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Source: facebook.com/today. | youtube.com/CBSNewYork

White Mom Refuses to Host Black Boy, This Inspired His White Friend to Keep an Empty Chair for 50 Years

Stephen Thompson
Jun 20, 2022
12:20 A.M.
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Humans can be cruel, but sometimes that cruelty can give birth to greatness. That was what happened with this white boy who experienced racism firsthand and grew up determined to make a difference.

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Dan Gill is a teacher at Glenfield Middle School in Montclair, New Jersey, but many things set him apart from the rest of his co-workers. One of those things, perhaps the most important one, is evident the moment anyone walks into his class.

There is always an empty chair in the center, which has been there for decades. The peculiar thing about the seat is that it is not a time-out or extra chair, nor is it meant for an administrator inspecting his work as a teacher. It is a reminder, one meant for Gill as well as his students.

Picture of Dan Gill | Source: Youtube/CBSNewYork

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Speaking about what it symbolizes, he told TODAY Parents, “Each year, I teach lessons around Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday about the Civil Rights movement. I wanted to connect the students in a personal way to what that meant.”

The chair perfectly does that, and the decision was influenced by something that happened when Gill was just a young boy.

IT ALL STARTED WITH A BIRTHDAY PARTY

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When Gill was a nine-year-old boy, he and his best buddy Archie, who happened to be Black, decided to attend a birthday party in Gill’s New York City apartment building.

They went with their gifts in hand, and when they arrived at the venue, they rang the bell and waited, happily looking forward to the great time they were about to have with their other friends. Little did they know there would be no fun to be had that day.

David Henry Sterry, the organizer of the competition, said that when he heard the pitch, his mouth dropped open at the profoundness.

Picture of Dan Gill during an interiew | Source: Youtube/CBSNewYork

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When the door opened, the mother of the birthday child looked at Archie and immediately said they had run out of chairs. A confused Gill offered to sit on the floor or get more chairs, but the lady shook her head and repeated her statement — there were no more chairs.

It took a moment for Gill to realize that Archie simply was not welcome at the party because of his skin color, and rather than leave his friend standing there while he went in, the two boys left together, tears running down their faces. The incident deeply scarred Gill, and it remained with him for more than 50 years after it happened.

Picture of Dan Gill in the library | Source: Youtube/CBSNewYork

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According to Gill, “Archie was denied the opportunity to go to the birthday party because of a bias the woman had.” Though he did not realize it at the time, that moment defined his entire life and drove him to take the steps that made him popular in his school and all over the country.

GILL BECAME THE CHANGE HE WISHED TO SEE

Picture of the chair Dan Gill keeps empty | Source: Youtube/CBSNewYork

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When he got older, Gill became a teacher and moved to Montclair, where he worked hard to transform Glenfield Middle School, and still teaches there today. He wished to change the institution into a magnet school for the arts. Thanks to his actions, the establishment grew to become a model for other schools’ desegregation.

The empty chair he always leaves at the center of his class was put there because he knows that children work well with symbols. Gill told them the reason the chair was there was so it could serve as a reminder that they can always do better socially, emotionally, and academically.

Picture of the chair Gill keeps empty | Source: Youtube/CBSNewYork

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He wanted the chair to remind his students of their responsibility to make people feel welcome regardless of where they come from or what color their skin was. Gill told TODAY that whenever there were visitors in the classroom, the kids would ask the newcomer if they knew why the chair was there.

He is now a 75-year-old man and plans on taking a step back from teaching after the 2022/2023 school year. However, that does not mean he will stop imparting knowledge or spreading the message of the empty chair. Decades down the line, Gill knew that his message was resonating.

A BOOK TO HONOR ARCHIE

Picture of “Pitchapalooza” organizer, David Henry Sterry | Source: Youtube/CBSNewYork

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To continue spreading the message, Gill recently pitched the idea of a book he wants to title “No More Chairs” at a book pitch launch competition known as the “Pitchapalooza.” David Henry Sterry, the organizer of the competition, said that when he heard the pitch, his mouth dropped open at its profoundness.

According to him, it will be dedicated to Archie, who passed away last year. The pair lost contact decades ago, but thanks to social media, Gill was able to find Archie's daughter, whom he hoped could be a part of the process of telling their story.

Picture of the principal of Glenfield Middle School, Erika Pierce | Source: Youtube/

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His dream is for the book will inspire teachers to do the same thing he has done for more than five decades — keep an empty chair in their respective classrooms so people will continue to remember the message he has spent most of his life preaching. He said:

“In my wildest dreams. I hope it imparts to kids how they can be better and how they can treat people better. I hope they will be decision-makers in their own class.”

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Gill’s story is a stark reminder of how important a teacher’s role is in the education system. He has single-handedly proven that friendship is not restricted to skin color and that a terrible happening, like the one he and the late Archie experienced as kids, can inspire people to do great things.

A similar situation was observed back in 2017 when a 4-year-old Kentucky boy named Jax asked his mom to shave off his hair to match his black friend’s. The reason for this was so that their teacher would not be able to tell them apart!

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According to the boy’s mother, he does not notice that his friend has a different skin color, so he innocently believes that his long hair is the only thing differentiating them. She believed that it was proof that hate and prejudice were not things humans are born with.

After the news went viral, she received many messages from friends on Facebook who were stunned by Jax’s innocence, so she took the boys to a salon where Jax had his hair cut to match his friends’, making him very happy.

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