Fort Smith

Unexpected happy ending: A vandalized Arkansas mosque becomes an inspirational tale

Unexpected happy ending: A vandalized Arkansas mosque becomes an inspirational tale

Every so often, the New York Times revisits some of their most popular or most-read stories. Earlier in December, they returned to the story of a bunch of white kids who vandalized a mosque in Fort Smith, Ark., last August. At the time, the story of how the mosque leaders reached out and forgave Abraham Davis was amazing to read and I commented on it for this blog. 

The reporter, Sabrina Tavernise, continued to follow the story for months, especially since Davis was ordered by a court to repay some $3,200 in fines and restitution; an amount that was nearly impossible for him to save. He had finally gotten a job at a convenience store, but it paid very little.

Then –- in one of those happy endings every reporter wishes for -– the mosque got an unexpected grant from a foundation. One of the things its leaders chose to do was pay off Davis’ fine. When the reporter broke the news to him, he was speechless for a time. She tells that story here:

FORT SMITH, Ark. — Abraham Davis had his mouth open, but no words were coming out. We were sitting together on his mother’s couch near her Christmas tree earlier this month and I had just played him a short recording of the president of Fort Smith’s Al Salam mosque.
Abraham had vandalized the mosque with two friends more than a year before. It was an act of bigotry that he deeply regretted. His expression of remorse — written in a letter from jail — and the mosque’s forgiveness and subsequent advocacy for him, inspired my Aug. 26 article, “The Two Americans.”…
But most of the debt still remained to be paid. It was one of his life’s daily stresses: If he stopped making monthly payments, he could end up in prison for six years.

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Vandalism and repentance: New York Times tells story of a mosque and its attacker

Vandalism and repentance: New York Times tells story of a mosque and its attacker

A 21-year-old drifter helps deface a mosque in Arkansas and gets prison time for it. Who’d think there was much of a story in this?

But the New York Times just ran a beautiful piece on the main actors involved and it's worth the read.

I just finished reading “Hillbilly Elegy,” the J.D. Vance bestseller that spotlights the hopeless multitudes of poor whites in shattered families across Appalachia. Relocate them to Arkansas and you have the perfect setting for what happened next.

FORT SMITH, Ark. -- Abraham Davis was sitting on a thin blue pad on the concrete floor of Cell 3 in a jail in western Arkansas when a guard came around with stamped envelopes and writing paper.
The first person he wrote to was his mother. Abraham, just shy of 21, had barely spoken to her since his arrest a few days before, and he had a lot to explain.
It all began on a night last October when he borrowed her white minivan and drove to the home of a friend. They’d gotten drunk on cheap whiskey. Kentucky Deluxe. Abraham agreed to drive his friend to a mosque in town. His friend drew swastikas and curses on the mosque’s windows and doors while Abraham stood watch in the driveway.
The next day, the vandalism was all over the news. Abraham watched the reports over and over on his phone, his stomach curdling with regret.

I used to live in a city much like Fort Smith. Rich and poor, black and white were at opposite ends of a southern town situated on Interstate-40, but in west Tennessee instead of west Arkansas.

Gangs from nearby Memphis drove up our crime rate. Hospitals and clinics were the largest employers. Neighboring Arkansas was much poorer and destitute but Fort Smith differed from my city in one way: A lot of folks from other countries were moving in.

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