David Williams just wanted to get home to Raeford, North Carolina, but he arrived at Penn Station in Baltimore just as Amtrak’s southbound Palmetto left the station the morning of Dec. 14. As Amtrak employees tried to help the Morgan State University freshman weigh his options, someone suggested that, if he hurried – with a backpack, two duffel bags and two suitcases – he could make the 8:55 MARC train and try to catch the Palmetto in D.C.

This is the deal: On a good day, the MARC train, No. 423, would arrive at Union Station in D.C. at 9:58 a.m., and on a good day the Palmetto would leave Union Station at 9:59 a.m. Let’s just say that, for Williams, Dec. 14 was an extraordinarily good day. And how he made the train – thanks to a MARC conductor named Matthew Schroeder – has warmed the hearts of thousands of people across the nation who are showering the conductor with praise, offering blessings and expressing gratitude for an America-the-beautiful moment that takes on added meaning during this holiday season. For a moment, at least, worry about war, rumors of war and domestic conflicts of all sorts is replaced by a smile – and even a few sentimental tears.

“This is a mother’s prayer come true! Good people are still everywhere,” one woman responded on Facebook. Directing her remarks to Williams’ mother, Faith Current Anderson, another woman, said: “I have had 3 kids in college and them being without resources was always my biggest fear! I am so emotional right now! I know your heart is filled with gratitude!!!! Sending a collective prayer of protection to all of our kids navigating this world without us.”

“This is the America I love,” a woman wrote.

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“In a world that often seems to have run amok, such acts of kindness renew my faith in humanity,” another said.

“Now, that goes above and beyond! Great story for this time of year,” one man said.

As of this writing, more than 11,000 people had responded to a post on the Facebook page of the Maryland Transit Administration, and it had been shared more than 750 times, including by Jaqueline Jones, dean of Morgan’s School of Global Journalism and Communication. That’s how I learned Sunday that the MTA had posted an email message the day before from a passenger who’d reported the good deed that she’d witnessed that Thursday morning.

I was that passenger.

Frankly, I was not so much caught up in the sentiments of the season as I was impressed by someone going beyond what’s expected. As Williams later told me: “Mr. Schroeder did not have to do what he did. A lot of people would have said, ‘I don’t get paid for this’ or ‘I don’t have time for this’ or ‘It’s 8 o’clock in the morning. I just got here.’ The fact that he found the good in his heart to help me out, that’s just truly heartwarming.”

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To be perfectly honest, I was influenced by my neighbor, Angel Thomas, who responded as the mother of a 20-year-old student at Temple University in Philadelphia who often travels by Amtrak. “As parents, we’re leaving our adult babies in the hands of other people,” she reflected later. She and I were traveling to D.C. for a special screening of “The Color Purple” at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Typical for me, I was focused on work-related matters, but Thomas, who describes herself as “just naturally nosy and always aware of my surroundings,” was a few rows away and focused on the conversation she heard between the conductor and a young man laden with bags. “I thought, ‘Oh, this young man is bringing home his entire dorm room. I know what that’s about.’”

Schroeder told Williams, “I can’t guarantee anything, but I’m going to try my hardest to get you on that train.” And so he did. First, he made sure the MARC train arrived on a track that was most convenient to making the Amtrak connection. Then he led Williams in a jog up stairs and down corridors that the young man would never have navigated on his own. Schroeder radioed the Palmetto crew that he was bringing someone to them, and his circuitous route led Williams right to the boarding platform. With the freshman and his bags safely aboard, the Palmetto resumed its journey.

While all this was going on, Williams’ mother was frantic. The real estate agent had gone to California the day before to take a real estate exam and could do little but fret once her son notified her that he’d missed the Palmetto in Baltimore. “I’m always worried about David no matter what setting he’s in, especially being so far away. It’s just a worry,” she said, adding: “People are crazy, and Baltimore has its reputation as well, and I’m like, ‘You don’t need to be standing outside in the cold.’” She could imagine him stranded in Baltimore or D.C. “in the cold, with all his bags.”

She was relieved when he called to say he had made the train, but she didn’t begin to know about the saga until someone in a Facebook group made up of parents of members of Morgan’s class of 2027 reposted the MTA’s post. The photo caught her eye. “I looked and said, ‘That’s my son!’” She left her conversation with an aunt to read the post and then chuckled before sending it to her son, who had been oblivious to the hoopla.

Schroeder didn’t know about the buzz until Monday, when a union representative told him to take a look at the MTA’s Facebook page. He works for Amtrak, which has a contract with the MTA to operate MARC’s Penn Line that runs between Perryville and Washington. He’s been a conductor for nearly seven years and, before that, worked in customer service for retail stores. He’s been in the Army National Guard for 14 years. Schroeder’s first thought was that this was good publicity for Amtrak and for MARC.

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The timing of this outpouring of goodwill to Schroeder and to the transit workers in general could not be more welcome by Holly Arnold, the MTA administrator and CEO. In the latest incident in what she describes as “a challenging year,” the light rail system was suspended for more than two weeks because of maintenance and safety issues before partial service resumed. Commuters have not been pleased. The attention to Schroeder’s action, she said, “is just a reminder of how many positive things our employees, the contractors and the agency do for the community.”

When all is said and done, two things stand out to me about the reaction that so many of us had to what Matthew Schroeder did. As Williams’ mother said, “To see something positive and someone assisting a young Black man, it’s always wonderful to hear.” But what he did is also a reminder of something that too often gets lost in the sound and fury of everyday life. “It costs nothing to show kindness and decency to people,” Schroeder told me. Amen to that – no matter what the season.

E.R. Shipp is a veteran journalist and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist. She is also an associate professor at Morgan State University.

ER.shipp@thebaltimorebanner.com

The Baltimore Banner welcomes opinion pieces and letters to the editor. Please send submissions to communityvoices@thebaltimorebanner.com or letters@thebaltimorebanner.com.

E.R. Shipp is part of The Baltimore Banner's Creatives in Residence program, which amplifies the work of artists and writers from the Baltimore region. 

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