The Hero on the Bus

Jeremy Hernandez is the face of heroism in the aftermath of the tragic bridge collapse in Minneapolis.  Hernandez's picture is on the front page of The New York Times and The Washington Post, and he was interviewed live on NBC's Today on August 3. 

Hernandez, 20, is the youth counselor who kicked open the back door of a school bus carrying more than 50 children when the 35W bridge fell into the Mississippi River during rush hour on August 1.  The bus was wedged against a guardrail and the only escape was through the back door. 

There are many heroes in Minneapolis this week.  Footage of divers, police officers and firemen remind us once again of the vital role those everyday heroes play in times of tragedy – whether the tragedy is enormous, like a bridge collapse, or on a smaller scale, like a house fire or homicide.  Everyday men and women serving in public safety jobs put their lives on the line for perfect strangers.

But there is something different about someone like Jeremy Hernandez, a young man from the city, working with kids for the summer. His single act of, yes, heroism paints a picture of what is good about America.   We all hope we would do what he did in a similar situation. And there is something in the American psyche that needs to see such action rewarded on the national stage.  Somehow it makes bitter tragedy a little less bitter.

In his interview with Natalie Morales on Today, Jeremy was quick to applaud his fellow counselors.  “I think all the staff on the bus are heroes,” he said, the weighty title of “hero” obviously sitting uncomfortably on his shoulders.

While Hernandez's actions have garnered him the public spotlight, it is a safe bet that they have also put him on a pedestal in the eyes of the youngsters he helped to save. Inner city kids need good role models, especially young men they can look up to.  Jeremy Hernandez may be a hero to the American people, but more importantly his actions taught a bunch of kids what real courage and personal responsibility look like.

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.