Last year, division dominated our newsfeeds. But there was so much human decency to be found. Take a look.
The year 2017 was turbulent both in America and abroad. After the most divisive election in modern history, our newsfeeds were dominated by heated (and often hostile) debates about everything from economics to social issues.
As the year came to a close, it was easy to feel disheartened because it seemed we were divided beyond repair. But not so fast! Although these divisions were deep and painful, there were multiple occasions in 2017 that people of all backgrounds, races and political leanings came together to display extraordinary acts of kindness and respect.
Here’s a look back at some of the most beautiful, inspiring displays of human decency and unity in 2017.
1. Joe Biden comforted Meghan McCain, whose dad is battling brain cancer.
Former Vice President Joe Biden lost his 46-year-old son Beau to brain cancer in 2015 — the same form of cancer that Senator John McCain is currently battling. McCain’s 33-year-old daughter Meghan, cohost of The View, was quickly overcome with emotion when Biden made an appearance on the show in December.
Biden immediately moved to the seat next to her to take her hand and offer comfort and hope, noting that there are new developments in cancer research every day. “If anyone can make it, it’s your dad,” he told McCain. Biden described Senator McCain as one of his best friends — and one who could go to the ends of the earth for him if necessary — despite their many political differences. It was a beautiful reminder that, no matter how much we disagree on politics, extending empathy and compassion to one another should be our first instinct.
2. Star Wars actress Kelly Marie Tran broke down in tears when she saw an Asian cosplayer portraying her character.
It’s no secret that people of color are woefully underrepresented in the film and TV landscape. In 2016 female Asian characters represented a paltry 6% of roles in the year’s top 100 films. For decades many children have grown up not seeing themselves represented on screen.
Tran’s role in Star Wars: The Last Jedi is an excellent step in the right direction, and her emotional display of gratitude when seeing an Asian cosplayer dressed up as her exemplifies the importance of this breakthrough. It was also a deeply emotional moment for Chelsea, the cosplayer. She wrote on Instagram: “I told myself I wouldn’t be that crying fan, but my god — with Kelly crying right there with me, how could I not? It was pure magic. It meant everything to me to experience that. Because yes — representation matters. I can’t stress enough how powerful it is to see yourself represented on screen as more than a punchline or stereotype.”
More things like this, please!
3. Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement gave sexual assault survivors a voice.
The deeply disturbing Harvey Weinstein allegations sparked a revolution of sorts. For decades, sexual violence survivors of all backgrounds and careers have been silenced because we’ve been sent the loud and clear message that sex crimes are a taboo topic that we simply shouldn’t discuss at all. In October suddenly women and men everywhere began sharing their own stories of sexual harassment, assault and rape, accompanied by the hashtag #MeToo. It was an empowering reminder that survivors aren’t the ones who should be ashamed — and a wonderful sense of solidarity was born. Politics and other differences were set aside as survivors came together and reached out to offer support, even to those they didn’t know personally.
Although #MeToo went viral due to a tweet from Alyssa Milano, the actress quickly posted a follow-up after she learned that activist Tarana Burke had started the movement over a decade ago to help survivors connect, long before hashtags were part of our lives. Burke has been a tireless activist for sexual violence victims — but like many women of color, her work went unrecognized for years. In addition to becoming a household name, Burke is finally being hailed as the hero she is. She kicked off the New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square, a positive sign that we’re headed into 2018 on the right note.
4. DACA recipients risked their lives to save their neighbors during Hurricane Harvey.
In August Hurricane Harvey devastated Texas and claimed at least 88 lives. The natural disaster coincided with the president’s announcement that he planned to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), but that didn’t stop DACA recipients from risking their lives to help neighbors. Oscar Hernandez, a 29-year-old DACA recipient and community organizer, arranged for 50 undocumented teens to volunteer at shelters and adult immigrants to volunteer as drivers in the most dangerous areas. Tragically, DACA recipient Alonso Guillen lost his life as he attempted to save others.
When it was pointed out to these volunteers that they may have been helping people who support the termination of DACA, they responded that every human is deserving of aid, regardless of political or personal beliefs. “At the end of the day we’re all human beings. I don’t care what you believe in,” Omar Perez told Time.
If that’s not a beautiful display of compassion and human decency, I don’t know what is.
5. A police officer adopted a homeless woman’s baby.
In September Albuquerque police officer Ryan Holets approached a pregnant woman who was shooting up heroin behind a convenience store. Crystal Champ, 35, is homeless and has been battling addiction disorder since her teens. When Holets reprimanded her for engaging in behavior that could harm her unborn child, she broke down in tears and expressed that she wanted someone to adopt her baby and give the child a better life, but she didn’t know where to turn.
At that moment Officer Holets “became a human being instead of a police officer,” Champ told CNN. Instead of arresting Champ and her male partner, Holets instantly offered to adopt her baby. Champ gave birth in October and baby Hope is now officially a member of the Holets family, which includes his wife Rebecca and their four other children. Champ and her partner remain homeless, though treatment centers have offered help, but Holets has pledged to be there for them — and to make sure Hope gets to meet her mom and dad when she’s old enough.
6. A ballet dancer risked his life to save a man from the subway tracks.
In early June a homeless man was pushed onto the New York City subway tracks and knocked unconscious. American Ballet Theater dancer Gray Davis, who was headed home from watching his wife perform, risked his life by jumping onto the tracks. He lifted the man, and people on the platform helped pull him to safety.
Still stuck on the tracks, Davis heard a train coming and swiftly put his ballet skills into action to pull himself to safety. “I never realized how high [the platform] was,” he told the New York Times. “Luckily, I’m a ballet dancer, so I swung my leg up.”
No matter how many dance skills you have in your back pocket, it’s a true act of heroism to jump onto subway tracks with the knowledge that a train could come hurtling toward you at any moment.
7. A Virginia community saved an Air Force veteran’s home.
When residents of Yorktown, Virginia, learned that an Air Force veteran’s home was in such bad shape that it had been condemned, they stepped up to get the house back in tip-top shape.
Volunteers, including home-building specialists and public officials, got to work repairing the home. The repairs would have cost approximately $50,000, but the veteran wasn’t charged a penny for his home makeover.
“He’s been a veteran for so long. It’s all we can do to help give back to him,” volunteer Chris Martin of Ferguson Enterprises told local news station 10 On Your Side.
8. These complete strangers bought a car for a restaurant worker.
Andy Mitchell met 20-year-old Justin Corva when he offered to give him a lift to his job at a Taco Casa restaurant in Texas. Corva, who was saving money for a car at the time, typically walked three miles to and from work — often in sweltering temperatures.
Mitchell shared a photo, along with Corva’s story, to his Facebook page. It immediately struck a chord, and Samee Dowlatshahi set up a donation box at his own restaurant, Samee’s Pizza Getti Italian Bistro & Lounge. Dowlatshahi’s friend Danny Rawls, who works at a local Toyota dealership, pulled some strings and secured a 2004 Toyota Camry for a discounted price.
Thanks to the generous donations they’d gathered, the men were able to purchase the Camry, along with a year of insurance and money for oil changes and gas. They drove to Taco Casa to surprise Corva with his new car. One small act of kindness can quickly turn into a group effort to help a hardworking person in need.
9. Volunteer firefighters drove a stranded bride and groom to their reception.
After exchanging vows in Connecticut, Maria Leonardi and Justin Stone hopped into a trolley bus with their wedding party to head to their reception. In a stroke of absolutely terrible luck, the vehicle caught fire.
The Avon Volunteer Fire Department quickly arrived on the scene and extinguished the blaze — but they didn’t stop there. The firefighters offered to give Leonardi and Stone a lift to the reception aboard the fire truck and ensured the couple wasn’t late to their own party.
“I thought it was the best thing ever and they were so incredibly nice,” Leonardi told ABC News. “They were just so gracious and wonderful.”
10. A woman honored Las Vegas shooting victims with 58 acts of kindness.
Two weeks after the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, Lisa Schachtel Kodimer of Los Angeles headed to Las Vegas to visit relatives. She spent the plane ride racking her brain for ways to honor the 58 people who were murdered at the Route 91 Harvest music festival.
Kodimer chose to do 58 good deeds, each dedicated to a specific victim, and to ask every recipient to pay it forward. Her acts of kindness ranged from generous tips to picking up a stranger’s tab at a restaurant.
“I educate the people about the pay-it-forward project and tell them, ‘This is in honor of Lisa Patterson, her age and she’s from California,’” Kodimer told the Las Vegas Sun. “Then they’re crying, I’m crying… I do it to make a difference and impact them.”
11. A young man and his mom shared his coming-out moment with the world.
Six years ago, Matthew came out as gay to his mom Robin and secretly recorded the emotional moment. In 2015 Matthew shared the video to YouTube with the goal of sending hope and confidence to children and adults who were struggling with whether or not they should come out to their families.
In 2017 mother and son spoke out about the moment itself as well as the viral video, which has garnered nearly one million views. Matthew emphasized the importance of reminding other members of the LGBTQ+ community that they’re never alone, and Robin imparted advice to their parents.
“Although it may or may not come as a surprise, and it may be a lot to take in all at once, your child is still the same person they were before they told you, and it doesn’t change your love for them,” Robin told the Huffington Post. “You may not totally understand it all, and it might even take a while for everything to fall into place, but everything will be okay. You will still love them as always.”
12. A school community donated clothes to a student in need.
In September a homeless 14-year-old student at Newtown High School in Queens, New York, began missing class. She told her guidance counselor Jennifer Schneider and her teacher Lisa Jimenez that she couldn’t come to school because she’d been left with nothing to wear after her only clothes were stolen.
Schneider and Jimenez took to social media to share the student’s story and ask for donations from the community. Over the period of just a few days, they received hundreds of responses from people who were eager to help the student and other teens in need.
Schneider told local Queens station NY1 that the outpouring of support helped renew her faith in humanity.
“It’s just so amazing to see all different people from all different walks of life coming together to support these students,” Jimenez added.
It turns out that we don’t have to look far for human decency. As we enter 2018, it’s important to remember there are plenty of opportunities to find common ground and unite with others — and to challenge ourselves to look beyond our differences and focus on our shared humanity.