All People Really Are Created Equal
I believe all people really are created equal. I learned this from my son. Of course I always thought I believed it, I am an American, after all. But my son taught me to reflect more deeply on how I regard all the people I encounter.
For instance, my son identified with laborers because he believed in hard work and honest people. He also believed that everything we need already exists and felt no compulsion to buy things new. Therefore, he wore only work clothes or secondhand clothes. How someone looked on the outside was of very little importance to my son. He cared more about the human being inside.
He was interested in oppressed populations so he spent three months in Northern Ireland and later visited Cuba. He was interested in immigrant workers, so he worked in the cornfields in Iowa. He was interested in the elderly, so he interviewed people in nursing homes and on front porches to study hand-me-down folk songs. He was interested in working men and women so he maple-syruped in Vermont for a season and stayed on to get to know his colleagues better. He was interested in poor kids in Indianola, Mississippi so he substitute taught in the public schools there.
Eventually, my son found his place in the world, among ordinary people in downtown Baltimore. He came to know the homeless people in his neighborhood and even admonished the young ones to “go back home.” Because he cared about the children and teens of Baltimore who couldn’t learn in the narrow ways that our schools expect, he became a teacher of severely learning disabled kids. He valued them all: the one who dirtied his pants every time he was asked to write something; the autistic basketball players who couldn’t understand how or why to pass the ball to someone else; a boy named Ben who discovered he was an athlete but could never bring himself to wear shorts in cross country meets.
A stutterer, who communicated modestly, hesitantly, and softly, my son drafted and presented an advocacy paper to his school. He brought about philosophical and methodological changes that will embrace multi-sensory teaching strategies and reach more students. This spring, my son requested that the most challenging students be placed in his class next year.
During my last phone conversation with my son, he told the following story. He was walking on Broadway Avenue in Baltimore when a drunken man passed out in the middle of the busy street. My son went to him, and with the help of another passerby, dragged the man to the sidewalk. The man awoke, looked up and said, “Thank you, man. You saved my life.”
Only a few weeks later, my son was killed in a traffic accident. This time it was he who lay in the street. His name was Tony Smith, he was twenty-nine years old, and he lived his belief that all people are important and created equal.