I met Keshia Thomas in the heat of summer, walking along roads in eastern North Carolina with America’s Journey for Justice, a march from Selma, Ala., to Washington, DC. I was impressed immediately with her kindness and wit, and not at all surprised to learn about her “15 minutes” of fame.
Keshia was just 18 when she put her life on the line to protect a white supremacist who was being beaten by an angry mob.
She covered this man with her own body to protect him from the mob, even though she knew he hated her because of the color of her skin.
A human life is a human life, she says, and no one should have to suffer violence.
Today, Keshia travels the country and abroad, speaking about kindness and respect, doing what she can to help bring about peace and justice.
“I’ve always believed in justice,” she says. “I’ve always just wanted to be of service. Anybody can do it; you don’t need a PhD, just a desire to be of service in any way you can, large or small, every day. It’s the foundation of everything.”
In Baltimore, during the unrest after Freddie Gray died in police custody, she took a young man by the hand and told him not to throw the rock he was holding. She taught him how to protest peacefully and encouraged him to shake hands with the police.
“I left behind a young man who will work for justice in the right way, a young man who has no police record to hinder him,” she says.
So it came as no surprise when we were talking politics that she’s supporting Bernie Sanders in this presidential election.
“Bernie’s one of us,” she says. “When he says, ‘not me but us,’ I believe he means it. This isn’t about Bernie’s ego, this is about what we can all do together to bring about change.”
When Sanders was asked about fracking, his simple answer was, “No.” He knew the damage fracking can cause because he consulted scientists.
“He didn’t consult the DNC to ask about Democratic policy, he talked to scientists and made up his own mind.”
Of course, a vote for president is just one piece of every American’s responsibility, Keshia says.
“It’s about Congress and it’s especially about your vote in local elections,” she says. “The way the Tea Party gained power was to start in local elections — school boards, town councils — and work their way up. That’s what we have to do now if we want to see things change.”
In short, Keshia works for the peace and justice she wants to see in the world. Sometimes that means helping one person in a small way; sometimes it means supporting a candidate in whom she sees her own ideals.
Change can be large or small, and often big change comes in small increments. You can change one person’s view on one issue, and if you do that one day, and again the next and the next and the next, that kindness and respect will spread like ripples on a pond from a single pebble dropped into the water.
Another person on the Journey for Justice, the late Middle Passage, was a perfect example of spreading love one person at a time. M.P. often chest-bumped or hugged police officers, knowing their positive encounter with him might change the way they see black men.
Donald Trump’s nasty rhetoric is contagious, but so is kindness. We can combat vitriol with small acts of kindness, and with a vote for a kind and sensible man.
Instead of walking away from Trump’s mean-spiritedness, we can find something in common with everyone we encounter and build on that. In fact, that might be the only way we will bring about positive change.