5 Examples of Americans Coming Together in 2017

Let’s be honest: 2017 hasn’t been the kindest year in American history. Between people arguing about politics on Facebook, mounting racial tensions, and far-too-frequent shootings, it sometimes seems our society is more divided than ever.

But we’re always capable of rallying for the right cause. In honor of World Kindness Day, here are five examples from 2017 of Americans coming together, helping each other, or simply connecting as human beings.

1. Hurricane Harvey

If there can be a silver lining to natural disasters, it’s this: When lives are in danger, it becomes clear just how much they matter. Strangers who might ordinarily pass each other on the street without speaking suddenly risk their lives for each other.

Harvey was among the worst hurricanes this year. Still, it brought out the best in Southeast Texans. People formed human chains to save others from rising floodwaters, including a woman in labor and an elderly man being swept away in his truck. Businesses turned storefronts into makeshift shelters, and when rescue workers needed backup, civilians used their own boats to search for people in need.

2. California Wildfires

After a dry spring and hot summer, California has experienced thousands of wildfires since April, including the deadliest fires in the state’s recorded history. But from the ashes have risen many heroes — the firefighters who repeatedly risked (and sometimes lost) their lives, the first responders who traveled from different states to help, and Californians who housed the displaced and fed rescue workers.

In addition to food and shelter, donations continue to pour in as the affected try to rebuild their lives — or even their DVD collections. Mark Orsillo, a 34-year-old man with Down syndrome, lost his family home and most of his possessions, including more than 300 DVDs, to a wildfire this summer. To lift his spirits, his sister posted on Facebook asking for friends’ unwanted DVDs. Within hours, people from all over were pledging to send movies, clothes, gift cards, and other items. What a beautiful reminder that social media is a platform for coming together, not tearing each other apart.

3. Boston Protest

While racial tension has been growing for years, after the tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia, 2017 might be known as the year Americans finally admitted racism is still a problem. And that’s a good thing — we can’t fix biases we can’t see.

One week after the white supremacy rally that left three people dead and dozens more injured, more than 40,000 people came together in Boston to protest in response. This mostly peaceful protest, and several others that were held around the country, sent a strong message that Americans of all political affiliations are ready for things to change. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said it well: “It’s clear today that Boston stood for peace and love, not bigotry and hate.”

4. Total Solar Eclipse

A science phenomenon also inspired Americans to come together. Dubbed the “Great American Eclipse,” the solar eclipse on August 21 was the first to be visible to the entire contiguous United States since 1918. Communities held viewing events, neighborhoods hosted block parties, people shared their eclipse safety glasses with strangers, and social media users shared and discussed their eclipse experiences. Afterward, many gave their safety glasses to groups like Astronomers Without Borders, which donated them to schools in South America and Asia, where the next solar eclipse will happen.

5. Growth in Crowdfunding and Charitable Giving

Despite the uncertain political and economic climate in 2016, charitable donations rose to a new high: $390.05 billion. To really put our capacity to give in perspective, that number only reflects people who donated to official charities. It doesn’t account for crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe and YouCaring — both of which are treasure troves of heartwarming stories about strangers helping each other pay medical bills, go to college, launch businesses, and get back on their feet after tough times.

For Eliza O’Neill, crowdfunding has literally been a lifesaver. Last year, 6-year-old Eliza became the first person to receive an experimental gene therapy for a rare degenerative disease called Sanfilippo syndrome, or “childhood Alzheimer’s.” When Eliza was diagnosed in 2013, a gene therapy that worked in mice had been developed, but researchers didn’t have adequate funding for human trials. The O’Neill family raised more than $1.8 million for clinical trials through the “Saving Eliza” GoFundMe campaign. Today, Eliza’s condition continues to improve, and the O’Neills have set a goal to raise $4 million to help treat other children. Thanks to the generosity and kindness of people all over the world, they’re already more than halfway there.

Check out more from Hello Humankindness to find other inspiring stories about social cohesion and the healing power of coming together.