On the evening of April 21, 2012, my 15-year-old son, Sam, gathered some of his friends at a parking lot in the center of town.
It was a cool evening, but they were properly attired and fully equipped. Carrying construction staplers and rolls of duct tape, they huddled in front of the hot dog carry-out store they often frequent after school.
Sam distributed another 50 flyers each to the boys, which they added to the 50 he had already distributed at school the day before. Since he’d made a little more money selling his used video games the night before, he was able to make more copies.
He’d clipped a memo to the front of each pack that explained that he’d already spoken to city hall about their plans.
“We need to be done by nightfall, home by curfew and serious about what we do,” he instructed his troops.
“If we are approached by police, don’t run. Explain what we are doing. If they say stop, just stop and go home.”
I sat in a parking space a couple dozen feet away, choked with emotion at the maturity of my son.
The group dispersed in all directions. Clutched in their hands were posters depicting the most notorious war criminal of Uganda, Joseph Kony–a man whose conscription and abuse of children had evoked a collective reaction across the physical and cyber-world last month.
The boys’ mission was to participate in a worldwide effort to expose Kony through a universal “Cover the Night” rally that would make his face and deeds so well-known that he would be caught and brought to justice.
In the time since the inspiring video was first posted, the organizers of this effort became the focus of press and public scrutiny and it seemed to be an absolute mission for the press to expose the whole thing as a fraud.
The primary organizer, who was initially motivated by the words of a Ugandan boy who explained that he went to bed every night hoping he would die rather than to fall into Kony’s clutches, succumbed to the pressures brought by sudden fame and lost his composure.
His over-the-top antics made as much press as his initial intention, but that’s when the real phenomenon began to occur for me.
Sam had seen that boy, who was around his age, tearfully say he wished he would die rather than live, and it touched him so deeply that he set his jaw firmly in place and decided to do something.
While the world went about reducing the credibility of the “Invisible Children” movement, Sam took on the job of defending it–because that boy said he wanted to die instead of live.
So while his friends told him he was a sucker and the news told him it was a farce, he pressed forward, made his copies, convinced his friends to believe and organized his event in his corner of the world.
Flying in the face of the juggernaut media is not so easy anymore, you know? That took some real mettle, and my respect for his resolve was set in stone that week.
At 9 p.m., I picked up the last of the team that had not already completed their distribution and dropped them at their homes.
Their parents had entrusted their kids to follow Sam, but understandably wanted some adult supervision involved; I obliged because of how lit up Sam got over this whole thing.
Your children will indicate what’s important to them; as a parent, I believe it is your job to engage that spirit.
As I dropped the kids off, I told them they should be proud of what they did on behalf of people they don’t even know. Each one smiled at that.
I asked Sam if I could take him for a burger as sort of a congratulations gesture. He happily obliged.
Sitting there in silence, his thoughts obviously racing through his head, he suddenly smiled. He idealistically said: “Wouldn’t it be great if tomorrow’s news said they found him and arrested him? Like it all worked?”
I nodded. “You bet Sam. That would be great.”
One day when I recount the moments of my life, that little video (in my mind) of Sam and I sitting there talking as two men will cue up. It’s reopened my embittered mind to the possibilities of optimism.
The morning news brought more negative reaction, and journalists and bloggers seemed to take special “told-you-so” pride in the lukewarm reaction the Kony mission evoked.
Once again, this blasted fast-food, remote-toting, news-in-a-flash world we now live in missed the whole message.
Whether the kids that chose to follow the “Saint Elmo’s Fire” of The Invisible Children movement were “taken in” by a fraudulent event is not the point.
That children here in hometown America can be touched so deeply that they reach out and organize for a “brother” they never met—that’s the impact message, for crying out loud.
Robert Duvall played a man named Hub in a movie I highly recommend called “Second Hand Lions.” One of his quotes in that movie expresses this notion well.
He said to his young nephew, “Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love … true love never dies. You remember that, boy. You remember that. Doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. You see, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in.”
So today, I proudly have a son who understands that. I guess the collective world press would call him a fool. He has friends at school that have done so. They tell him to “get real” and then they play more “Angry Birds” on their I-Pod.
Who is the fool?
Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.