Heroes You Should Know: Stetson Kennedy

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Stetson Kennedy was a man of the South—a white man, from a well-to-do family, and a descendant of plantation-owning signers of the Declaration of Independence and Confederate officers.  He could have easily hid snuggly in his comfort zone, and avoided the pressing racial issues that festered all around him.  But that’s not what he chose to do.

His parents expected him to work in the larger community of Jacksonville, Florida.  So, from an early age Kennedy went door to door, collecting payments for his father’s furniture store.  And this exposure opened his eyes—to the suffering of whites and blacks alike.  And as heroes do, he decided he’d do something about the injustice he witnessed.

So he wrote.  And by age 21 he was put in charge of the Florida Writer’s Project collecting folklore, ethnic studies, and oral histories of the state.  He was also given the responsibility of supervising the work of fellow writer and African American, Zora Neal Hurston.  Watching her endure the hate that was so often spewed at her only deepened his empathy.

In 1942 Kennedy gained a larger platform, becoming the Southeastern Editorial Director of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (the CIO).  He investigated and wrote articles on discriminatory activities undermining democracy in the United States, but simply writing about injustice proved unsatisfactory.

Unable to fight racial hatred overseas during World War II because of a back injury, Kennedy decided to go to war at home against what he called “homegrown racial terrorists”—and he chose the Ku Klux Klan as his opponent.

He used the name of a deceased uncle, who had been a member of the Klan, to gain the trust of local Klansmen and joined their ranks as an “encyclopedia salesman.”  As a folklorist he had a natural understanding of ritual and quickly learned the secret code words of the Klan, which he was able to share with Federal law enforcement, the Anti-defamation League, and The Washington Post, as well as the Klan’s chain of command and its plans for violence.  He even leaked information about the Klan to the producers of the popular Superman radio program, who used the information in a story line titled, “Clan of the Fiery Cross.”

And with evidence he found in the wastebasket of the Klan’s grand dragon, Kennedy eventually helped the Internal Revenue Service file a tax lien against the Klan in 1944 of $685,000 ($9,481,139 in today’s dollars!).

Stetson would also testify against Klan members in Federal Court, in cases involving bombings and violence aimed at suppressing Black voter turnout.  Finally, he helped draft the brief used by the state of Georgia to revoke the Klan’s national corporate charter in 1947.

One would be hard-pressed to find a single individual who did more to de-fang the Ku Klux Klan.

Stetson Kennedy is a hero you should know.  And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.

Heroes You Should Know: Mohamed Bzeek

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There is no greater fear parents have than the thought of having to bury their child. And perhaps this partially explains why some choose to abandon their terminally ill child, especially when he or she is also profoundly disabled.

It’s a scenario most would prefer to not even consider, let alone enter into.

But Mohamed Bzeek isn’t like most people.

Since 1995, this bear of a man with a bushy beard and a heart of gold has been serving as a foster-parent. He and his wife Dawn agreed that this would be their vocation when they first married, and specialized in fostering children with medical emergencies. The couple loved and cared for dozens of children—and buried ten—over the years. And when Dawn died two years ago, there was never a doubt in Bzeek’s mind that he’d continue this labor of love. He decided to not just continue, but to exclusively foster terminally ill, profoundly disabled children—children who can’t see, hear, or talk and have very little time left to suffer.

Mohamed now cares for one child at a time because the work is so physically and emotionally demanding, and for this remarkable service to humanity he is compensated $1,700 a month.

Currently, he is caring for a six year-old little girl who was born deaf and blind, and has mycrocephaly (a condition that keeps the brain from developing normally). She weighs 34 pounds, has daily seizures, and her arms and legs are paralyzed. The only way Mohamed can communicate with her is through touch. So, he holds her several hours each day when she is not hooked up to her breathing and feeding tubes, comforting her and letting her know that she hasn’t been abandoned.

And when he’s not taking care of his foster daughter, Bzeek is caring for his biological son, who is 19 years-old and has brittle bone disease.

A devout Muslim who immigrated to the United States from Libya in 1978, Mohamed believes these children have great worth and deserve to be loved for as long as possible.

In December, the 62 year-old Bzeek underwent cancer surgery and reported gaining even greater empathy for the children who have no one to care for them, or about them, in their time of greatest need.

“The key is, you have to love them like your own,” Bzeek said recently. “I know they are sick. I know they are going to die. I do my best as a human being and leave the rest to God.”

And the angels bow, and Heaven sings.

Mohamed Bzeek is a hero you should know. And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.