This debut memoir about Thomas-McMillan’s campaigns to raise awareness of hunger and abolish the death penalty also serves as a practical guide to volunteerism.
Thomas-McMillan’s was a large African-American family in rural Alabama. She roots her devotion to community service in one seemingly tiny event: she helped her grandmother with some household chores and refused pay for it. From then on, she recalls, “I was a joy junkie. I was hooked on that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you have recognized another person’s value, not with words but with a small token of kindness.” For example, while walking home from her grandparents’ house at age 12, she waved and smiled at a Cadillac coming down the street; the passengers, a middle-aged white couple, stopped to thank her for her friendliness and gave her a half-dollar. A college dropout, Thomas-McMillan bounced between various jobs in California before a severe earthquake prompted her move back to Alabama. For the past 17 years, she has committed her meager resources to combatting hunger by donating meals to the elderly and college students through her nonprofit food bank. Equally opposed to capital punishment, Thomas-McMillan completed several awareness-raising treks, including a two-month walk to Washington, D.C., in 2005. Her Southern upbringing is enlivened by funny, folksy stories, a pattern she continues in Part 2—the book’s highlight—comprising journal entries from the road to Washington. While averaging 15 to 20 miles a day, she was plagued by dogs, snakes, and the breakdown of her support van. By punctuating her thoughts with radio song lyrics and ending each entry with short prayers or Bible verses, she creates the feeling of a modern-day religious pilgrimage. A short third section of additional information on Thomas-McMillan’s work with the Innocence Project might have been combined with Part 1, while Part 4 is full of pithy, unnecessary anecdotes about people she has helped, such as “Peanut Brittle Man.” The acts of kindness might be random, but the book’s structure need not be; it’s too long and tails off, though the epilogue contains useful tips on where to start helping.
A somewhat scattered but ultimately heartwarming story of fighting for justice.