Does this look like a guy whose mother threw him out of his own home at age 13 for admitting he was gay? Who lived out of dumpsters in San Francisco for several months as he tried to survive on a 7th grade education? Who then moved to Los Angeles and was brutally attacked for no reason by a 14-member neo-Nazi skinhead gang when he was 14, left for dead after a boot-heel kick to the forehead and multiple knife wounds?
Matthew Boger's last memory before losing consciousness was of a 14-inch high Mohawk hairstyle -- the same guy who showed his skinhead buddies what a proper kick could do.
The amazing thing is that Matthew didn’t die on the spot. Even the friends Matthew was with the night of the incident did not come to his aid, and had vanished by the time he miraculously regained consciousness.
What is even more amazing is that 25 years later, the two men ran into each other once again. Slowly, unbelievably, it dawned on both of them exactly who they were facing.
The story of each man’s journey was first related by Matthew and his attacker, Timothy Zaal, on Oprah and NPR in 2006. Their amazing story of forgiveness and reconciliation became the subject of a 2009 young adult book, Freaks and Revelations by Davida Wills Hurwin. By 2014, the documentary film about the incident, Facing Fear, received an Academy Awards nomination (and will be available on i-Tunes later this Spring). In November 2015, they also appeared on BBC World Outlook. It's hard to fathom that both of them actually became friends.
That same year, Matt relocated to Northern California. I happened to meet him for the first time at my favorite coffeehouse near Sacramento, where he is the manager. The owner relayed his rise from the alleys of LA to working at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles for 11 years before he moved north. Matt shared his story with me and told me that he and his attacker had gone “on the road” talking to youth groups all over the region about the power of forgiveness and reconciliation.
He recently invited me to attend a conference co-sponsored by two Sacramento public school districts where he screened Facing Fear and took questions from an audience of both young people and adults from diverse ethnic groups.
I think you’ll agree that this is a story that resonates today. Prejudice, bullying, and violence are not simply topics we discuss and deal with in schools. They occupy center stage of the national and global political scene we face daily. But I believe, as Matthew does, that reconciliation of even the most intractable problems is possible.
Matthew is a living and inspiring example of the power of forgiveness, and the positive impact we can all have on the people around us, in spite of our past.
It’s all about having the courage to travel the road from hate to hope.
If anyone can understand that road, Matt does. Over the years, he lost two partners to brain cancer. Most of his family continues to shut him out of their lives until he "changes." He still suffers from days that are not so hopeful.
Yet when I look at the photo above, I see a man redeemed. A man at peace with his world.