In the wake of hatred and violence, it's often difficult to comprehend the actions of others. We turn on the news and see images that simply could not be real -- death and pain, blood and bullets.
Wearing maniacal smiles, children kill other children. In the name of God, massacres are systematically conducted and celebrated.
It is nearly impossible to remain unaffected by these images. Unlike the violence we see in movies, these acts are real. They're happening to ordinary people just like you and me. And these actions are creating a societal trend of apathy.
As a member of the media, I have no intention of ignoring such events. Turning a blind eye to sensationalistic news doesn't make it go away. However, I would like to recognize the people who take tragic events and transform them into something worthwhile. I call these people: "The Silver Liners Club."
A TALKATIVE ANGEL
Oprah Winfrey is one such person. Before she became a literary benefactor and talk show maven, Oprah was a child of her environment.
Born to unwed teenage parents in Mississippi, Oprah lived in extreme poverty. She was sexually molested by her male relatives. She got pregnant at 14. The baby was born prematurely and died.
Unlike the woman she is today, Oprah was once a girl destined for trouble. With the help of her father and his strict emphasis on education, she managed to turn her life around. After years of hard work, Oprah achieved an amazing amount of success, but she never forgot her roots.
Instead she gave back to the world. She testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in order to get a national database of convicted child abusers established. In 1993, President Clinton signed the Oprah Bill into law.
She's donated time and millions of dollars to colleges and charities, and she founded the Angel Network, a program designed to help her viewers give money to the needy. With the aid of Habitat for Humanity workers and these donations, Oprah has given homes to over 1,000 people and sent another 150 students to college.
Last year, the Ku Klux Klan, an organization dedicated to spreading hatred against anyone who is nonwhite, lobbied to sponsor a stretch of Missouri highway.
If approved by the state's department of transportation, the local chapter of the KKK would be responsible for keeping that bit of road clean. In return, a sign would be erected on the roadside proclaiming the KKK as a participant of the Adopt-A-Highway program.
Jerry Nachtigal could not stomach such a thing. He and other Missourians heard about the KKK's plans and decided to do something about it. So they lobbied the state to get that same bit of highway renamed to honor civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks.
Parks gained fame in the 1960s when she refused to move to the back of a segregated bus. For her decision and for inspiring millions, Parks received a Congressional gold medal.
"I think the governor appreciates the irony of the KKK picking up trash along the Rosa Parks Highway. But regardless of how it's done, honoring Rosa Parks is a very noble thing to do," Nachtigal told KMBC Channel 9 in Missouri.
The bill was passed.
COMPOUND OF FEAR
In 1998, Richard Butler, a self-proclaimed pastor of the Aryan Nation, ran a compound in northern Idaho. On a September evening, three of the Aryan Nation's "guards" attacked Victoria Keenan and her son, Jason. The Keenans were simply driving by when the guards struck. They were beaten and shot.
Last year, a state jury ordered Butler and his Aryan cronies to pay more than $6 million to the Keenans. Since he didn't have that kind of cash lying around, Butler was forced to relinquish his beloved compound to his victims.
"We hope to get the evilness out of there and turn it around to something positive," Jason Keenan told The New York Times.
Such a goal is imminently possible. The Keenans just sold the compound to Internet millionaire Greg Carr, the founder and chairman of Prodigy. Carr, 41, said he plans to turn the compound into a place where young people can learn ways to combat hatred and racism. He has already raised $1 million to build a memorial to Anne Frank in Boise.
It's clear that elements of our society have forgotten the meaning of "civilized behavior." Our species is supposed to move forward and change for the better in order to survive. Though some are clearly on a path of destruction and hatred, now is not the time for the rest of us to become disheartened.
In the midst of dark times come sparks of light. It is our job to recognize these sparks, nourish them and then help them to grow. Members of The Silver Liners Club have given us excellent examples to follow.