When Morgan Neville’s terrific documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, about the life and passions of Fred Rogers, came out in June 2018, I took my 84-year-old father to see it. We’d recently lost my mother and I felt the movie would be a pleasant way of remembering her. After all, it was my mom who introduced me to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood when I was a child, and the lessons I learned from him about kindness and compassion stayed with me, even through some rough times when I have failed miserably at actually practicing kindness. Our culture learned a lot from Fred Rogers, but his lessons — his kindness and his compassion — seem to be sorely lacking during this odd moment in our history.
So on June 30, I launched a series on my social media pages called #KindnessProjectMK. The idea was that I would post a picture of a kind person every day on my social media pages and continue doing so for the foreseeable future. I was doing it because there’s so much hate and division in this country right now, I felt a need to offset it in some small way. It began as a selfish project; I did it because it made me feel a little better about this nutty world we’re living in today. But then other folks began to respond positively to it, and that was gravy for me. It made them feel better, too.
Now, I’ve decided to compile all of the entries here on my personal website. Looking over the kind people I’ve posted pics of so far is staggering. I plan to continue compiling them here for as long as I keep doing the project. There’s plenty of kindness and compassion in this crazy world. Sometimes it’s nice to focus on that, instead of all the anger and hatred. Here, you can do that. And if you have any suggestions of people I should spotlight in future posts, hit me up in the comments section.
July 1: THICH NHAT HANH
At the beginning of this project I didn’t write much about the person I put in the “Kindness Project” spotlight. I just posted the pics and told why I was doing it. So I’ll fill in the gaps here.
Thich Nhat Hanh positively embodies kindness. If you’ve ever seen his comments in the film The Power of Forgiveness, you’ll understand the depth of his kindness. “Those who are wise do not want to do anything when in a place of anger,” he says. “When you are calm and lucid, you see that the other person is a victim of confusion, of hate and of violence transmitted by society, by parents, by friends, by environment. And when you are able to do that, your anger is no longer there.”
July 1: LYNDA FERGUSON
There are few human beings in my personal life who have been kinder or more giving to my family or my home community of Asheboro, North Carolina — and its communities of immigrants and communities of color — than Lynda Ferguson, minister of my childhood church, the First United Methodist Church of Asheboro. Lynda has open minds and hearts in this conservative town that was once a tiny mill village and remains a Republican stronghold. And she’s done it by preaching the gospel of kindness, compassion and acceptance of all people, no matter who are what they are.
July 3: LES ROBERTS
When Les sees people, he gives them a big, strong bear hug and tells them he loves them. You probably don’t know Les, unless you’re a mutual friend, but you should. Everybody should. Because Les Roberts represents the exact opposite of the negativity we see too much of in today’s mean-spirited America.
“Awesomeness,” my friend Natalie wrote when I posted Les’ pic to Instagram. “He is the epitome of the word. I love this guy.”
Les would be the first to say he’s not perfect, and he’s not. But Les is love — incarnate.
July 4: THE DALAI LAMA AND DESMOND TUTU
Since Americans are celebrating July 4 today in a time when America is not nearly as worthy of being celebrated as it has been in the past, we need even more kindness today. So today I’m offering a twofer of kindness: The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, a pair of non-Americans that we Americans would do well to look to for guidance. “We grow in kindness when our kindness is tested,” Tutu once said. As for the Dalai Lama, he once famous remarked, “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”
July 5: KIA OCTAVIA MOORE
I’ve known of Kia Octavia Moore for several years but only got to know her well over the past year and a half. She is a treasure and a visionary, whose Hip Hop Orchestrated is designed for the sole purpose of bringing people together.
Kia listens intently and with genuine interest when people talk, and engages quietly and thoughtfully, never interrupting when someone is making a point, no matter how long-winded the point may be. She cares deeply about people and about bringing smart and interesting people together.
In my many dealings with Kia, I’ve never seen her get irrationally angry. She firmly but kindly makes her opinions and feelings known but doesn’t hurt feelings. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her say a nasty thing about any person, even when criticizing people’s behavior or actions.
Kia is one of the most passionate supporters of the arts and culture in Charlotte, North Carolina, and tirelessly works to promote the city’s best qualities. Kindest of all, to me, is when Kia sat at my mother’s hospital bed and held her hand the day before mom died. When that happened, I saw a spark of light come to my mom’s eyes. Anyone fortunate enough to cross Kia’s path is greatly rewarded.
July 6: RICHARD ROHR
Friar Richard Rohr of the Center for Action and Contemplation is the Franciscan monk version of Mr. Rogers for adults. To me, Father Richard, more than most folks who call themselves “Christian,” actually LIVES the words of Christ.
“Most Christian ‘believers’ tend to echo the cultural prejudices and worldviews of the dominant group in their country, with only a minority revealing any real transformation of attitudes or consciousness,” Father Richard has said. “It has been true of slavery and racism, classism and consumerism and issues of immigration and health care for the poor.”
Many powerful people throughout the history of Christian culture have focused on what Rohr has referred to as a brutal and toxic cultural god that is “a very different god than the one Jesus revealed and represented. Jesus tells us to love our enemies, but this ‘cultural’ god sure doesn’t. Jesus tells us to forgive ‘seventy times seven’ times, but this god doesn’t. Instead, this god burns people for all eternity. Many of us were raised to believe this, but we usually had to repress this bad theology into our unconscious because it’s literally unthinkable. Most humans are more loving and forgiving than such a god. We’ve developed an unworkable and toxic image of God that a healthy person would never trust. The mystical, transformative journey cannot take place until that image is undone.”
Rohr has been demonized by other Christians, including other Catholics, who see his interpretations of scripture as somehow not Christian, even though he backs up everything he says or writes with specific scripture. But his detractors have failed to alter Rohr’s contemplative course or his quest for radical kindness.
July 7: LINDA SIMPSON ISBELL
Miss Simpson was one of my junior high school teachers, and she taught me things a young white boy from a small mill town in the early-’70s South might never have learned had his teacher not been a powerful young black woman just out of college and ready to take on the world, one student at a time. She taught me and my predominantly white classmates about dignity and respect for people of different cultural backgrounds, while also teaching us the basic academics she was charged with teaching.
And Miss Simpson did all of this with a firm kindness.
Linda Simpson Isbell altered the course of my life in positive ways that I could never fully express in a little blurb. She provided the foundation for my book Dixie Lullaby: A Story of Music, Race and New Beginnings in a New South. I will forever be in her debt.
(h/t Thomas Rush for getting me this lovely photo.)
July 10: PEMA CHODRON
I missed a couple of days of my “Kindness Project,” having gotten sidetracked by people I perceive as unkind. So here’s to getting back on track: This is Pema Chodron, who reminds me (us), “If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.”
July 11: MAVIS STAPLES
Yesterday this beautiful lady turned 79, and today I’m including her in my “Kindness Project.” Mavis Staples has been radiating kindness since she first began fronting her famous family’s gospel group as an 11-year-old powerhouse in 1950. And she’s been taking us there ever since. Happy birthday, Ms. Mavis.
July 12: STEVE STOECKEL
I only knew of Steve Stoeckel as the guy in The Spongetones and “The Dude Downstairs” — the name we used at Creative Loafing to describe Stoeckel, who had a guitar repair shop in the basement of the Loaf’s office in Charlotte. (He would often riff on classic rock tunes and we could hear him rocking out.) But according to my (very kind) friend Loyd Dillon, Steve is much more.
“[Steve] sometimes writes birthday songs and special events songs for friends, visits folks in the hospital (and plays and sings for them), volunteers to sing at nursing homes and rehab centers, plays and sings at weddings and memorial services when asked by friends, is always encouraging and supportive to people he knows,” Loyd wrote to me.
All of that more than qualifies Steve for the “Kindness Project.” Well, that… and this classic Spongetones song.
July 13: THE REV. WILLIAM BARBER
There may be no better day than today to feature the Rev. Dr. William Barber in my “Kindness Project.” Barber has been working hard to build a moral coalition in North Carolina and national politics for years, kicking off the #MoralMondays movement, giving that dynamic speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, and showing nothing but love and dignity to all people, regardless of race, gender identity, creed or anything else that divides us as a people.
Most of all, the Rev. Barber works towards bringing relief to the poorest among us. On a day when leaders in Charlotte, North Carolina, are considering hosting the Republican National Convention when the #GOP continues to deflect from its abject corruption, it’s important to remember who the good guys are.
July 14: LAURETTA SHIPMAN WILSON
This little girl is all grown up now, and today she’s one of the kindest human beings I know. Lauretta Shipman Wilson will talk your ears off, but when you walk away from her, you’ll feel better about yourself and about humanity. That’s why I chose to spotlight Lauretta for today’s entry in my “Kindness Project.”
But Lauretta is only one of a much larger family of kind people in Charlotte who have made a profound impact on my personal life over the past decade or so, and I’ll be profiling more of them in the coming days and weeks and maybe even months.
We are a group of people, not just in Charlotte but around the world, who support each other unconditionally out of a common bond.
July 15: PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER
What better day than Sunday to honor the great humanitarian #PresidentJimmyCarter, who resigned as a Southern Baptist in 2000 after 70 years of service specifically because of that denomination’s positions on women and other issues of human rights and dignity. A decade later, President Carter reaffirmed his genuinely Christian position, saying, “I believe that the most serious violation of human rights on earth is the abuse of women and girls.” In 2015, he did a Ted Talk on the abuse of women and girls by men in positions of power.
Of course, Carter’s also worked tirelessly to help the poor and other marginalized communities around the world, building homes, speaking out against racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia. He’s a natural choice for my “Kindness Project.” Thank you, President Carter, for showing what kindness and dignity look like.
July 16: MIKE T.
When I find myself realizing and accepting my powerlessness over terrible things — bad decisions, bad leaders, bad events, tragedies, etc. — it’s important for me to refocus, come back down to earth, right-size myself and accept life and the world as they are, not as I would like for them to be. This is when I look to one of my very closest friends: my brother, my mentor, my lifeline, Mike T.
Mike has always been there for me, and he always will be. He is kind and patient; he listens when I need to get things off my chest, and loves me unconditionally. We all have a Mike T. in our lives (or we should), and those are the people who help us rise above the fray. They’re not perfect, but they have a knack for listening and hearing and gently offering suggestions when asked. That’s why on a day like today, when my city and country are not going the way I’d prefer, Mike T. is the perfect choice for my “Kindness Project.”
The one thing I know for sure: Mike T. will be standing next to me when we meet this very evening for dinner and conversation — just as he is standing next to me in the photo above. And he’ll be listening.
July 17: REBECCA LOLOSOLI
After deciding she’d had enough of the abuse that she and other women had suffered at the hands of many men in traditional Kenyan society, Rebecca Lolosoli bravely left her husband in 1990 (an act of defiance unheard of at the time), and with the help of other brave Kenyan woman, founded a village where women would be in control of their own lives and safe from feeling like “property,” as she has described her previous conditions.
In her women-only village of Umoja (“unity” in Swahili), Lolosoli listens to the horrific stories of other women, invites them in, counsels them, and teaches small children, including boys, how to treat women with respect and dignity. Rebecca Lolosoli embodies the selflessness and kindness I’m hoping to highlight with this “Kindness Project.” I learned of this amazing woman through Hillary Clinton, who along with Barack Obama has been a strong advocate of Lolosoli’s commitment to kindness.
July 18: NELSON MANDELA
Had he lived, Nelson Mandela would be 100 years old today. Although Western leaders often characterized Mandela’s support of political violence as “terrorism,” the kindness, compassion and diligence in freeing his people made clear where his priorities were, and also showed how sometimes kindness involves swimming in murky waters.
The first President of a free South Africa was a complex man, criticized by both the right and the left, as many of the most effective human rights activists often are. “I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances,” he once said. Journalist Nikita Ramkissoon, the former managing editor of South Africa’s Daily Vox, wrote of Mandela upon his death, “The most important thing he taught me is forgiveness, kindness and selflessness, which all go hand-in-hand.” When Mandela was imprisoned for his activism, he helped his fellow prisoners, including one who described Mandela in an interview as “one of the greatest persons to ever walk the face of the earth.”
To me, Mandela more than warrants a place in my “Kindness Project.” He laid the foundation for a kinder world. It’s up to us to reverse the terrible course it’s taken today.
July 19: MAX SWEETEN
A friend and I were walking into a grocery store in Charlotte’s Plaza Midwood neighborhood the other night when we bumped into this guy walking out — smiling, as usual. I hadn’t run into Max Sweeten in years, but seeing his ever-present warm smile immediately brought back a flood of memories of his kindness.\
You may know Max as the other guy on Bob & Sheri’s popular radio show (he’s the director); I know him as the Carolina Panthers’ No. 1 fan and a guy who spends more hours than most helping other people. Several years ago he would cart me out to a prison, where we would spend an hour or so talking to inmates struggling with certain problems incarcerated people struggle with. After those nights, I always walked away feeling better about myself, and it was because Max made me feel that way. He’s that effect on pretty much everybody who knows him.
That’s why I’m putting him in the “Kindness Project” spotlight today. Max isn’t one to trumpet the kind things he does for other people, but I will — right here and right now.
July 22: KRISTA TIPPETT
It’s been two full days since I last posted an entry in my “Kindness Project.” So I felt today’s entry would have to be one really big ball of kindness whose splash creates ripples of kindness throughout our country and world. My immediate thought: Krista Tippett of On Being Studios. This journalist, theologian and radio host has spoken often and eloquently on kindness and compassion, and written about it in works such as Becoming Wise, Einstein’s God and Speaking of Faith: Why Religion Matters — and How to Talk About It.
But it’s her in-depth conversations with kind and compassionate thought leaders of multiple faiths (or no faith) — scientists, philosophers, faith leaders and artists including Maya Angelou, Elie Weisel, the Dalai Lama and lesser-known figures such as the Rev. angel Kyodo williams, and many more — that have introduced to mass audiences new ideas and ways for people to respectfully live together. Tippett is a nuclear explosion of kindness.
July 24: ARTS COMMUNITIES
In this “Kindness Project” entry, I’m celebrating a great big group of kind folks. Two years ago today, an array of caring friends helped me put on a fundraiser, #TunesForTarrah, for my ex-wife Tarrah Segal, who had been diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. Those friends included Patrick Moran, Grey Revell, Kia O. Moore, Amy Goudy and Joe Kuhlmann, the owner of the Charlotte music venue Evening Muse, as well as several local and regional musicians; singer-songwriter LeAnna Eden, rapper Quentel Young, Americana duo Sinners & Saints, the David Bowie tribute band Loving The Alien, singer and performance artist Annecy Thornton Kenny and my old buddy from Tennessee, the great singer, songwriter and guitar picker Nathan Bell, who drove all the way from Chattanooga just to do this gig.
Creative Loafing‘s art director, Dana Vindigni, donated her time by designing the poster for the event (above photo; bottom right). Other regional artists, including Raleigh singer-songwriter Kamara Thomas and Knoxville singer-songwriter Erick Baker, sent personalized videos for Tarrah. Friends from the San Francisco Bay Area sent video shout-outs. And one of Tarrah’s musical heroes, singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco, sent a “love package” including a signed book.
At the time, I was still living in the Bay Area and flew in for the show. The folks listed above were on the ground in Charlotte, helping me do much of the planning. Little did I know that within two years I’d be back in Charlotte at my old job as editor of Creative Loafing. The good news is that today, miraculously, Tarrah is in remission. And every time I see the above photos for the show in my Facebook timeline, I’m grateful all over again for the loving power of arts communities in general and the Charlotte arts community specifically, which continues to valiantly come together time and again to happily lend a hand in support of their own when asked. We are a lucky community here. So, thank you again — all of you — for this massive display of collective kindness.
July 25: RUTH COKER BURKS
I got hit in the stomach earlier tonight with memories of the 1980s, when I was living in New York City and AIDS was taking so many of our friends and loved ones every day. For that reason, I’ve decided today to spotlight Ruth Coker Burks in my “Kindness Project.” Burks was a 25-year-old mother in Arkansas in 1984, when she met her first dying AIDS patient while visiting University Hospital in Little Rock. At a time when our nation’s leaders were allowing AIDS patients to die every day — basically because, well, they were just homosexuals and drug addicts — Burks quit her job as a real estate agent and devoted her life to caring for dying AIDS patients who had been abandoned by their families.
While most people were afraid to even touch an AIDS patient, much less hug them (even Burks’ Methodist church turned its back on her for being around them), she ignored “quarantined” signs in hospitals and sat with patients, and she buried them in her family’s private cemetery when they died. She became known in the LGBT community as the “cemetery angel,” and when the Centers for Disease Control and National Institutes of Health finally began to acknowledge HIV and AIDS, they sent patients to Burks because the people she cared for were living longer than the national average. “The only thing they could figure out was that I loved them,” she once said. Burks suffered a stroke in 2010, but she’s still alive and living quietly in Arkansas. And I’m betting she’s still as kind and compassionate as she was at 25.
July 30: TOMMIE G.
I’ve been MIA with my “Kindness Project” over the past few days, but that’s OK. Kindness is patient. Kindness waits. Since I’ve put the spotlight on national people or groups of people in my last few entries, I’m going local again today — very local.
Tommie G. is a member of my extended family of folks in Charlotte who look out for each other. He’s had my back for about a decade now, always there for me with kind words of experience and wisdom — sometimes firmly and emphatically kind. Tommie speaks the truth, and practices tough love, but not the mean kind. He’s patient, understanding, and he’s helped more people in Charlotte than I could possibly enumerate in a little blurb. When I wrecked my car a few years ago, Tommie, without hesitating, offered to pick me up and bring me to work, and during those rides I learned a lot.
I continue to learn from Tommie. I have deep love and respect for him — as do many others like me. He’s been through a lot this past year, and yet he’s still always there for the people in his circle. He’s a superstar among the kind folks in my “Kindness Project.”
Aug. 1: IPELENG KGOSITSILE
Her father is the late South African poet Keorapetse Kgositsile, also known known as Bra Willie, whose words helped to inspire and heal an entire nation as it struggled through and out of apartheid. Her words have helped to inspire and heal me, personally, when I’ve struggled.
That’s why I’m profiling my dear friend Ipeleng Kgositsile today. Ipeleng has had my back from the moment we met in Oakland and realized we had a world of connections. She’s kind, she’s loving — and she has a wicked sense of humor. I’ve been a little neglectful in keeping in touch with Ipeleng lately, but when she saw yesterday that I might be experiencing some feelings as a result of the loss of my job, she called and threatened to “stalk” me until I answered my phone. Ipeleng wears kindness as casually as she wears the dashiki that’s draped over her shoulders in this photo. And I love her very much.
Aug. 8: ANNE LAMOTT
A lot has happened over the past week, and I’ve been distracted. The negativity surrounding the loss of my job led to a rush of positivity. Hundreds of kind people posted to my social media pages, and many of them wrote personal notes to me, thanking me for the work I’d done as editor of Creative Loafing over the past couple of years. I was overwhelmed with kindness. And then came work opportunities. It’s hard to stay in the light when you’ve experienced darkness, but kindness on such a large scale has a way of healing that no amount of darkness can penetrate. It’s full-on spiritual.
So today, I choose a spiritual person to highlight in my “Kindness Project.” Anne Lamott is the compassionate, disarming and utterly funny author of the nonfiction title Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, as well as other titles focusing on grace, hope and mercy. She’s also a novelist, whose 2010 book Imperfect Birds is one of the best stories ever written about the ravages of alcoholism and drug addiction on a family. Lamott once said, “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.” What a woman. We all can be thankful for Lamott’s intelligent, compassionate spirituality.