willing to give more. Elizabeth Warren, the populist firebrand. Maine's own Senator Susan Collins, one of the last of the moderate Republicans in DC, a politician who is willing to listen to and work with people across the aisle.

I agree with Rhys: the days to come will require us all to be heroes, if even in one small gesture or one kind word.

INGRID THOFT: Another Michelle Obama fan here.  I looked up "hero" in the dictionary, because it seems to be a word we toss around a lot more than we used to. defines it as "a person noted for courageous acts or nobility of character," and Michelle seems to fit the bill with nobility of character.  I think there are groups who have acted heroically by providing shelter and relief to those displaced by war.  I think Anita Hill was a hero for taking a stand (literally) in the face of horrendous abuse and character assassination.  I think that kids who stand up for other kids on the playground are acting heroically, and I do think people who do jobs where they run towards danger rather than from it are heroes.  

JENN MCKINLAY: I adore Michelle, too. Frankly, I admire anyone who can keep their composure when under constant scrutiny and frequent vicious attack. I am not that person - my command of profanity prohibits me from being polite when a good chewing out is deserved. I do try, but I usually fail. I consider myself a work in progress, learning from people like Michelle Obama, Maya Angelou, Emma Thompson, Malala Yousifazi, and my mom, to name just a few. In raising boys, I feel lucky that they have several strong male role models (like their dad) to learn from but when they were younger, I also employed the Rule of DC/Marvel. If they exhibited behavior that was unacceptable, I'd say, "You love (insert Spiderman, Ironman, Batman, etc.), do you think he would behave like that? If you want to be a hero, you have to act like one." For the most part, it worked like a charm. It will be interesting to see who they choose to emulate as they grow older. Right now, it's all about music, specifically rock and roll -- Keith Richards as a role model, go figure!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I'm all for Keith Richards as a role model, Jenn!! And I admire Michelle tremendously. I think it will be very interesting to see what she does when the First Lady shackles come off. 

I know it seems hard at the moment to remember that there are lots of people who act with decency, kindness, and compassion, and speak up--and act--on their principles. There is Jimmy Carter, and Pope Francis. I have great admiration for Bill and Melinda Gates, who donate huge amounts of money AND effort to make the world a better place. And Bill Gates's buddy, Warren Buffet. There's John Lewis, the congressional representative who's much in the news the last few days, but his record as an activist goes back many years. Barbara Bush is a long-held hero of mine for her efforts towards improving literacy. 

And here's something inspiring; the Bush girls (young women, I should say,) Barbara and Jenna, writing to Sasha and Malia on leaving the White House. They have grown up to be women to admire.

And here's one more thing to give a little fist-bump to human compassion and decency: ‘James Bond of Philanthropy’ Gives Away the Last of His Fortune.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Jenn, your rule of DC/Marvel is awesome. Thank you!  I am trying that out this very day.
As for the incomparable Michelle. Yes. I am endlessly grateful. And I am so attached to her. (And I have talked with Anita Hill, and could barely form a coherent word.)
 But heroes and role models? 
My step-son and his wife and our two grandsons are visiting us this weekend. It is enthralling and amazing to watch Josh and Eli learn things and acclimate to their world--and to see their parents juggle and help and encourage. Paul works every day at a stimulating and important job and Krista is getting her masters in early childhood education and STILL they focus on their kids. It is so difficult. So--I am in AWE of any hard-working and devoted  parents. Any parent who is taking the responsibility to introduce a new person into the world--to teach them about love and music and literature and analytical thinking and kindness and  pizza. I applaud you all.  

Reds, how about you? Any thoughts about modern day heroes?


  1. So many deserving folks already mentioned . . . I’m putting in a vote for all those serving [or who have served] in the military; the firemen, police officers, paramedics, and other folks who step in to help others without a thought for their own safety . . . .

  2. I, too, admire Michelle Obama so much. I posted a video yesterday on my FB page highlighting her years as First Lady, and I stated that she is tied with Eleanor Roosevelt in my book as Best First Lady. Eleanor Roosevelt, too, felt the sting of nasty comments and held her head high. Michelle really lived the "when they go low, we go high." Others you all have mentioned are certainly heroes, too. I also posted a picture the other day of the Bush daughters welcoming Malia and Sasha to their first visit to the White House before the Obamas moved in. Now, they have written that sweet letter, and I think it shows that our politics haven't always been a dividing line. Elizabeth Warren who keeps asking the hard questions and not giving a pass to non-answers is certainly a hero of mine. Jimmy Carter in standing up to the Southern Baptist Church and always looking for the good he can do is a hero I hadn't always appreciated.

    Joan, those people you mentioned have my vote, too. And, there are the teachers and shelter volunteers and foster parents (those who are in it for the right reasons) who give of themselves selflessly every day. Rhys, I went back and checked, and you had mentioned the homeless shelter volunteers and teachers and nurses. All so important. And, there is the lady who works at the Dairy Queen, who always has a smile on her face, even though she's working a minimum wage job and who I know has kids who depend on her. She gets up every day and does her best and makes those who are more fortunate than she feel better.

    Rhys, I think you have hit that nail on the head when you state that we all are called upon to be heroes in our small ways. It's never been more important to show kindness and compassion in our daily lives than it is now in this renewed season of hate. I don't really make New Year resolutions, but I had already set as a goal for this year to make a concerted effort daily in saying something to make someone else feel good, to be a force for good. Hate does seem to be spewing forth more since the election, but I still believe that there is more love than hate. It is up to us to show it and let that be contagious.

  3. All great choices. I would add Archbishop Desmond Tutu to my own list, and Pete Seeger, Margaret Bourke White and Dorothea Lange.

  4. Wow. All of the above. I've been a Michelle fan from the very first (and a true Obama famly groupie). Thank you for your words about parents, Hank. I think that is so true.

    On a more local front I'll add my dearest friend, Jennifer Yanco. She started the White People Challenging Racism course at Cambridge Adult Ed in the nineties and it's still going strong. Her important book, Misremembering Dr. King, came out two years ago and is still much in demand (everyone should read it). On Friday night I watched her lead a group of two hundred young people and adults in exercises and old-fashioned conscious-raising about King's values, about his challenge to us not to be silent.

  5. I will miss Michele Obama who exemplifies the word "hero" and I can't wait to see what she does as a private citizen. A hero in my mind is someone who cares, gives and is a positive role model, no matter what stage they are in life.

  6. Ann in Rochester, another nasty womanJanuary 16, 2017 at 7:21 AM

    My list includes Nelson Mandela, a hero for all humankind.

    Pope Francis is another hero, a Pope who acts like Jesus instead of thinking he is God.

    I admire Michelle Obama unconditionally also. I hope we see lots more of her and that she runs for the Senate at least.

    But my hero of the century is Hillary Clinton. She underwent the hell of running for office in a male world , was criticized for being an educated powerful woman, feared for her strength and resolve, a real ball breaker, and kept her composure, pants suits and all. And she won the popular vote. Nothing can take that away from her although our dictator-elect will try.

    I must add my daughter, Melinda Allaun. She is working tirelessly to combat the coming administration, and her resolve is rock-hard. I am so proud of her, another nasty woman.

  7. Jonathan was at the I have a dream speech… I'll ask him to tell us what he remembers…!

  8. We did not get a lot of coverage about Michelle Obama's good works here in Canada. It is only as her term as FLOTUS is ending that I am seeing an 8-year retrospective. Very impressive, indeed.

    Instead of listing any celebrities, I would also like to echo the comments above by saluting the hard work of teachers, parents, and first responders who guide, help, nuture loved ones and strangers in their communities every day.

  9. You guys are the best! Hank, dying to hear more about what Jonathan remembers...Edith, we don't hear too much about conscious-raising, but I bet we will. I guess we though the job had been done back in the 60s and 70s...

  10. Jenn, I love your DC/Marvel rule! What would Cap (Captain America) do? :)

  11. Add to the list Marian Robinson, Michelle Obama's mother. Mrs. Robinson gave up her residence in Chicago to live with the Obama family in the White House. She's always there for her grand daughters and for both Michele and the President. She brought stability to her grand daughters as they moved into the White House. Mrs. Robinson remains a constant loving presence in Obama family.

  12. With so many friends going through health care crises, I second nurses ... physically exhausting work with people who are enduring their worst moments, a calm caring nurse can make all the difference whether the outcome is good or bad.

  13. I can only say "me too" since you've already said most of it. Like Rhys, I don't see a lot of "ask not what your country can do for you" politicians. I was watching the Steelers/Kansas City game last night and the NFL has an award for humanitarian work. Some of those guys are doing great things. Wish you heard as much about that as you did wife-beating and drug use.

    I always like it when you see stories of the actors who dress up like their superhero roles to visit children in hospitals - or like Robert Downey, Jr. visiting the kid who needed a prosthetic hand as Tony Stark. Again, so much better than seeing the stories of arrests or whatever.

    And yes, heroes are everywhere, even if they don't get press.

  14. Ann, thank you for adding Hillary Clinton to the list. She has held up despite incredibly vigorous attempts at character assassination, and still continues to do actual good around the world with her efforts to support education of women and public health. Just her composure during the eleven-hour grilling by a grandstanding Congress shows her grace and intelligence.

    Cecile Richards, who continues to champion women's health and our rights to quality care, no matter our economic status, every single day in her role as head of Planned Parenthood. And who takes unbelievable abuse without losing her cool.

    So many of the public figures named, but I also admire some of my own, quietly heroic family members. My mother, who found herself with an alcoholic husband, and who worked in the sexist 50's and 60's as an underpaid clerk to support him, herself, and four children. My father--in-law, who helped start the Cincinnati Nature Center, without whose connections to the various parties would not exist. My oldest daughter, who has singlehandedly held together and managed the diabetes management education center at her hospital in Detroit. She saves lives, including those of unborn babies, ever single day.

    I could go on. Lots of everyday heroes, almost all with human flaws, but heroes still.

  15. Michele Obama, Jimmy Carter--to me people like them are admirable--but not necessarily heroic--they have powerful resources behind them to accomplish the things they succeed at--money, time, influence.

    The teacher who goes back into the classroom day after day knowing s/he is facing the same stupid political agenda in terms of what can be taught, parents who will create holy terror if their child is exposed to any idea the parents consider dangerous, children who have never been taught manners.... The firefighters and EMT techs, the law officers who ran into burning towers and never came out.... My sister and all those like her, who made her elderly patients--the sickest--laugh, then came home to cry when they died.... The person who gets up every day and goes to work on time and actually works while on the job--even though that job is menial and minimum wage and won't pay all the bills or even keep the mortgage lender from foreclosing.... These are my heroes.

  16. Another fan of Michelle Robinson Obama here.


  17. Ann - I agree about Hillary. I really believed she would shatter that glass ceiling and all that she endured just to rap her knuckles on it, to crack it for the next woman who fights her way to the top, yes, I am forever in awe of her. It is my hope that history more accurately depicts her magnificence.

  18. Agreed on Hillary. I'm also a big fan of Cory Booker. Just this week he took an unpopular, unprecedented stand because he thought it was the right thing to do. His twitter responses to trolls are filled with love, and he gives an epic bear hug!

  19. Third on nurses - we've got a dear friend back in hospital again - he's had multiple problems - and the human, humane, face-to-face care he gets from his nurses makes all the difference in the world.

    And teachers! A few years ago, Ross and I were at a funeral - sadly, for a high school boy from his school district. In the parking lot, a dad walked over to Ross, shook his hand, and said, "I want you to know my son's a success in high school today, and I know part of the reason is the terrific work you did with him." (For those who don't know, my husband gave up a career as a lawyer to become an elementary-level special ed teacher.) That made Ross's year.

  20. Lovely essay in the Dallas Morning News this morning by Veronica Chambers, the editor of THE MEANING OF MICHELLE, which was released last week.

    Another nice note for MLK Day: Texas has elected it's first black female sheriff, Zena Stephens, in Johnson County. (That's southeast Texas.)

    And speaking of our usually unsung heroes, who's planning to see HIDDEN FIGURES? Or has already seen it, as topped the box office this weekend!

  21. In addition to the famous people mentioned, I also see nurses, aides, doctors as every day heroes, whether they work in hospitals or nursing homes. We had personal experience of this in November when our youngest sister, who had a progressive form of MS, succumbed to a combination of infections. The ICU nurses and doctors (and later on, the staff on the medical unit she was transferred to)treated her as they would a family member. One of the younger doctors was almost distraught that not much could be done for her. This was not just a job to him or to anyone else there. She transitioned to Hospice care, and again, we met more heroes in the Hospice staff. I remember one burly male hospice nurse treating her as gently as you would a newborn.

    She received the same quality of compassionate care at the nursing home where she lived in recent years.The staff go home to their families and go back to work again the next day, and quietly go about their jobs of making life or death more peaceful for the people entrusted to their care.

    Deb Romano

  22. I agree with everything said about Michelle Obama, and admire all the others named as well. I would like to add Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakisatani woman shot in the head for daring to promote the right of females to read and be educated. Like Dr. King, she made her choice at a young age and as she went through intense adversity, only doubled down on her commitment. I saw an interview with her sometime in the last year or so and in addition to awe for all she has been through and all she stands for, I was amazed at her simple humanity.

  23. Amen to the list so far. Another person I admire quite a bit is Pauli Murray, whose childhood home here in Durham has just been designated as a National Historic Landmark. Pauli was the first female Episcopal priest, a tireless worker for civil rights and women's rights, a poet, and co-founder of NOW. NAACP Chief Counsel Thurgood Marshall called Murray's 1950 book States' Laws on Race and Color the "bible" of the civil rights movement. Her approach influenced the NAACP's arguments in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954). Her memoir Proud Shoes is both important and a good read.

  24. Jim, yes, I've read about Pauli Murray. What a great example!

  25. What an inspiring list to think of next Saturday during the Washington Women's March--and the over 250 marches in other cities!

    I'd add Jane Goodall. I admire her so much!

  26. Here, here to Jane Goodall--there are heroes in all fields. Hope we find our niches too...

  27. Jane Goodall is another hero of mine. Thank you, Lucy/ Roberta and LibraryLady.