These People’s Act Of Forgiveness Will Blow You Away

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Danny Givens and Art Blakey

In 1996, 19-year-old Danny Givens shot police chief of the Minnesota State Fair Art Blakey three times during an armed robbery at the old VFW post. Blakey had gotten several people out a back door to safety and had turned around to confront the gunman, a confrontation ending with both men shot.

Brooke Blakey, Art's daughter, remembers the evening vividly. Her father’s first words when she finally reached his hospital room were “‘I'm fine, is he OK?’” Brooke blurted back to her father, “I don't care that he's not OK."

Ever the peacekeeper, Art counseled his daughter. “This is not the time for that,” he said from his hospital bed.

Art’s compassion was just beginning. At Danny’s sentencing, Art asked the judge for leniency. “’He should be given a second chance,” Danny recalls Art telling the judge. Instead of 60 years, Danny served 12.

While in prison, word reached Danny that Art had been stopping by the house to check on his mother. Art even wrote a letter suggesting his shooter be given an early release.

Danny, who had entered the prison system as an angry man, was feeling his heart start to soften. While still incarcerated, he began studying Christianity and was ordained as a minister.

“I was in prison the whole time knowing this gentleman had nothing but love for me,” he said.

Still, Danny couldn’t fathom what happened back in the neighborhood after his release.

Danny was leaving his mother’s house, when he saw a truck stopped in the street. “And he rolled down his window and he looked at me and he said, ‘And your name is, young man?’ – and I said, ‘Danny Givens.’”

Art opened the door and got out, then Danny found himself enveloped in a hug. “’I'm so proud of you. I love you. I forgive you,’” Danny remembers Art telling him.

“I will never in my life forget that day,” Danny said.

Danny is now a church pastor. “Forgiveness positions humanity to be its best possible self,” Danny told his flock during a recent Sunday sermon. Earlier this year, as Art lay dying, Danny came over to sit vigil with him.

"I'm a pastor," he said. "I deal with life and death transitions all the time. It's different with someone who you've harmed physically."

He said one of Blakey's daughters saw that he was struggling and encouraged him.

"She said, 'I hope you know that not only did he forgive you, but our family forgives you. You're part of his legacy. You must continue to go forward.' "

Rose Simmons and Arthur Thompson

On Wednesday, June 17, 2015, a young, white male visited a Bible study at the predominantly-black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charlottesville, VA. That young, white male was 21-year old Dylan Roof, a white supremacist. After Roof sat down with the group of 12 for 45 minutes, he did the unthinkable when the clock struck 9 p.m. He pulled a gun from his trench coat and opened fire, killing 9 members of the group, including 74-year old Reverend Dr. Daniel Lee Simmons, a man who died saving someone's life.

Rose Simmons, daughter of Reverend Simmons said she is not angry her father died in such a heinous way. In fact, she believed this tragedy was a sign for the world to open up its eyes to the racism that still exists.

59-year old Myra Thompson was a Bible study teacher and acted like a mother to many. "She and I ... we did everything together. I mean, everything," said Reverend Anthony Thompson.

At one of the court proceedings related to the case, Anthony realized God was asking him to forgive the shooter. "I told him I forgive you. My family forgives you, but you need to repent and you need to confess," added Reverend Thompson.

Rose Simmons and Reverend Anthony Thompson want to spread the message of forgiveness because it is something they had to learn to do.  "I forgive him, I do. I pray for him and hope that he gets on a path to some recompense for this crime," added Rose Simmons.

"My mission is to spread the gospel of forgiveness, so that's what I'm doing," added Reverend Thompson.

Eric Smallridge and Renee Napier

In 2003, Eric Smallridge was found guilty of two counts of DUI manslaughter. On the night he murdered Meagan Napier and Lisa Dickson, he was drinking twice the legal alcohol limit.

Renee, Meagan’s mother,  believed justice was served when Eric was sentenced to 22 years in prison. “I felt like our system had served us well and justice had been served.”

A few years later, Renee did something unbelievable: She spoke to the judge and requested that Eric’s sentence be cut in half. The judge agreed.

“I could hate him forever and the world would tell me that I have a right to do that,” Renee said. “It’s not going to do me any good, and it’s not going to do him any good. I would grow old and bitter and angry and hateful. … In my opinion, forgiveness is the only way to heal.”

The judge obliged. When the two met again after Eric’s release, Eric apologized profusely. “It was like a burden,” Eric said. “It was a weight off my chest. I no longer had to hide behind this facade.”

“There’s going to be healing, and there’s going to be good things from here on out,” says Renee.

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This is a photo of Renee hugging the man who killed her daughter.

InspirationalHeidi McDow