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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

July 03, 1994|ERIKA TAYLOR

A GATHERING OF HEROS: Reflections on Rage and Responsibility, A Memoir of the Los Angeles Riots by Gregory Alan-Williams (Academy Chicago Publishers: $18.95; 205 pp.) What makes a hero? How does a person decide to stand up for what they believe is right? "From the first blow the driver had been unable to protect himself. He was battered about like a sad puppet, his movements subject solely to the direction and momentum of his assailant's rage . . . the man . . . slumped forward onto the steering wheel. Immediately, he was driven backward to an upright position by several more blows to the head."

Gregory Alan-Williams was one of many people to witness that scene during the Los Angeles riots of April 29, 1992. And he was one of the few to do something about it. Williams walked though the mob assembled at the corner of Florence and Normandie, pulled the anonymous man, an Asian-American, from his vehicle, and somehow managed to drag him to safety. This is the kind of guy you want on your side.

In "A Gathering of Heroes," Williams describes the events of that day in detail and sets them against the background of his own life. It's not a remarkable life, nor does he seem, on the surface, to be a remarkable man. Yet clearly the mixture of kindness, sorrow, anger and spirituality that are so evident in Williams' writing seems to have propelled him to perform a remarkable act. This book doesn't really provide any new information about racism, rage or responsibility, nor is the prose anything stronger than adequate. Williams' strength lies in making a reader feel that the seed of heroism, of true greatness, lives in all of us. We just need to find it.

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