Antonio Gwynn is an 18-year-old high school senior in Buffalo, New York. Two years ago, Gwynn’s mother died and he was taken in by a friend, Duane Thomas. On May 29th, Gwynn participated in a peaceful protest against the brutal murder of George Floyd, marching for hours. Finally, tired, he went home to get some rest and watch videos of some of the nationwide protests. But, what he saw when he woke the next morning stunned him.
He saw that his hometown’s peaceful streets had turned violent after he left, with a confrontation between protesters and U.S. marshals in front of the federal courthouse, windows smashed at downtown businesses, and protesters reporting that they had been hit by police rubber bullets.
“I was sad to watch all of that. There was a huge mess downtown. I thought, ‘I should go out there and clean it all up.’”
And so, he did.
Gwynn had rented a small U-Haul truck several days earlier to move some of his belongings into a house he had just rented from his aunt. At 2 a.m. on June 1, he threw a broom, a dustpan and two large boxes of garbage bags into the back of the truck and headed to Bailey Avenue, where much of the damage had happened.
Sweeping up broken glass, discarded protest signs and litter for about 17 blocks, Gwynn worked through the morning until almost noon, filling nearly two dozen trash bags, most of which he took home and set on his curb in time for garbage pickup.What young Antonio didn’t know was that his good deed was about to go viral, thanks to one person in particular, a nearby resident, Nicole Hopkins, who snapped a few pictures, then put them on her Facebook page along with a call to arms. Nicole wrote …
“I was driving down Bailey on my way to the store after the riots and I observed a young man sweeping up piles of garbage. I took some pictures, looped around, and asked who he was working for. He informed me he rented a truck and was doing this out of the kindness of his own heart. After speaking with him more in depth, I learned he is 18, a soon to be graduate of Hutch Tech, with aspirations of attending college. If we can pay for his books, a Mac Book, or at least one semester of college for this brave young man, his generosity and kindness will be the change we wish to see in the world.”
Hopkins’s post was quickly picked up by Kimberly LaRussa, whose Sweet Buffalo Facebook page highlights people who do good in the community. From there, it took off running.
Now, in my book Gwynn was a good people in a couple of ways … for peacefully protesting George Floyd’s murder, and then for cleaning up the detritus left at the end of the day, even though it was not his own trash. But, there are more than one good people in this story!Gwynn’s voice mail box and Facebook page were suddenly filled with notes from well-wishers in Buffalo and beyond, commending him for cleaning up downtown before anyone else could get to it. And there were generous offers, too.
When one man learned that Gwynn didn’t have a car, he offered up his 2004 Ford Mustang. Another person offered to insure it, and several others set up a GoFundMe account that brought in more than $5,800 to help Gwynn pay some of his expenses while living on his own for the first time. The fundraiser surpassed its goal of $5,000 and is no longer active. Lots more good people!!!
Probably the biggest surprise, said Gwynn, was a call from Medaille College in Buffalo. When administrators heard on the local news that he hoped one day to start his own auto repair shop and cleaning company, they presented Gwynn with a four-year scholarship so that he could begin business classes this fall.
Gwynn didn’t do this for any sort of reward or acclaim … he did it, as most good people do, because it was the right thing to do.
“It was unbelievable. I didn’t do this for any attention. I just didn’t want people to have to drive through all that trash on the street.”
But wait … I’m not done, for there is at least one more good people in this story. Two years ago, when Gwynn’s mother died of a heart attack, his younger sister went to live with his grandmother, but Gwynn had nowhere to go. It was then that Duane Thomas, 37, a pastor and youth leader at the Change Church offered him a home, on two conditions: he do the dishes, and keep up with his homework. Mr. Thomas has three children and eight stepchildren, but nonetheless, he said he considers Antonio to be a member of his family …
“I call him ‘son,’ and he calls me ‘pop,’ I was so proud when I heard he was out there by himself, cleaning up the city. It’s amazing. He just kept on going until he got the job done.”
Duane Thomas … yet another good people in this story!
Gwynn had recently moved out to rent a place from his aunt and brought his sister, Aaliyah, to live with him, said Thomas. He was planning to find a job and go to a trade school this fall, he said, when the offers came pouring in.
Just one simple story, but so many good people in it! One young person’s desire to do the right thing opened the hearts of so many.