Ellen DeGeneres: Taking a stand against hate in Appalachia

Ellen DeGeneres is popular with fans for her strong convictions
Ellen Degeneres/NBC

WYTHE CO., Va., March 4, 2014 — In September of 2012, two young men from southwest Virginia appeared on the season premiere of “The Ellen Show.”  Although the two very different young men have never met, they joined together to be a force for good and turned a very bad incident into a story of hope. Not only did the unknown bully get the tables turned on him, his destructive actions ended up benefiting the person he was so intent on hurting.

Jordan Addison, home for spring break from Radford University, was awakened late one night by his car alarm. Writing it off to a bear looking for food in his car, he did not give it much thought at the time. The next morning he found homophobic slurs carved onto his car, and then the bullying escalated to include more slurs, slashed tires, and finally, a broken windshield.

Addison was able to raise enough money to help pay back his aunt and uncle for the windshield and a set of used junkyard tires, but for six months the slurs carved into his car were a daily reminder of the hate that awaited him just for being born gay.

A survivor of lung cancer and ostracized by all but a few of his family, this young man was used to adversity and did not let the hateful insults deter him. He still went to class and he still volunteered with Alpha Phi Omega, Gay Straight Alliance, United Way, Roanoke Rescue Mission, Boy Scouts, Human Rights Campaign, Project Linus, Relay for Life, and Women’s Resource Center, just to name a few.

The faculty at Radford University was diligent and imaginative in seeking ways to help him, but they came up short, until Jordan’s plight was shared by a faculty member, who told a friend of Richard Henagar, Jr.’s.

Richard, better known as Junior, had been a victim of bullying as well, and he decided to take this negative situation and turn it into something very positive. Richard is not gay, but he knows first hand the effects of being bullied simply because he dances to the beat of a different drum so the plight of Jordan touched him.

A track star in high school, Richard was very much a jock, but he was anything but typical. He had friends from all the different school cliques, refusing to eliminate anyone from his circle of friends and acquaintances. He also took poetry classes and participated in choir, two of his several activities not usually associated with being a jock. This is why he was bullied: Richard dared to go against the grain of what was expected of him.

After high school, Richard did a four-year tour in the Navy, participating in “Operation Enduring Freedom” and “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” Then he returned home to help with the family business, small but very sleek, professional body shop, “Quality Auto Paint and Body” in Roanoke, Va.

How A Family Reached Out to Help

It was his family’s shop that Richard used to get Jordan’s car restored. Granny, mom, dad, and Richard, along with 10 employees and three dogs joined with local businesses not only to repair Jordan’s car but to give it some major upgrades as well.

A hundred hours of work later, they presented Jordan with his repaired car, complete with a new scratch resistant paint job, a security system, a sound system, new tires, tinted windows, and some much-needed mechanical repairs. In all, Richard estimates $10,000 was spent by his shop and other contributing local businesses to refurbish and upgrade Jordan’s car.

When asked why Richard did so much more than needed he replied, “I wanted to send a very clear message to bullies that their behavior will reward their victims and not be tolerated, in any form.”

It may sound too good to be true, but his positive attitude and acts of kindness are genuine. When asked if he has had to lay off any employees during these hard times he responded, “I’ve had my people mowing, painting, and doing anything else I can think of, but they eat before I do. I haven’t laid anyone off.”

Both young men say doing “The Ellen Show” was the experience of a lifetime and both young men were in Roanoke’s Gay Pride Parade a few weeks later. Again, Richard is a happily married straight man, but he has no tolerance for bullies no matter whom they are targeting.

Joining the two young men on “The Ellen Show” were Patrick Dempsey, Pink, and three of the women’s gymnastics Olympic gold medal team. They all made a commercial for Richard’s business and local Roanoke, Va. television station, WDBJ will air the first five for free.

Operation Pay It Forward

On the show each young man was presented a $25,000 dollar check from Cover Girl makeup as well. Jordan will use his to continue to pursue a PhD in Sociology, while Richard will put his right back into the family business, purchasing new equipment that will help make it more efficient and competitive. Jordan’s plans come as no surprise, especially from someone who routinely works 60 to 70 hours a week.

Jordan refers to Richard as that older brother just waiting to lead them both into mischief and he will be joining Richard in his venture, “Operation Pay It Forward,” in which each year a deserving individual will have their car repaired and upgraded.

A teenager from Canada who gets bullied regularly because of her Autism sent Richard an email thanking him for standing up to bullies and for giving her the courage to do the same. Richard is sending her two “No Bullying Allowed” T-shirts, donated by a local Roanoke, Va. business.

This was only one of the thousands of emails, cards, and letters applauding Richard and Jordan, so be warned bullies. In these days of global communication and camera phones, your time has passed. The conformity you so desperately try to enforce is not what made this country great. The unique individuality and energy of all our people has, and always will be, what makes America the greatest country in the world.

This article was originally published on September 18, 2012.

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I was born and educated in Southwest Virginia, traveled with my job all over America in my twenties and early thirties then came back to the mountains to raise my daughter. I’ve been employed as everything from a quality control technician in industrial construction, to a mail processing plant manager, to postmaster of a small town. I’ve been to forty nine of the fifty states, as well as many other countries. Traveling will always be a passion I indulge, and something I’ll call upon often in my writing. I come from a long line of story tellers, and will shamelessly exploit a family tree resplendent with colorful and unique characters, both past and present. In short my perspective will reflect the pride and familiarity I have of my Appalachian heritage. My stories will be a reflection of the values I believe we hold dearest here, all embellished with a healthy dose of Southern Appalachian flare.
  • Tim Kern

    Perhaps Ellen will soon address the hatred in Hollywood (for outspoken straight people, for Christians, for non-minority men in general, for conservatives).
    But this isn’t really about Ellen, is it? It’s about vandals, or called in this case, bullies. Bullies hate confrontation, and run when their force is met with force. Unless the bully is the government itself, the best way to fight that bully is to catch him in the act and administer justice, right there.
    Bullies can’t take a hit, but they surround themselves with lawyers and other bullies, and people are afraid to touch them. “Let the legal system waste years of your life, cost your life savings, and ultimately do nothing” is the advice other cowards give victims.
    Here’s my advice: catch them yourself and just touch them.

    • LIsa

      So your advice for Jordan was to spend his time trying to catch the unknown vandals, hoping he sees them in the act instead of focusing on his education and volunteer work. You think lurking in the shadows on the slight chance he may witness a crime is more important than self improvement and helping the less fortunate. Sounds like a scenario that would serve the aspirations of the bully even more than vandalizing Jordan’s property. I think everyone would prefer the act of kindness of many that gave Jordan an even better car than the one he had prior to the incident over he risk of confronting a bully.

      Your suggestion that Jordan should focus on confronting the bully and imposing his own version of justice when and if he catches him in the process would encourage violence. The bully’s intent was to inflict hardship on Jordan but his hateful actions backfired and rewarded Jordan instead.

      It sent a message to the bullies of the world that each time they choose to bully they hurt themselves more than their target. This is justice, not the violent confrontation you suggest.

      • Tim Kern

        It was nice for Jordan, but it won’t stop his bullies or any other bully.
        You’re concentrating on the victim, not the crook. Do you plan somehow to buy all future Jordans new cars, or would you rather stop the bully?

        • LIsa

          Local law enforcement and campus police couldn’t catch the bully in the act but you think a young man attending college full time while doing volunteer work for at least ten organizations is capable of doing what professionally trained law enforcement personnel failed to accomplish. Your solution is to expect every victim of bullying to confront their bully and apply their own version of justice to the situation. Your solution for ending bullying is a dream come true for bullies. For everyone else it makes the world an even less safe place than it is now.

          • Tim Kern

            OK, so you admit cops are ineffective at this. Fine. What is your solution to bullying — buying stuff for the victims? How do you STOP the bullies?

  • Nix

    Except he wasn’t “born gay”. He chose it. Just like anyone chooses the wrong behavior. There should have been no hate and abuse of him and his possessions, but his “lifestyle choice” is still wrong despite all the misguided “civil rights” poseurs who have fooled themselves into to believing otherwise.