This is not a feel-good story.

Of course, it’s easy to see why it has been positioned as one. Certainly, it contains all the elements: vulnerable people, heart-rending need, someone going above and beyond.

But this is not a feel-good story.

Not to mock or cast aspersions on the noble thing that has brought Henry Darby to national attention in the last few days. For those who missed it, he is the principal of North Charleston High School in North Charleston, South Carolina, where the median household income is $45,000 against a national average of $68,000, and it is said that 90 percent of the student body lives below the poverty line.

As might be expected from those numbers, life is a struggle for many of Darby’s students. “I get a little emotional,” he told NBC’s “Today” show, “because when you’ve got children you’ve heard sleep under a bridge or a former student and her child that’s sleeping in a car or you go to a parent’s house because there’s problems, and you knock on the door, there are no curtains and you see a mattress on the floor. ... And these people need, and I wasn’t going to say No.”

Darby was flagged to NBC’s attention by Walmart. It seems the principal took a job at the local store, stocking shelves on the overnight shift — 10 to 7 — three nights a week, in order to make money to help his students and their families. All this, in addition to serving on the county council. The story has since been picked up by CNN, People and various newspapers and TV news outlets. A GoFundMe page set up on his behalf stands at $158,000 at this writing.

It’s a story that made CNN’s Anderson Cooper say, “Wow.” Which was surely apropos. NBC’s Craig Melvin called it “remarkable.” And that, too, is fitting. Indeed, if your heartstrings aren’t tugged hard by this, you might want to see a cardiologist. Darby offers a stirring example of selflessness in action. He embodies the Greco-Christian ideal of agape love.

But no, this is not a feel-good story.

Because, what does it say about us as a country that he must go to such extraordinary lengths? What does it say about the priorities of the world’s richest nation that its teachers must routinely dip into their own purses and pockets to provide classroom necessities? What does it tell you about the importance we place on our children when government can always find money to give another tax cut to rich people and corporations, yet working-class people must march and protest to secure a living wage?

Before Ronald Reagan passed legislation that pushed mentally ill people into the streets and slashed federal affordable-housing subsidies, homelessness was a subject relegated to history-book chapters on the Great Depression. Now, a high school principal finds that some of his students live under bridges and in cars and while we celebrate his selflessness. Is anyone surprised or even much appalled at those conditions? No. Because that’s normal now.

What does that say about us?

It says that this is not a feel-good story. It’s a moral-failures story. It’s a wrong-national-priorities story. It’s an income-inequality-rich-getting-richer story. And it’s a what-in-the-world-is-wrong-with-us story, too.

Henry Darby should be spending his nights sleeping. Yet he feels compelled to spend them instead stocking Walmart shelves so that his students have food to eat and roofs over their heads. This story should make us feel many things.

“Good” is not one of them.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Miami, Fla., 33172. Readers may contact him via email at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

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(16) comments

Airball55

Wow...where to start. Well we aren't the worlds richest nation...so there is the first place. I commend the person in the article for his hard work...As for Leonard Pitts....well, he never gets the full story but that's his job. I also found it interesting that Anderson Cooper went "wow". LOL, when you have inherited your riches, spew daily hate and really have nothing else to add to society...I suppose his reaction means little to nothing. There are a lot of "wows" today out there. Struggling, working hard. Anderson don't give a rats behind about them. Tokenism

KRobbins

Apparently some people’s tribalism outweighs their humanity.

Pitbull

That is a typical ruse of the Democrats. If you don't think like me,, you dont possess mercy and humanity. People are lifted out of poverty by being taught "how to fish", not "heres free stuff, go ahead and get hooked on it." Yes, many people need free stuff in the short run and then they need to be taught the rules of getting your own stuff. But this is not what is happening with our welfare system. We are constantly adding to the numbers of people dependent on the government.

hermit thrush

of course you don't have a shred of evidence to back this up.

Pitbull

What kind of "evidence" do you desire, hermit? Maybe that's part of the problem. Common sense becomes captive to "evidence". Certainly, I can offer failure as "evidence". Lyndon Johnson's Great Society didn't work. So....why don't we accept that as "evidence" that we should try something new?

hermit thrush

i mean whatever evidence you think supports your case. show me a link. show me someone making the case that people would be better off without the great society programs than with them. meanwhile i'll be waiting for you to throw your medicare card away.

Pitbull

Typical Leonard Pitts. This is a feel good story. Why did Jesus say, "You will always have the poor..."? Well, essentially because this is a fallen world. Stop being a Negative Ned, Lenny. The fact that the principal is everybody's pal is that he has a good heart. It has nothing to do with politics or Ronald Reagan. One really great thing about this is that he was griping about Reagan, not Trump.

hermit thrush

it is a bit stupefying that anyone could so badly miss the point of the column.

zeitgeist

Pitbull, when Jesus said "The poor you will always have with you," he didn't intend his words to cancel everything he said about justice, generosity, love, and mercy. You can interpret his words to mean that poverty is a losing battle, meriting disregard, passivity and inaction. That way, you can go on your merry Pitbull way.

Eagle24

Nothing to do with politics..??? "government can always find money to give another tax cut to rich people".... Proverbs..."Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him."

Pitbull

Hermit, Zeit, and Eagle: How is the Great Society going? (drop mike) I rest my case.

hermit thrush

hilarious. the great society has done a lot of good!

JohnMcElroy

Going to be a rough 4 years listening to democrats cry and cry. They got the government back, except for the judicial branch but they continue to cry. Oy vey.

hermit thrush

this is such a terrible comment which reveals a terrible mentality in its writer. are you seriously suggesting that just because someone's political team wins, they're supposed to start ignoring the very real problems that exist in society?

zeitgeist

Seems JohnMcElroy equates winning with power when it's actually service-- the action of helping, doing, meeting public needs, etc. Service, for John, equates to crying.

rdsouth

It's part of the system. In communist countries nobody does good work because they are guaranteed jobs no matter what. Here we see people living under bridges and children starving and it motivates us to excellence in our own work so that doesn't become us and our children. Thus there is eager competition between workers, inspiring them to work harder and better for less. Many businesses depend on desperately poor workers willing to do anything for a buck. When government gets in the way of cultivating that sort of environment, government makes us all poorer by making the job creators poorer. But of course we don't have to cultivate a worker motivating environment, it's a natural outgrowth of the market driven system. We should never think in terms of planning social outcomes, even for a good cause like increasing wealth inequality, because that would be to lose faith in the invisible hand. The invisible hand, unfettered, will naturally make most people poor and a lucky few rich so that businesses are successful even if they are poorly run. That's good old capitalist ideology.

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