Keshia Thomas: “Someone had to Step Out of the Pack and Say, ‘This Isn’t Right’”






Source of Photographs:

In June 1996, the Ku Klux Khan held a rally in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Many people also rallied there in opposition to the Klan. A small group of Klansmen was on one side of a fence, protected by police, and a much larger group of anti-Klan ralliers were on the other side of the fence. One of the anti-Klan ralliers yelled into a megaphone, “There’s a Klansman in the crowd!” Indeed, a white, middle-aged man wearing a Confederate flag T-shirt and an SS tattoo — the SS is a symbol used by the Nazis — was in the crowd. The man started to walk away. Mob mentality took over many people, and they began to attack the man, who now tried to run away. Some people cried, “Kill the Nazi.” Anti-Klan ralliers knocked the man down and began to kick and hit him. Keshia Thomas, then age 18, said, “It became barbaric. 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.’” Ms. Thomas, who was still in high school, threw herself on top of the man to protect him from the attackers. She said, “When they dropped him to the ground, it felt like two angels had lifted my body up and laid me down.” Mark Brunner, a student photographer who took photos of her heroism, said, “She put herself at physical risk to protect someone who, in my opinion, would not have done the same for her. Who does that in this world?” Ms. Thomas said, “I knew what it was like to be hurt. The many times that that happened, I wish someone would have stood up for me.” She added that “violence is violence — nobody deserves to be hurt, especially not for an idea.” She never again saw the man whose life she had saved, but months later a young man saw her in a coffee shop and said, “Thanks.” She asked, “What for?” The young man replied, “That was my dad.” Ms. Thomas said, “For the most part, people who hurt … they come from hurt. It is a cycle. Let’s say they had killed him or hurt him really bad. How does the son feel? Does he carry on the violence?” Teri Gunderson, who has two adopted mixed-race daughters, kept a copy of Ms. Thomas’ photograph. Ms. Gunderson said, “The voice in my head says something like this, ‘If she could protect a man [like that], I can show kindness to this person.’ And with that encouragement, I do act with more kindness. I don’t know her, but since then I am more kind.” Ms. Thomas, now in her 30s, lives in Houston, Texas. In 2013, she said about her 1996 heroism, “I don’t want to think that this is the best I could ever be. In life you are always striving to do better.” She believes in small acts of kindness: “The biggest thing you can do is just be kind to another human being. It can come down to eye contact, or a smile. It doesn’t have to be a huge monumental act.” Mr. Brunner said, “We would all like to be a bit like Keshia, wouldn’t we? She didn’t think about herself. She just did the right thing.”

For Further Information: Catherine Wynne, “The teenager who saved a man with an SS tattoo.” BBC News. 28 October 2013

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