I was forwarded a column you wrote for Creative Loafing on April 14 titled "The Worth of A Life." In this article you tried to make a valid point that one person's life is no less valuable than another person's, no matter their race, income, or social status. The problem that is that you made that fact very blurry with your racial insinuations, especially toward Caucasian people, and people that you portrayed as being young and from families that were better off than most.
Let me introduce myself properly. My name is Luther Huffman, and I am Heather Michelle Sherrill's father (technically her stepfather). You were correct in that she was an adorable 14-year-old. She was going to the Northwest Cabarrus High School prom with the driver of the vehicle; only just as friends.
Let me make sure that you understand the Heather you described in your article. Heather did not see color in people; she held people at their character value. She had friends of all races and many of them spent the night many times in our house.
The funeral home was consumed on April 5 with people of all races and ages. They were not there just because a 14-year-old child had died; they were there because she was so well-known throughout Cabarrus and Rowan counties. They were there because she had earned their respect as a great, beautiful, caring person.
She touched so many lives in just 14 years. She attended many churches in our area because of all the friends she had. She had an impact on all the folks who met her. In fact, Heather didn't know a stranger. The first time you met her you would have thought she had known you all her life. That is just the kind of person she was and that strong character was always evident and glowing.
She was Varsity Cheerleader her freshman year at A.L. Brown High School and played on the varsity soccer team. Had she not died, her coaches believed she would have made All-Conference in soccer. She was very strong and determined when she set her mind to accomplish something.
She had such a caring spirit that we all should have. She would worry when the elderly people at church couldn't make it, and would even help them into the church. One of the kids at school said that one day she was in the bathroom crying because she and her boyfriend were having an argument and Heather walked in. She didn't know Heather, but Heather put her arm around her and said, "It will be alright -- I love you!" You just don't find many people like Heather in this world.
I could go on and on about the things that Heather accomplished in just 14 years. We should all strive to accomplish in our lives what she did. The marquee at A.L. Brown had the following posted for a week after her death: "It's not the duration of a life but its donation. Thank you Heather." I think that says it all.
The devastation this community has felt is overwhelming. Everyone has felt the impact she had, even if they didn't know her personally. Almost everyone knew someone who knew her. We had several young folks who wanted to read things they had written at her funeral. Her mother and I have been overwhelmed at the number of kids who continue to come to our house who miss her so much. They are having such a difficult time understanding why she died. Her mother and I can't understand why she had to die, why she had to die that day, and why she had to die that way. I guess there is no earthly answer so we will have to wait until we see her again.
Her friend Megan G., who is a cheerleader as well and read her eulogy at the funeral, comes over every day just trying to cope with her loss of a great friend. Anna S., another cheerleader, comes over every day as well just trying to understand. They are both here to help her mother and I deal with her death, and they have been a blessing. They read your article and quickly said that you shouldn't have included Heather's name in such a misguided context.
Heather's value of people crossed all boundaries. She never cared what color you were, what size house you lived in, whether you could cheerlead, what your grades were, what car your drove; she valued people on their character. I am 40 years old, and Heather has shown me the person that I want to be when I grow up. I only pray that I can have a fraction of the impact on people for the rest of my life that she had in 14 years.
I think that when you write an article such as the one you wrote, you should be careful not to ignore your journalistic responsibility. I realize that political correctness is important to some, but not to the majority of people. It only angers folks and doesn't help the problems that most people have with one another and that Heather was able to overcome.
Your intent was excellent; all life has the same value. When one person is able to achieve and contribute to society the way Heather Michelle Sherrill was able to do in 14 years, her name cannot be used in an article that started off with good intent and was turned into a social and racial issue. She would have told you this herself.
Try to see the good in people. Try to value life. It's not fair that the media plays some stories to its maximum potential and hardly recognizes others. But remember that when someone has contributed so much, it deserves recognition.
I hope you get my point and I hope you can see your way through the racial and social boundaries and write about the point you made; the worth of each life is the same -- period. The social impact of a life is what that person made of it.
Sincerely, Luther Huffman
Tara Servatius Replies:
I appreciate Mr. Huffman's letter, which shares the point of the "Worth of A Life" column -- every life is valuable. His stepdaughter's death was indeed a tragedy, as were the other untimely deaths we mentioned in the column. My critique was of the media's responses to these tragedies. Unfortunately, because the race, age and physical attractiveness of auto accident victims seems to determine how much media coverage, if any, such deaths attract, the public has no idea if those who weren't eulogized by the media led valuable lives as well.
I repeat the last paragraph of the column, which sums up my feelings:
Please understand that I am not making light of the tragic accidents or the loss of life of anyone's family members or friends, but the kind of coverage we've seen surrounding these senseless deaths leaves me feeling a little grimy -- not because of what it says about the subjects, but because of what it implies about the value of the lives of those who died unknown.