Antonio Gwynn Jr. marched for hours in downtown Buffalo to protest the killing of George Floyd. He then went home to get some sleep and watch videos of the nationwide protests on YouTube.
The high school senior was shocked the next day, May 30, to see that his hometown’s peaceful streets had turned violent after he left. There was a confrontation between protesters and US marshals in front of the federal courthouse; windows were smashed at downtown businesses; protesters reported that they had been hit by police rubber bullets.
“I was sad to watch all of that. There was a huge mess downtown,” Gwynn said. “I thought, ‘I should go down there and clean it all up.'”
He had rented a small U-Haul truck several days earlier to move some belongings into a house he had rented from his aunt. At 2 a.m. on June 1, he tossed a broom, a dustpan, and two large boxes of garbage bags into the back of the truck and headed to Bailey Avenue, where much of the damage had occurred.
“I decided to start at one end and make my way down the street,” he said. “It was pretty quiet, and I thought maybe I could finish cleaning it up before people started going to work.”
Gwynn swept up broken glass, discarded protest signs, and litter, working through morning until noon. He cleaned about seventeen blocks, filling nearly two dozen trash bags, most of which he took home and set on his curb in time for his neighborhood’s garbage pickup.
A few hours later, he was stunned to discover that his good deed was all over Facebook.
“When I woke up and saw I was getting all these texts and tags thanking me, I couldn’t believe it,” Gwynn said. “It was the biggest surprise ever.”
Buffalo resident Nicole Hopkins had seen Gwynn hard at work early that morning, snapped a few pictures, then put them on her Facebook page. She told his story, then added: “I learned he is 18, a soon to be graduate of Hutch Tech, with aspirations of attending college. If we can pay for his books, a MacBook, or at least one semester of college for this brave young man, his generosity and kindness will be the change we wish to see in the world.”
The post quickly went viral. When one man learned that Gwynn didn’t have a car, he offered his 2004 Ford Mustang. Another person offered to insure it. Others set up a GoFundMe account that brought in more than $5,800 to help Gwynn pay some of his expenses while living on his own for the first time. The fundraiser passed its goal of $5,000 and is no longer active.
The biggest surprise, according to Gwynn, came from Medaille College in Buffalo. When administrators heard on the local news that he hoped one day to start his own auto repair shop and cleaning company, they presented him with a four-year scholarship so he could begin business classes this fall.
Gwynn said, “It was unbelievable. I didn’t do this for any attention. I just didn’t want people to have to drive through all that trash on the street.”
His youth pastor is not surprised by Gwynn’s sacrificial service: “That’s just the kind of kid he is. He’s always been a peaceful person, wanting to see that others are taken care of.”
Gwynn noted: “Violence is pointless. It doesn’t help anything, and it doesn’t change anything. I was happy to help out, and I’m really surprised by the attention. I’m just really grateful for everybody’s support.”
How one person’s compassion can change the culture
When we serve without seeking attention, our humility is often noticed. A secular culture that prizes celebrity and self-promotion is touched by those who pursue neither.
God’s word is clear: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10). Such compassion emulates the One who “came not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45).
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. noted: “Everyone can be great, because anybody can serve.”
How will you be great today?