What Have You Done Today To Make You Feel Proud?
Posted March 11, 2010on:
Here’s a lovely story that should restore your faith in compassion and remind you of the benefits of having effective public servants at the helm. Say what you want about this country, but it still is the land of opportunity. Just listen to this guy’s story.
His name is Qing Hong Wu. He migrated to New York City from China when he was 5 years old. He came with his mother who worked tirelessly as a seamstress and his father who worked as a cook. They lived in Chinatown. When he was a teenager this neighborhood turned out to be his playground for making bad friends and engaging in illegal activities. His activity of choice was to mug elderly men of money, beating them up and leaving them for dead. This went on until he and his friends were finally caught.
Enter Judge Michael Corriero who happened to be the judge that presided over this boy’s case some time in the mid 90’s.
Being once a juvenile who grew up in a similar neighborhood as Qing Hong Wu, Judge Corriero understood how one careless decision can snowball into a life of lost opportunities. He immediately saw that Qing Hong was a good kid (he scored in the 98th percentile in Math!) who lost himself in bad circumstances. So instead of throwing him in juvenile prison and counting him as another juvenile delinquent, he did something different. The judge sentenced him to three to nine years in reformatory but told him, “This is not the end. This is really the beginning of a new period for you. I want you to educate yourself. Continue to read, follow the rules, get a job and become a meaningful, constructive member of society to help your family”. Then he said something which I think made the difference. He said, “I will be there to make sure that you can. If you do that, I am here to stand behind you” And so a life altering agreement was forged and a story that takes an amazing twist of fate had begun…
Fast forward to 2010. Our boy is reformed, he finished school, he stayed out of trouble and he even got himself involved in civic oriented activities. With a promising career as a Vice President for Internet technology and resting on the solid words Judge Corriero left him with some 15 years ago, he decided to apply for his citizenship and disclose his criminal record. His application raised a red flag with the immigration authorities. They didn’t just deny him his citizenship, they wanted him deported and banned permanently from the USA! Their basis was this ancient 19th century immigration law, which labels juvenile delinquent immigrants as undesirables. Imaginate! After this sobering news, Qing Hong Wu finds himself in South Jersey sitting in jail waiting to be deported. What a nightmare!
When the news reached the now Ex-Judge Corriero, he went straight to work. He wrote New York Governor David Paterson saying that Mr. Wu EARNED his second chance, he deserves the OPPORTUNITY to remain in this country. He created a buzz within the youth and immigrant communities. As a result, letters were written, articles were published and media interviews were conducted. Four months later, Qing Hong Wu was told by jail guards in NJ that he was free to go. He later found out that Gov. Paterson had pardoned him. Yaaay! All’s well that ends well.
What does this story tell us? That the US immigration system is clearly flawed and full of holes. Sure it is. But show me a public system that is not. I choose to look at this glass as half full. This story is telling us that this kind of democracy is what works for regular people like Qing Hong Wu, like you and like me. Here is a rare story where real pressure coming from below brought about relevant changes. Here is a story about compassion and how it turns a blind eye on color and race; how it can also emanate from people of influence and power. This is a story about working hard to deserve a chance, even if it were a second chance. Inspiring no?
And what did Ex-Judge Corriero have to say now to Qing Hong Wu? “Welcome home, this has always been your home — New York City has been your home. We’re so proud of what you’ve accomplished and the way you have endured to come back. This is an American story, and Qing is a model of what America can do.”
Such a heart warming story that was born by a simple yet timeless commitment between two people, two strangers! So I ask you as the song Proud by Heather Small asks, What have you done today to make you feel proud?