From my childhood church, I learned that all people are created in God’s image. But what did that mean? By the time I became an adult, I had decided it must mean that every person has at least a spark of goodness and genius. Could I find that spark? I had to try. But how?
Ride your bicycle across America. By yourself. With no money. Take no map. Ask those you meet for everything you need. Ask them how to get from their town to the next. If people aren’t good to you, your ride will be short; you’ll soon be home. If people aren’t smart enough to tell you where to go, you can’t make it. These crazy ideas invaded my head and took over my life.
So on a May morning, I got on my bicycle at Disney World in Orlando, headed for Seattle, then down to Disneyland. I would be totally dependent on the goodness and genius of each person I met. No one knew I was coming. I would suddenly appear, asking for exactly what I needed: a sandwich, a drink of water, a bed for the night. Because they were good people, they would say yes. Then, after a night’s stay with some, they would tell me how I should go to the next town and what hazards I should be aware of.
Over 500 people I asked. No one said no. I found that spark of goodness and genius. Everyone has it. This I believed. This I now know!
On this I now count! When I was back from my ride, a Klansman in Louisiana won election to their state legislature. I took the paper announcing his election to the race relations class I was teaching. “These folks have been embarrassed. We have to help them. But I don’t know how. Let’s talk.”
Out of our talk came HateBusters. We designed a T-shirt. We wrote a theme song. We got the governor to invite us. We called an airline and asked for free tickets to go. They said yes. We went. We began to be invited by other governors to help where hate had come.
I told my students, “Self-hatred is the cause of all problems between people.” First thing I do when we go: I call the one who caused the hate. I ask for a one-to-one, off-the-record meeting. He always refuses. I think he is afraid to hear what he has to say. It sounds mean and cruel when no one is around to egg him on. Hate is cowardly!
A black speaker was coming to our campus. Local bigots came to march with their hate signs. I had a right to a sign, too. I ran to my office and made a sign. I ran to join the picketers. My sign said, THESE GUYS ARE NUTS. The crowd began to laugh. They got in their cars and left.
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
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