I reconnected with some old friends today on Facebook. While I had not talked to them in years, I’ve talked about them many many times. Many of the people that have gone through my Taekwondo school will remember the story, if not the names. I’ve cried a lot because of Lee and Becky Coon and their son Michael. I’ve cried every time I’ve told their story to a school gym filled with kids. I’ve cried when I told the story to Steve, to Keely and her friends. I’ve cried buckets of tears today as I wrote this blog.
There are some people that make a huge impact on your life. A skinny teenage boy with big ears changed my life forever.
Michael Coon was very quiet, very polite. He got that from his dad Lee and his mom Becky. Well, Lee was pretty quiet, Becky kind of balanced the quiet with the gift of gab. They all were students at my taekwondo school when I bought it. Michael was in our instructor program for a while, and then he hit those teenage years when time gets so precious. He was involved in activities at school and church, and the drive from Redfield to Little Rock in the evenings became too much. But his dad Lee still worked out with us when he could during the day, and the family would stop by and say hi when they were in the area. A great family.
I’m going to tell you the story, but I’ll tell you up front I’m kind of fuzzy on some of the details.
It’s been ten years, and I can’t remember who called me. I’m pretty sure it was Lee. He told me that Michael had been shot and was on the way to the hospital. Becky was on the way. They got there, and he was gone.
He was fourteen.
Michael and a couple of friends were going to go hunting. Somehow, Michael was shot. By one of his friends.
I can’t imagine the shock to Lee and Becky. They left for work that morning, a normal routine. That evening when they came home their world had been turned upside down. This story is one of the reasons that my kids always hear me tell them “I love you” before we go in our different directions. Every single time.
Lee asked that Charles and I come to the house. It was overflowing with people, there to support Becky and Lee.
Lee pulled us aside, and told us that the police had arrested Michael’s friend, the one who shot him. This was a boy that had grown up with their son, someone that they loved and had welcomed into their family. Lee was heartbroken.
He took us into Michael’s room and showed us something very special. Michael was one of the youth leaders at their church, and he had been keeping a journal. One of the last things he had written was:
“If Christ died for my sins, who am I to not forgive others?”
He told us that he and Becky felt that Michael was telling them a very important truth.
During the grieving process of losing their son, Lee and Becky comforted the other boys’ family. They visited him in jail and told him that they loved him. They stood by him. No hate. No anger. Just love and forgiveness.
I went to the memorial service for Michael. His black belt certificate was next to the casket. The church was overflowing, full of teenagers that had gone to school with Michael, full of adults that had been touched by the Coon family.
The pastor invited people to talk about their memories of Michael.
In a sea of white faces, an African American young man stood in line to speak:
“I moved here from New Orleans after Katrina. I don’t know if you guys noticed, but there are not a lot of black faces around here. I was really scared about starting a new school. Really scared. I had heard a lot of stories.
The first day I walked up to the school, there was a group of guys standing around. One of them saw me and started heading over. I thought to myself, I’m going to get beat up right now. Well, that is not what happened. Michael Coon reached out his hand to me, introduced himself, and took me over to meet his friends. He invited me to sit with him at his table at lunch. He invited me into his home. Mr. Lee and Mrs. Becky invited me into their family.
I’ll never forget him.”
The young man broke down and went to his seat. I don’t think there was a dry eye in that church. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much.
We hear a lot of talk about leadership. Martial Arts schools have programs saying that they teach it. Corporations bring in consultants to teach it.
But that skinny fourteen year old boy could teach a lot of people about leadership.
I’ve told Michael’s story to thousands of people. I’ve been in schools where the teachers couldn’t get the students to calm down, and after I’ve told Michaels story there was a hushed gym full of teenagers. I’ve talked to my students during class, and cried for the loss of this very special boy. I’ve given out the Michael Coon Leadership Award to some very special people at our annual awards ceremony.
Michael Coon touched a lot of people in the short time he was here. His legacy is one of friendship, inclusion, leadership and love.
I know that Lee and Becky think of Michael every day. But I wanted them to know that they, and their son, forever changed me. I hope they are proud of his legacy, and the impact that he, and they, have had on so many people.