Profootballtalk.com, New York, NY – The Atlanta Falcons chose former University of Pittsburgh running back Qadree Ollison in the fifth round of this year’s National Football League (NFL) draft. Ollison is no stranger to news headlines not only because of his all-star performance at Pitt and his entry into the NFL, but also because of his personal story of forgiveness.
On Oct.14, 2017, a Saturday when Ollison was playing in a football game at Pitt, his 35-year-old brother Lerowne “Rome” Harris was shot and killed outside a gas station in Niagara Falls, NY. Police soon arrested Denzel Lewis for the murder based on security camera footage that clearly showed Lewis shooting Harris three times.
Lewis later pleaded guilty and at his sentencing hearing last August he was shocked, as was the entire courtroom, to learn that Ollison forgave him for killing his brother. Since he was unable to personally attend the hearing, Ollison wrote a letter that was read aloud at the hearing by his father:
“When I heard what happened, I was devastated like most would be when they hear that their brother’s life was taken. During that time, though, I didn’t feel an ounce of hate for whoever had did it.
Every single life is precious, no matter what they’ve done. I truly believe that. I truly believe that God hand-crafted and molded each one of us and gave us this life. We are all his children. We are all sons, and we are all daughters….
Now here I am, and I have this choice to hate you or not. I choose not to. I don’t hate you, Denzel. I hate what you did, most certainly. But I still think your life is just as precious as the next person’s. No life means more than another’s. None of us are perfect.
I can’t hate one of God’s children. I truly hope and pray that you get better from this. I hope that this time is what you need and what makes you love and not hate.”
At Canisius High School in Buffalo, NY, a Catholic college-preparatory school, Ollison set school records for rushing yards (4,117) and touchdowns (57) during his football career there. He was a two-time Class AA all-state selection and shared Buffalo News Player of the Year honors with teammate Ryan Hunter (now an offensive lineman for the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs) after Canisius went undefeated and won the state championship his junior year.
Regarded as the top running back prospect in the state as a senior, Ollison had 14 Division I college scholarship offers when he committed to Pitt. After redshirting his first season, Ollison continued his success as soon as he hit the field for the Panthers. Coming in for an injured starter, Ollison, ran for 207 yards on 16 carries (all in the second half), a record for a Pitt freshman in a season opener.
Ollison was named Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year and became the fifth Pitt freshman to achieve a 1,000-yard season. In an effort to pay tribute to his brother, Ollison switched to a No. 30 jersey for his final year of eligibility at Pitt. No. 30 was the number Harris used to wear as a youth football player. Ollison gained 1,213 yards and scored 11 touchdowns on 194 carries in that jersey.
Yet perhaps even more impressive than Ollison’s ability as a 6-foot-1, 232-pound running back, now at the professional level, is his willingness to make forgiveness a priority.
Following a May 8, 2019 news article about Ollison’s act of forgiveness on the website Profootballtalk.com, an NBC Sports affiliate, a reader identified only as “mjtn” commented:
“Having forgiveness in one’s heart instead of hatred is a rare and highly admirable occurrence. The world would clearly be a better place if we could all live in such a way. This young man is wise beyond his years and already a role model. I thank him for showing the rest of us that it can be done.”
- Falcons rookie Qadree Ollison expresses forgiveness to his brother’s killer
- Atlanta Falcons rookie RB Qadree Ollison chooses forgiveness over hatred after brother’s murder
- Football, family and forgiveness: Qadree Ollison overcoming obstacles to honor late brother at Pitt
With mid-morning temperatures approaching 86° on Palm Sunday in April 2017, the security guard at St. Mark’s Cathedral in the seaside Mediterranean city of Alexandria, Egypt, approached and redirected a young man rushing for the church’s main entrance. Seconds later, the bomb strapped to the man’s body detonated, killing both him and the guard while dozens inside the church were spared harm by the guard’s quick actions.
Just days later, after the bomber had been identified as an ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) terrorist, the widow of that security guard was interviewed by an Egyptian television station. As she pulled her young children close to her side she announced:
“I’m not angry at the one who did this. I’m telling him, ‘May God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, we forgive you.’
“You put my husband in a place I couldn’t have dreamed of.”
While millions of Egyptians across the country marveled at what the grieving woman said, it was far from the first time in recent history that Coptic Christians have expressed forgiveness rather than revenge.
A 2011 New Year’s Eve attack in Alexandria’s Church of Two Saints killed 23 Coptics, for example. In February 2015, the Islamic State in Libya kidnapped and beheaded 21 mostly Coptic Christians on the shores of Tripoli.
A December 2016 attack at a chapel of the flagship St. Mark’s cathedral in Cairo killed 29 mostly women and children–the deadliest terrorism attack against Egyptian Christians until attacks at two Coptic Orthodox churches in Egypt’s Nile Delta killed more than 45 people and injured more than 100 others during Palm Sunday services in 2017.
But even in death, the Copts forgive. While Egypt’s president pledged retaliation following those tragedies, Coptic Christians continued to spread their message of forgiveness and love..
On the night of the Palm Sunday bombings, for example, Coptic priest Fr. Boules George said he thanks and loves those who did this crime. Speaking to a congregation in Cairo’s Cleopatra neighborhood, he first addressed the terrorists and said:
“I long to talk to you about our Christ, and tell you how wonderful he is.” But then he asked those in the church, “How about we make a commitment today to pray for them? If they know that God is love and they experience his love, they could not do these things—never, never, never.”(Watch Fr. George’s entire sermon including his explanation of why he thanks the terrorists, at this video link with subtitles.)
The Coptic Orthodox Church is one of the most ancient churches in the world, founded in the first century in Egypt by Saint Mark the Apostle during the reign of the Roman emperor Nero. A conservative Church that shares many beliefs and practices with both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, it has carefully preserved the Orthodox Christian faith in its earliest form. Today the Church has 18-22 million members worldwide with more than 75% of them in Egypt–the country’s largest Christian denomination.
Learn more at:
• Forgiveness: Muslims Moved as Coptic Christians Do the Unimaginable
• Libya’s 21 Christian Martyrs: “With Their Blood, They Are Unifying Egypt”
• ISIS Church Bombings Kill Dozens at Palm Sunday Services in Egypt
This article was inspired by a blog post titled “The Scandal of Forgiveness in a Time of Terror” by R. H. (Rusty) Foerger on his website More Enigma Than Dogma. In his post, Foerger asks if forgiveness is ever wasted. He answers his own question with this: “On the surface I suppose forgiveness is a losing game; so is terrorism and retaliation. But go deeper and you will find forgiveness comes from a endless well – available for an ocean of need.”
I have heard the term “false forgiveness,” but I am not sure what it is and how can I make a clear distinction between the false variety and the real thing?
False forgiveness in essence is not about a moral response to someone who has hurt you. It is more about power than leveling the moral playing field (seeing the other and the self as precious, unique, special, and irreplaceable). There are two kinds of power-plays that someone practicing false forgiveness might show: 1) dominating the other person by constantly reminding him or her that, indeed, you have forgiven….and plan to do so tomorrow…and the next day…and the day after that. You keep the other under your thumb by reminding them of how noble you are and how ignoble they are; 2) being dominated by the other person by giving in to unreasonable demands, hastily reconciling, letting the other have power over you. True forgiveness is gentle and kind, honoring the humanity of the other person and the self. It does not dominate or allow others to dominate in a relationship.
For additional information, see What is Forgiveness?
In March of 2014, we posted a reflection here in which we encouraged you to grow in love as your legacy of 2014.
The challenge was this: Give love away as your legacy of 2014.
We challenged you again in 2015…..and 2016……and we kept going.
Our challenge to you now is this: Give love away as your legacy of 2019.
One way to start is by looking backward at one incident of 2019 so far. Please think of one incident with one person in which you were loved unconditionally, perhaps even surprised by a partner or a parent or a caring colleague.
Think of your reaction when you felt love coming from the other and you felt love in your heart and the other saw it in your eyes. What was said? How were you affirmed for whom you are, not necessarily for something you did? What was the other’s heart like, and yours?
Can you list some specific, concrete ways in which you have chosen love over indifference? Love over annoyance? If so, what are those specifics and how are they loving? We ask because 2019 will be 50% over as we move through June. Have you engaged in 50% of all the loving responses that you will leave in this world this year?
Tempus fugit. If you have not yet deliberately left love in the world this year, there is time…..and the clock is ticking.
How can I introduce forgiveness into my own family. I am a mother of three children, ages 6, 8, and 11.
We have forgiveness education curriculum guides here at the International Forgiveness Institute, Inc. for children age 4 all the way up to adolescents ages 17 to 18. We help children and adolescents first understand forgiveness through stories, which are part of these curricula. You might consider once a week having a “Forgiveness Hour” in which you use the lessons from our curriculum guides. You also might consider even a 15 minute Family Forgiveness Forum once a week in which you discuss your own themes of forgiveness that week: How you are working on forgiving, what you are doing concretely to forgive, and how this is going for you.
For additional information, see: Forgiveness Makes Kids Happier.