Forgiveness Forges Friendship
One innocent black man. One white cop hell-bent on getting a conviction. What happened next?
On Jan. 19, Taurus Montgomery, pastor of the Harbor to Hope Seventh-day Adventist Church in Benton Harbor, Michigan, introduced the chapel audience to two individuals who were to share their conjoined tale of how they found forgiveness in the darkest moments of their lives, a lesson that could be learned in the midst of racial division across the country on the eve of a president with a questionable record on race being sworn into the highest office in the nation.
In 2005, Jameel McGee was at a local convenience store when a white police officer named Andrew Collins stopped him under the assumption that he had possession of illegal drugs. Even though McGee didn’t have anything on him, he was tried and found guilty of drug-related crimes. Wrongfully convicted and facing 10 years in prison for something in which he was never involved, McGee said he became an “unapproachable” figure who wanted to fight, often isolating himself further each day from the grips of humanity and God’s message that was waiting to be transmitted as soon as he would pick up the call.
Reflecting on his previous persona while bound in the shackles of no man’s land, McGee said, “It was rough, and painful… I became a different person.”
After three years of trying to surf the waves of hurt and frustration he felt for being locked up, McGee said he was desperate for change to come. According to McGee, an “awakening” had come to him one day, as he lay as a broken, suffering man who “had no voice,” so he grabbed a Bible. At 21 years of age, he gave his life to Christ so that not only could the pain he felt could be taken away, but also so his heart would change as well. McGee said that as time passed, his heart and mindset played a critical role in how he was able to survive the rest of his prison sentence, which would come to an end sooner than he knew.
While McGee was suffering in prison, Andrew Collins was a star Berrien County police officer. According to Collins, while he was caught up in all the glory and fame of all his achievements and not watching his actions, Collins was caught red-handed in his office with possession of illegal drugs, which led to his immediate termination from the police force.
After spending time in a criminal psychiatric inpatient ward, Collins, like McGee, eventually was prompted to give his life to God.
Collins said, “Day one, I got caught. Day two, I thought of suicide, and day three I went to see a pastor.”
According to Collins, this pastor prayed over him, and urged him to do the right thing and come clean, for Collins knew he was the reason why an innocent man was suffering in prison.
After speaking with the pastor, Collins turned himself into the FBI and showed them all of the cases he said were “dirty.”McGee’s was one of them; it was taken to a judge, and after spending three years in prison, McGee’s conviction was overturned. Collins would later spend 18 months in prison for his crimes.
When McGee and Collins were released from prison, they coincidentally encountered each other at a faith-based community event in Benton Harbor, and as McGee expressed forgiveness towards Collins, the encounter prompted closure between the two men. Years later, they would coincidentally cross paths again due to the Benton Harbor faith-based employment agency Mosaic, where Collins was asked to serve as McGee’s mentor. Today, the two travel near and far, speaking on their stories and the power of God’s love, as they did at Andrews University.
Overall, students responded positively to McGee and Collins’ presentation. Sarah Brockett (sophomore, communications) voiced her appreciation for the interactive nature of their presentation.
Brockett said, “I appreciated the fact that this chapel was very interactive and showed both perspectives on racial issues. Sometimes we are ignorant towards either side. I truly believe that God was evident in their story.”
Christovia Culmer (junior, medical laboratory science) said that Jan. 19’s chapel was “one I’ve never had before.”
Culmer added, “It made me realize how important and powerful forgiveness is. This time I actually witnessed it, and not just heard stories about it. There are not much people in the world willing to forgive simple sins, let alone one that big.”