A man inspired to do something in response to the racist and homophobic attack on an openly gay black actor has seen a ripple effect in good deeds he said he hopes will combat the hate that helped make such an assault possible.
Like many across the country, Jon Barrett, 50, learned Tuesday that Jussie Smollett was beaten as he left a restaurant in Chicago in what police said was an apparently targeted attack being investigated as a possible hate crime.
Smollett, who plays an openly gay character on ‘Empire,’ told police one of the suspects yelled “Aren’t you that f****** ‘Empire’ n*****?” before the attack, during which they poured bleach on him and wrapped a rope around his neck.
“I thought it was awful and horrific and I went home that evening still thinking about it,” Barrett told InsideEdition.com.
He took to social media, and saw a friend suggested taking a proactive approach to rail against the attack.
“They wrote, ‘if you are disturbed or upset about this … send LGBT-related books to one of your old schools,’” Barrett, 50, said.
As luck would have it, the American Library Association’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table had just released the Rainbow Book List, its “annual bibliography of quality books with significant and authentic GLBTQ content, which are recommended for people from birth through 18 years of age.”
So Barrett reached out to the librarian at his junior high school in Idaho and offered to donate $100 worth of books from the Rainbow List to the school’s library.
“I'm a former, former, former … student (early 80s) who still has a vivid memory of being called ‘fag’ as I walked down the hall in 7th grade,” Barrett wrote in his email. “I never felt unsafe, but I always knew that the school library was a safe space.”
The incident wasn’t a reflection on the school, Barrett said, but he felt it important to include the recollection as an example of the pain he endured as a gay adolescent.
“What happened in Chicago [to Smollett] was totally different to people calling me a fag,” Barrett stressed. “Seventh, 8th grade, regardless of what you’re going through is awful. Mine just happened to be that I am gay, and everyone was realizing at the same time I was [and] declaring it before I was ready.”
He sent the email and set out to go about his day, not sure what sort of response he’d receive, or if he’d even get one at all. But before long, he received a heartfelt response that left him emotional.
Barrett said the librarian thanked him for his offer and said she would be honored to accept the donation.
“When I became a teacher and later a school librarian, probably my #1 priority was to make every bit of the school that I could influence, safe for all of my students,” she wrote in an email to Barrett that he shared with InsideEdition.com.
Noting the library has several books on the Rainbow List, she shared how happy she was to work in a school that “seems to openly and vocally embrace and support all of its students, no matter where they fall on the LGBTQIAP+ spectrum.
“Thank you so much for reaching out, and for finding something constructive to do with all of the awfulness we encounter in the world,” she continued in the email. “Fighting evil with love and generosity is, I think, what will make the difference in the end. I hope you have a really great day.”
InsideEdition.com has reached out to the librarian for comment.
Barrett shared his experience on Facebook, where friends noted they planned to reach out to their own alma maters.
The correspondence also inspired Barrett’s former schoolmate to inquire about sending the library books dealing with race and racism, which the librarian gratefully accepted.
“To know that there’s somebody in that space, thinking about kids like me … and clearly thinking about how to represent all of the kids … is pretty incredible,” Barrett said.
Barrett was heartened that his small gesture helped inspire others and urged others feeling the need to do something to start on a local level.
“I went to school in Chicago; I probably know the street he was on,” Barrett said. “I’ve lived in D.C., New York, LA, and I’ve never had that kind of fear, but what happened to [Smollett] makes it very real ... Doing something small, doing something with the energy, it helps.”