After Tragedy, NWU Parents Commit to Spreading Kindness

After NWU parents Paul and Shelley Freeman lost their son, Cameron Freeman, to a drunk driver in November 2010, they felt all of the pain and emotions you’d expect. But it wasn’t long before they felt something you might not expect.

As they watched a community of friends and loved ones rally around them, they were troubled by the negativity they saw directed at the drunk driver.

In their eyes, the 23-year-old airman who chose to drive after drinking wasn’t so different from their 21-year-old son. It wasn’t as if Cameron—a former NWU student—had never had a drink. It wasn’t as if Cameron couldn’t make a mistake. “Cameron… was also capable of getting behind the wheel after drinking,” they said. “Anyone who does this has the potential to kill.”

What made the young man’s mistake so devastating wasn’t some intrinsic evil. It was chance. Chance and the absence of a plan to get home safely after drinking.

If the Freemans were ever to pick up the pieces and feel happy again, they realized they also needed a plan. And there was simply no room in that plan for the demonization of a young man and his family—both of whom were also devastated by the same tragedy.

“The Cameron Effect” is the result of this plan. “Instead of the negativity, we ask people to [respond with] what we think Cameron would have preferred—instead, do seven acts of compassion. They don’t have to be big or costly; they can be simple. Even thoughts of forgiveness count,” they said at cameroneffect.com.

Detective Jay Armbrister of Lawrence, Kan., investigated the accident that killed Cameron Freeman. He was so impressed by Paul and Shelley Freeman’s response that he joined the Cameron Effect. As part of the effort, Armbrister came to NWU to promote one of the most compassionate acts a typical college student can do—plan a safe way home before a party starts.

Armbrister’s presentation on September 11 kicked off a three-month effort to promote the Cameron Effect’s “Seven Acts of Kindness.” Participants submitted cards on which they logged their seven acts. These cards were then collected and incorporated into quilts that exemplify how small acts of compassion can stitch together to make a larger good.

The Cameron Effect held this effort between September 11 and December 7, 2012. The decision to do this between the anniversaries of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pearl Harbor advanced the point that we can define ourselves by our tragedies or by our kindnesses.

The choice is ours.

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Shelley Freeman stands with some of the squares listing kindnesses done in the memory of her son.
Paul Freeman
Cameron Freeman