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September 01, 2000

Hero Power

By Wilson A. Schooley and Robert M. O'Neil

Special thanks to Robert M. O'Neil and Wilson A. Schooley, for their contributions to this issue on human rights heroes.

Heroism is electric. It has a life and energy all its own and flows from place to place and across time, lighting lights and igniting change. So in this issue of Human Rights, we recognize heroes, not only in gratitude for their having given energy to the cause of human rights but also in the hope that we will keep that flow going.

True heroes inevitably beget other heroes. Each of the men and women about whom you will read in these pages was inspired by a hero who came before them. We hope as you read their stories, you too will feel the electric flow of their heroism on behalf of justice, freedom, and the rights of men, women, and children around the world. And that you may be energized to be a hero for human rights in your own right, even if in small ways and local places. Charles Dickens began David Copperfield asking ". . . [w]hether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else . . ." You can choose, as did the heroes we profile, not to wait for someone else to act but instead to be the hero of your own life-for the good of others. By making that choice, you not only help but inspire, and so keep lit around the world the lights of valor in the cause of justice.

There is no formula or category for moral courage; it can appear in many forms and in any place, even-maybe especially-in places it is not supposed to exist. Dr. Larch, the founder of St. Cloud's Orphanage in John Irving's Cider House Rules, lamented, "there are no heroes in the world of lost and abandoned children." But Rachel Ortiz, Betty Jones, and Dr. Gabriel Chong King prove the good doctor wrong. Ku Klux Klansmen believe African Americans are inferior, but their own superior lawyers Anthony Griffin and David Baugh show by their legal representation, both valorous and excellent, just how big is that lie. And when the justice system seems perilously awry, judges like United States District Judge Robert Lee Carter show us where justice lives. And so continues the electric effect of our heroes, from Julie Dorf of San Francisco in her work as an international gay and lesbian rights advocate and Jerry Mitchell of the Clarion Ledger, who successfully pressured Mississippi into prosecuting the murderers of Medgar Evers, Vernon Dahmer, and others, to Rosemary Nelson, who paid the ultimate price for human rights.

With these heroes as our beacons, we can find our way to ever more human rights victories-to a world made more right by rights. "Heroism feels and never reasons, and therefore is always right," wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. Like all marches, our world march for international human rights must be both shepherded and shared. César Estrada Chávez said, "Compartimos el mismo futuro. No valemos nada solo. Pero juntos, valemos mucho. Si se puede," which, loosely translated, means we share the same future; we may each be able to do only a little alone, but together we are powerful and can succeed.

-Wilson A. Schooley and Robert M. O'Neil, Special Editors

As published in Human Rights, Fall 2000, Vol. 27, No. 4, p.2.