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America of good character was revealed in Cleveland

Opinion Column

Donna Brazile

Donna Brazile

We could use some good news, and Cleveland gave it to us. I’m referring, of course, to the dramatic escape and rescue of three young women in Cleveland who were kidnapped and held captive for a decade. There are so many lessons from this experience we’ve just witnessed as a national family.

The first lesson: The story of these girls-to-women, their self-reliance, courage and survival instincts tell us we have it within us to endure the unendurable. I can’t imagine the emotions, the ups and downs, that these women suffered. But they endured.

And now they’re free. Free from the ropes and chains that bound them. Free from a depraved, despicable man who haunted them, plagued them, raped and terrorized them. Two of them went into captivity as schoolgirls; all came out as grown women. Gina DeJesus was 14 in 2004, walking home. She’s now 23. In 2003, Amanda Berry was 17. Free at last, she’s 27 and has a 6-year-old daughter, Jocelyn. When abducted in 2002, Michelle Knight was 20. She emerges from captivity at age 32.

The three girls were imprisoned, though they had committed no crime. Like all innocents jailed for long periods, including Nelson Mandela, their captivity became a test of faith. They had no idea when, or even if, they would ever be free.

The women were raped repeatedly and badly beaten. There were multiple pregnancies and miscarriages. Knight was forced to assist Berry in childbirth, and was threatened with death if the baby died.

Gina DeJesus’ aunt, Sandra Ruiz, said, “There are not enough words to say or express the joy that we feel for the return of our family member Gina, and now Amanda Berry, her daughter and Michelle Knight, who is our family also.”

“Our family also.”

The relief, the miracle actually, gives great joy. This, the second lesson, is perhaps the greatest lesson: “In everything give thanks,” the Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18. There are times — many more times than we give credit for — when good triumphs over evil. Third lesson: We should always hold firm to our faith, though we cannot see the outcome.

Then there was Charles Ramsey, the next-door neighbor: “I was eating my McDonald’s, come outside, and I see this girl going nuts, trying to get out a house.” Ramsey figured it was a domestic violence dispute. Most people would not get involved in a potentially violent situation involving others. But Ramsey did. He found the front door locked, but helped kick in the lower panel, allowing Amanda Berry to squirm through the narrow opening with her daughter.

Ramsey, who has lived beside the captive house for a year, never saw the women. Ramsey said he “didn’t have a clue ... not a clue.” He only ever saw the house owner. “He does average stuff. There’s nothing exciting about him ... well, until today. ...

“I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl runs into a black man’s arms,” Ramsey said. The neighbors crowding Ramsey, whites and blacks, chuckled appreciatively. It was no laughing matter, though. Had it not been for Ramsey’s heroism, Berry and her chained family would still be imprisoned.

Final lesson: Thank God there are people willing to risk their own safety and get involved. It was, of course, Ramsey’s neighbor’s house. He had some sense of the situation. I don’t want to advocate that people should walk blindly into an unknown situation, but there is a time when we can fairly assess an event and gather enough information about it to know we need only to summon our courage to help.

McDonald’s is looking to contact Ramsey. He’s already turned down the idea of a reward. He’s a self-sufficient man, and proud about that. Ramsey showed the paycheck he’d just picked up to CNN’s Anderson Cooper, and said that any FBI reward money can go to the three women to help them restart their lives.

American character. We need people of good character — regardless of politics or profession. I’m proud of Charles Ramsey. Even with his flaws and troubled past, he makes me proud to be an American. Amanda Berry, 6-year-old Jocelyn, Gina DeJesus, Michelle Knight and Charles Ramsey — these are the people America is made of.

You know, I see an outcome like this and my spirits soar. Maybe, just maybe, we can take the lessons of endurance, faith and self-sacrifice into our civic discourse. Maybe, just maybe, we can expect our media and leaders to focus not on strife and spite, but on acts of goodness and kindness.

There’s still so much goodness in the world. We just need to seek it out.

Donna Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist, a political commentator and contributor to CNN and ABC News.