It is never too late to recognize an Ethics Hero, and thanks to a recent retrospective by the BBC, Ethics Alarms can salute Keisha Thomas, who 17 years ago exhibited both courage and other outstanding ethical values like kindness, sacrifice, responsibility, empathy and valor, by coming to the rescue of a man who would never have done the same for her.
In 1996, Keshia Thomas was just 18. The Ku Klux Klan held a rally in her home town, Ann Arbor, Michigan, then as now a college town and a bastion of liberalism. Predictably and as planned by the KKK, plenty of local protesters gathered to jeer the white robed marchers and to show their contempt.Thomas stood with a group of anti-KKK demonstrators on the other side of a security fence, as police in riot gear positioned themselves between the angry demonstrators and the Klan members. One of the anti-Klan counter-demonstrators spotted a white, middle-aged man with an SS tattoo on his arm and wearing a Confederate flag T-shirt standing among the spectators. “There’s a Klansman in the crowd!” she shouted into her megaphone, and a group of protesters began to chase him, shouting threats and “Kill the Nazi!” He was knocked to the ground, and the group, now a mob, began kicking him and hitting him with wooden bases of their placards.
Thomas, an African-American girl still in high school, came to his rescue. She forced herself between the mob and their victim, fell to her knees, draped herself over him and became his shield, saving the stranger from serious injury.
“I knew what it was like to be hurt,” she told the BBC. “The many times that that happened, I wish someone would have stood up for me.” This, of course, is Golden Rule reasoning in action. The fact that the man never thanked her or contacted her after the incident neither surprised nor disillusioned Keisha. She was encouraged, however, by the fact that the man’s son later approached her in gratitude. “For the most part, people who hurt… they come from hurt. It is a cycle,” she now says. “Let’s say they had killed him or hurt him really bad. How does the son feel? Does he carry on the violence?”
Keisha Thomas sounds like, and certainly acted like, the epitome of the rare human being for whom ethical conduct is as natural as breathing. Like most ethics heroes, she doesn’t dwell on her own heroism. Today she is 35, living in Houston, Texas, and says that she is focused upon the good she can do in the future. Thomas tries to do something to ease racial discord every day, she says, believing that routine acts of kindness are more important, and ultimately more effective, than the grand gestures that get national attention. Her motto:
“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.”
Facts and Graphic: BBC