Forgiveness was not Placerville’s strong suit during the Gold Rush when it earned the moniker “Old Hangtown.”
On Saturday, Jan. 29, Placerville will be back on the map — not as a town of swift justice, but as a place of transformation.
A powerful program “From Hate to Hope,” an interactive presentation normally seen only at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles will take place at the Federated Church, 1031 Thompson Way, from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.
“This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime event,” said Matt Huckabay, executive director of the Center for Violence-free Relationships in Placerville. “I’ve been carrying this notion, but I always knew it would happen … I have John Lennon’s words right on my desk: ‘You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one …’ — when the opportunity presented itself, I knew that we could make a connection for the common good.”
In fact, Davida Wills Hurwin, the author of “Freaks and Revelations” as well as the characters who inspired the program and book, Matthew Boger and Tim Zaal, will all be in Placerville this Saturday. A $25 contribution includes the book donated by the publisher Houghlin Brown, the presentation and a light brunch at Federated Church, and people are encouraged to obtain their tickets in advance.
Tales of redemption abound in literature, but Hurwin’s book is based on truth. Both the book and the presentation are extremely compelling. The book is based on the remarkable true story of Boger and Zaal, the victim and the perpetrator of a hate crime many years ago. Meeting by chance much later in life, the two reconciled, creating a panorama of hope for anyone who has ever hated, whether as a bully or a victim.
“Their one in a million chance meeting and unbelievable friendship will inspire you,” said Oprah Winfrey when the story was featured on her show.
But in Placerville, people will be able to get to know the full story, and they will participate in an interactive discussion about the power of forgiveness.
For Boger, 44, being able to forgive was pivotal in his growth as a human being. Actually kicked out of his mother’s home at the age of 13, Boger went on to have a difficult life that he was eventually able to turn around — due to the power of love.
“Without forgiveness, we are held hostage,” said Boger, who had a lot to forgive.
The message of tolerance is priceless, for intolerance can be a cruel undercurrent in society; ingrained hatred for other races, cultures, life styles etc. can create a ripple effect, undermining the ideals of peaceful coexistence.
“It is important that we don’t narrow the vision,” Huckabay said. “People can be destroyed by words; when we don’t stand up for our beliefs, we are active bystanders. Silence helps the oppressors.”
This Saturday, Boger, Zaal and Hurwin become a big voice for hope, tolerance and forgiveness. But they couldn’t do it alone.
Neighbors step in
The Center for Violence-free Relationships and the Federated Church are sponsoring the event, but it took a coming together of many forces, including the availability of the author, both protagonists and a venue where the presentation could be held.
When Huckabay had the vision of this event, one obstacle was having a place big enough to accomodate an event of this magnitude.
Then the Neighbors Group at Federated Church stepped in.
“We thought: why not have it at the church?” said Pam Hogan, the voice of the Neighbors Group. The Neighbors Group’s goal is to make everyone welcome at Federated Church.
“Having this event at Federated is a huge step, which highlights our goals for tolerance and acceptance,” Hogan asserted. “We welcome and honor everyone.”
Perhaps part of the courage of the church is to extend the welcome to lifestyles not readily accepted in evangelistic circles. The reason that Boger was beat up and left for dead so many years ago was that he was perceived to be gay.
Whether Boger is gay or not is beside the point. He had admitted his alternative lifestyle to his mother, who rejected him. But as a teenager, it was merely assumption that led Zaal and his gang to ravage the youth.
“From Hate to Hope” also addresses prejudices and presumptions based on ignorance. Whether Boger was gay or not, there was no cause for violence and retribution.
Proceeds from the presentation will benefit the Center for Violence-free Relationships. Zia’s is donating coffee and hot chocolate and the Neighbor’s Group is providing pastry, fruit and yogurt and the venue for the riveting program. Cell phones are to be turned off, and there is absolutely no recording or filming of the program allowed.
Meet and greet at Zia’s
Besides the presentation at the Federated Church, there will be also a “Meet and Greet” plus booksigning at Zia’s, 312 Main St., Suite. 101, Placerville, from 2-4 p.m. on Saturday.
In fact, Boger, who lives in El Dorado, used to work at Zia’s, where owner Shari Fulton fondly refers to him as “a very special prior staff member who is somewhat of a celebrity.”
Throughout Boger’s time of working at Zia’s, most people did not know that the sweet, personable barista had such a story. When Fulton saw Boger’s résumé, which included his stint as executive director at the Museum of Tolerance, she wondered why he would want to be a barista.
Love and pride
“It’s about loving what you do. No matter what your job, you can take pride in your service,” Boger said. He had been a hairdresser in Los Angeles when he began volunteering at the Museum of Tolerance.
Fulton affirms that Boger, who now lives in El Dorado, was a wonderful employee. Since then, Hurwins’s book was published, and the story was featured on the Oprah Winfrey show and other programs.
“I’m a rock star now,” Boger exclaimed, charmingly pointing out his cool black leather and patent jacket. He looks young for his age, and he has an engaging boyishness and good humor that makes his story even more compelling. He’s just a regular guy, someone you’d enjoy meeting and greeting anywhere.
A synchronistic meeting
Hagen had just received her copy of “Freaks and Revelations” in the mail when she happened to be in a downtown shop, DragonFlys. She looked up, and thought that she recognized Boger. It was him, and she got her book signed right away.
The chance meeting ended up to be serendipitous when the community got a chance to feature Boger’s story; the Neighbor’s Group was ready and willing to do whatever they could to promote the love and understanding featured in “Freaks and Revelations” and “From Hate to Hope.”
“When you start reading this book you just can’t put it down,” enthused Huckabay, who experienced some bullying himself in grade school, just because he was perceived as different.
“All of a sudden I felt that this is an important work. You know, every single religion has a core belief of tolerance and forgiveness; it’s a basic universal truth,” Huckabay said.
That this whole event came to fruition is quite miraculous. “We just feel like it was all meant to come together,” Hagen said.
It is said that love and hate are two sides of the same coin. “From Hate to Hope” illuminates that truth, and may empower people to recognize the need for standing up for the rights of others and ourselves.
For more information on the event or to reserve tickets, call the Center for Violence-free Relationships at 530-626-1450, Tony Matthews at 530-626-9161 or Federated Church at 530-622-5226.
What: Interactive presentation, “From Hate to Hope” and book signing
Who: Davida Wills Hurwin, Matthew Boger and Tim Zaal
Where: The Federated Church, 1131 Thompson Way, Placerville
When: Saturday Jan. 29, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m
Cost: $25 (includes book and light brunch)
Information: 622-5226, 626-1450, 626-9161