Wednesday, June 30, 2004

'This Guy is My Hero,' Part One

Another entry, this one in two parts, from NCADP intern Kristen Bell, who is covering the 11th Annual Fast & Vigil to Abolish the Death Penalty. One thing Kristen could not have known when she interviewed this individual is that I met him before, briefly. Mike sat in on a workshop I led last January at the annual conference of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Mike Kennedy took off his skewed cowboy hat to scratch his head, revealing a mop of thinning gray hair. He looked at me through big glasses and started to explain why he had come to fast for four days. It was clear that speech did not come easily to this man; he spoke slowly, making an effort to form each word. People usually don’t understand him when he says his last name, so he always has to say “Kennedy, like the president.” I had to listen closely to understand his story.

“I come to show abolitionists and other people that not everyone in Texas supports the death penalty,” Mike said. “We’re a minority, but a significant minority.”

He is the only Texan who is fasting this year. Texas, by far the leader in state executions, is about a four-hour flight from DC. But Mike didn’t have the money to take an airplane. He rode a bus for 36 hours to this his ninth fast and vigil. Organizations like Amnesty International, Pax Christi, Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and Journey of Hope gave him donations to cover the bus fare. Some years the ride is shorter, but this year Mike made the mistake of getting on the regular, rather than the express, bus. So he sat on the Greyhound for an extra 11 hours. And when he finally arrived, he waited seven hours at the bus depot before someone could come pick him up.

But he has no complaints. “I’m here now,” he said matter-of-factly.

He has no complaints about hunger pains either. Not having to buy food for four days works out well for Mike who comes with only $15 or $20 in his pocket. “It’s my abolitionist diet,” he joked, rubbing his round belly.

Half way through my conversation with Mike, I remembered Bill Pelke’s words when he introduced us. “This guy is my hero,” Bill said.

I’m beginning to see why.

See below for the second half of Mike's story!

No comments: