THE MAN WHO INSPIRED THE MOVIE “RADIO” HAS DIED.
BUT HIS SPIRIT LIVES ON AMONG THOSE WITH EYES TO SEE AND EARS TO HEAR!
This past December 2019, a man named James Kennedy, who had developmental disabilities, and became famous around his hometown of Anderson, South Carolina passed away at the age of 73.
What was he “famous” for? For being such a faithful supporter, helper, and servant to the T.L. Hanna High School football team throughout the 1960s. But his presence was felt long after those years, and his life’s story was portrayed in the 2003 movie “Radio,” starring Cuba Gooding Jr. in the title role.
And this brings me to my own reflections on watching this movie a number of years back with my own—“Radio”—my good friend Stewart Brown.
The following is reprint of a section in my book, Discovering Jesus in the Least, entitled “Radio-Head of the Class.”
Radio-Head of the Class
I was watching the movie Radio, which stars Cuba Gooding Jr. and
Ed Harris. Ed Harris plays the role of a small-town high school football
coach. Cuba Gooding Jr. plays a mentally challenged young black man who
wanders the streets pushing his shopping cart and listening to his radio.
The coach starts to notice “Radio” staring through the fence as he
watches the town’s high school football team practice. The coach feels sorry
for Radio, and invites him onto the field to watch their workouts. And before
you know it, he’s giving him little tasks that assist the team during practice—
chores that make Radio feel needed and wanted.
It’s not long before Radio and the coach are good friends. He ends up not
only having a huge impact on the coach, but on all the players and students
However, some of the townspeople think it would better if Radio
did not hang around the coach so much. And before we know it, verbal
confrontations emerge between the townspeople and the coach, which only
serve to expose much of society’s attitudes towards the mentally-challenged.
Ed Harris says at the end of the movie that it’s not so much that we
taught Radio, but that Radio taught us.
“If we all treated each other half as good as Radio treats us, we’d all be
a lot better off,” says Harris.
I watched this movie with my own “Radio”—my good friend Stewart—
who is also mentally-challenged. He said he’d seen it already, and that he’d
really enjoyed it.
Still, I felt uneasy at times, thinking that he would be embarrassed at
picking up on the similarities between himself and Radio. And I believe this
did happen for a few brief moments.
But then I would ask him, “Stewart, is this movie okay with you?”
“Yeah, good movie, good movie,” he would exclaim, staring at the screen,
completely wrapped up in Radio’s struggle to relate to each person he came
in contact with. I was hoping and trusting that he was truly okay.
I felt better as the movie went on. I saw that Stewart was merely rooting
for Radio to be accepted and liked for who he was. It was like he could
understand Radio’s struggles like no one else.
Why that was so surprising to me, I don’t know. I guess my faith in
his instincts was wavering. Or I felt that a person like Stewart might easily
become depressed or angry at seeing how a person like Radio was treated
by some people.
I’m so glad my initial instincts were right. Stewart could see how the
Ed Harris character reached out to Radio, and not only accepted him, but
truly liked him.
Of course, this had already happened in our relationship. And all I can
attribute our improbable bond to is God’s incredible grace in my life and
Stewart’s “heart of gold.”
And I’d say that we’ve all got so much to learn from folks like “Radio” and “Stewart.”
Thanks for stopping by. Chris.