Last Saturday, at the conclusion of his remarks after receiving the Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Award, Frank Ploof offered a quotation from Congressman John Lewis that urged people to, “speak up, speak out, and get in good trouble.” Ploof’s own version of “good trouble” includes consorting with derelicts, drug addicts, drifters and ne’er do wells, people who are alternately scorned, shunned, and demonized by the general public.
Naturally, Ploof himself doesn’t share these predominant public labels for people experiencing homelessness. His default approach to people, all people, is respect and equal treatment. One of his prime principles, expressed in his “10 Learned Guidelines” for the expression of agape love is, “There are no others.”
“Agape,” a Greek word that appears over 200 times in the New Testament, often means love in the sense of “charity” or “empathy.” Ploof applies agape by befriending people in need. He’s the guy with the pickup truck when you need a pickup truck, the guy who gives you a ride when you need one, the guy who figures out how to get your disability payments started when no one else can.
Ploof cited Martin Luther King’s definition of agape love in his short acceptance speech:
“Agape Love does not begin by discriminating between worthy and unworthy people, or any qualities people possess. It begins by loving others for their sakes. It is an entirely ‘neighbor-regarding concern for others,’ which discovers the neighbor in every man it meets. Therefore, agape makes no distinction between friend and enemy—it is directed toward both.”
Like Martin Luther King, Ploof believes agape must be applied actively, always working to restore what he sees as lost community. King wrote, “Agape is a willingness to go to any length to restore community… It is a willingness to forgive, not seven times, but seventy times seven to restore community.”
Ploof’s dedication to community was most evident during the operation of the Modesto Outdoor Emergency Shelter (MOES). Working almost entirely on his own, Ploof facilitated help for dozens of people, arranging everything from replacements for lost identification, to reinstating Medi-Cal payments, to driving people to and from the hospital. Following one his own firm principles for agape love, Ploof was “fully present” for MOES’ residents, offering friendship to all.
Ploof shared the stage at Modesto Junior College’s Performing and Media Arts Center with Dr. Harry Edwards, the UC Berkeley Emeritus Professor of Sociology who pioneered studies in the Sociology of Sports. Dr. Edwards reminded his audience that though Martin Luther King is best known as the preeminent leader of the Civil Rights Movement, King’s enduring interest was in human rights, which he believed were universal and rooted in the community of humankind.
Like Martin Luther King and Harry Edwards, Frank Ploof believes that establishing the community of humankind is an ongoing project. He’s prepared to accept failure as a temporary condition on the way to a better world.
And following his own dictum to avoid judgment, Ploof has learned that in the midst of the awful tragedy of homelessness there is a resilient humanity that rises above the grinding poverty, addiction, abuse and shame that haunt the people of the streets. Even in the direst of circumstances, most homeless people remain generous, pursue justice, and seek the peace and comfort of family and community. And, as often as possible, Frank Ploof is there to help them, always ready to, “get in good trouble.”