Marc is a veteran investigative reporter and editor of more than 15 years, including 10 years at The Times, where he is the investigative editor. He is also the founder of the Calumet Region Civil War Preservation Project.

Patriots fans burn team gear over NFL kneeling protests

FILE - In this Sept. 24, 2017 file photo, several New England Patriots players kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Houston Texans in Foxborough, Mass. Patriots fans have burned team gear in protest after a number of players kneeled during the national anthem before last weekend's game. More than 100 people came out to Swansea, Massachusetts, on Thursday, Sept. 28 to throw Patriots T-shirts and other team apparel into a fire pit as they waved American flags and sang patriotic songs. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

Michael Dwyer

We've become a nation of overreactions layered upon overreactions.

Among so many things being drowned in the amplification of vitriol and venom are the extraordinary actions of good people bent on helping fellow citizens in need.

What does this say about us?

We can take heart in the selfless acts of others while also lamenting the sad commentary of our better angels being overshadowed by misguided approaches to protest, which in turn beget divisive anger from the opposite extreme.

Angry debates regarding NFL players "taking a knee" during the national anthem abound in the social media feeds of Region folks, mirroring the rest of the country.

Meanwhile, in the wake of unspeakable storm-related disasters in Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida — where American suffering is at its zenith — some of our better angels are keeping the focus on what matters.

But who can tell, with a glut of social debate over the patriotism, or lack thereof, of highly paid athletes who ought to be helping take America's mind off troubles rather than stirring up additional ones.

The better part of this social dichotomy is alive and well in Northwest Indiana, and for that we can be thankful.

The evidence actually came from more than 1,000 miles away from the Region.

Griffith town officials shared with me last week the incredibly touching photos and letters they've been receiving from a community outside of Jacksonville with its share of working poor residents.

As happened in many communities in Florida, Hurricane Irma flooded out homes there and laid waste to lives.

Griffith town officials and other residents banded together, collecting donations and sending a 21-foot trailer and two pickup-truck beds full of cleaning supplies, water, coloring books, crayons and food to an Orange Park, Florida, elementary school for distribution in the community.

Griffith Town Council President Rick Ryfa said town leaders were approached by Shawn Graham, who sits on the Griffith Safety Board, to make it all happen.

"We're talking about a community of many poor families who already had little, and what they did have, they lost," Ryfa said.

Since the donations arrived in Florida last month, Griffith benefactors have received thank-you notes, some etched in colored marker by the hands of S. Bryan Jennings Elementary School children.

One from a child named Jeslin is accented with hand-drawn red hearts, offering gratefulness for donated crayons and Cheetos.

"As our families are getting back, most of them are in shock and don’t know where to begin with asking for supplies. Our first round of supplies went rather quickly because there was such a need," Jennings Elementary School Principal Elise Love and Assistant Principal Carolyn Ayers said in a letter to Griffith volunteers late last month.

"Now these supplies can help to rebuild the community and help people who are displaced get back on their feet."

And therein lies what the American spirit is supposed to embody — reaching out and building up fellow Americans in need.

It's in contrast to professional athletes whose controversial protests have become so divisive — have elicited so much anger from others — many have forgotten, or frankly never saw, any of the social justice purposes behind them.

The charity of efforts like those from Griffith can and should bring our society back to center.

The need of fellow citizens in Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas should be our local, state and national rallying cry — not high-profile athletes kneeling in the turf or those who crow so loudly in protest of the players.

Both sides are obscuring much deeper national priorities, and its unfortunately just the latest in a long line of divisive national distractions.

The charitable acts of folks in Griffith — and so many other communities in the Region, state and nation — should be enough to snap us out of it and refocus our priorities.

Opportunities for redemption seem in short supply these days. We must seize them where they arise.

Editorial Page Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/marc.chase.9 or Twitter @nwi_MarcChase. The opinions are the writer's.

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