The story of Ted Williams, a golden voiced homeless man from Columbus, Ohio, has captured the imagination and compassion of the nation. Discovered by a reporter for the Columbus Dispatch panhandling by the side of the road, Williams became an overnight YouTube sensation after he demonstrated his unique vocal talents and had the chance to tell his story of youthful hopes thwarted by years of alcohol and drug abuse. A Today show appearance quickly followed and now job offers from the likes of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Kraft food and warm-hearted counsel from all sides are overwhelming a man who has struggled for more than a decade on the streets.
It is a tribute to the civic heart of America that his story has touched so many and resulted in such an outpouring of support and good wishes. It's admirable how Americans rush to respond to an individual’s need when they know his story. It's just too bad that the millions of other hard luck stories out there, the missed opportunities, fractured childhoods, substance abuse and mental illness that tell the individual stories of all the nation’s poor and suffering people, could not likewise be uploaded to YouTube. Maybe if we knew the stories of all the hurting people out there like Williams, we would not be so ready to dismiss our communal obligations to them so easily. Maybe we wouldn’t allow cultural fabrications, caricatures and distortions to de-obligate ourselves to the needy, the drug addicted, the undocumented migrant—urban legends of anchor babies and social-service parasites that allow us to not only ignore the socially wounded among us, but to actively degrade and despise them for their presence and their need.
Here’s to more stories on YouTube and other social media that offer more accurate and merciful depictions of the individual humanity of the struggling people among us. Let these digital vignettes reveal the true faces and stories of the poor and the migrant people among us and prod us toward a more humane and reasonable discussion of personal and communal responsibility in the future.