Tino Comacho’s early encounter with racism sent him down a path of compassion
by Pamela Reeb
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Florentino “Tino” Comacho first experienced racism at his grandmother’s knee. Where most young children first learn about unconditional love, acceptance and support, Comacho found derision and disappointment.
“She would make me know I wasn’t good enough because of the color of my skin,” Comacho said. “She was a mean, spiteful woman. When I was eight or nine, I asked my grandmother what I was supposed to do about my skin color. I said, ‘God made me this way; what am I to do?’ She never answered me. I was from her that I learned young that people judge you on the color of your skin and not on who you are inside.”
Today, more than 40 years later, Comacho has come to terms with that lesson and is now teaching a different one to young and old alike: Treat all people — regardless of race, color or station in life — with compassion and love. It is not an easy lesson to learn or to live, but Comacho has taken his stance to heart and now works as a community activist to stop injustices .
At Christ the King Parish, where he has been a member since moving to the Kansas City area with his family in 1989, he has become the “go-to” guy when people face discrimination, racism or harassment. He is active in the community group, Clergy and Church Against Race and Violence, and is often found giving money or possessions away because others are in need.
“Our faith teaches that racism is a sin,” Comacho said. “We need to be vocal. By speaking up, hearts and minds will change. our faith calls us to do this.”
Recently, a young man walked into the store where Comacho works, needing to buy a bed for his pregnant wife. The couple had little money and couldn’t afford even the least expensive mattress. Comacho had just sold another mattress and had a “trade-in” bed in the storeroom. Although in good condition, it wasn’t something he could really sell, and the store’s policy normally dictates that “trade-ins” be given to charity. The bed went with Comacho’s best wishes to the couple without charge.
“You can see Christ in everyone,” he said. “I see him in people who are homeless, unclothed and living in darkness. I feel compelled to do whatever I can to help. I have faith that God will take care of me. If I see someone who needs money, I will give him my last dollar because I know God will be there for me. God will take care of it.”
Although his Catholic faith sustains him now, it wasn’t always that way. Comacho, who was an altar boy and whose motherprayed and attended Mass regularyly, fell away from the church for almost two decades. What started as guild for the death of his infant brother who drowned in a bath he drew, grew to a complete belief that he controlled his own destiny and didn’t need God.
“At one time, I thought success was recognition, money, awards,” he said. “I believed that if I listened to motivational tapes and I worked hard and won awards I would be a success. And I received lots of awards for sales. I won trips — [my wife] Kathy and I got to go to France — and I was making lots of money. But something was missing.”
It was the death of his mother when he was 28 that started Comacho down the road of not only reevaluating his life, but discovering his true mission.
“When my mother died, I lost the control I thought I had,” he said, glancing at his clasped hands resting on the table. “I had been so positive that I thought I didn’t need God, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t bring her back from the dead. I knew then that life and success were more than money, cars or prestige.”
At this same time Comacho lost his job due to downsizing. He found himself in debt, out of work and depressed. He thought about ending his life, but a conversion experience changed that.
“It’s not often that you get to have a second chance,” he said. “I knew immediately that God was real, faith was real. It was at that point that God became my source for life and success, not money.”
He found a low-paying job, then another a little better. He began attending church and teaching CCD. He reached out to those who seemed to be struggling, and with each little step toward church and God, he found a peace and happiness he’d never known.
When the family moved to Kansas City to be close to Comacho’s mother-in-law (his wife was born and raised in Kansas City), he found new ways to get involved. He networked with people who were scammed, discriminated against or at their wit’s end, and helped them find a way out of their situation.
“I know how it feels to have someone judge you without knowing who you are inside,” he said. “Nobody seemed to be doing anything about it when we moved here. Nobody questioned why things were [a certain way] or confronted problems. People wouldn’t shake my hand at church during the sign of peace and others asked when we would move to Argentina. I knew I had to do something to help people.”
And he does. Every evening, Comacho’s phone rings three or four times with people calling ot find out where they should go or who they should talk to. By word of mouth, the Comachos have helped hundreds of people find justice, peace or just some compassion. And all of the work and time is on a volunteer basis.
“God sees the hearts of people and how we serve him,” Comacho said. “I see what I do not as a duty, but as a privilege. Helping people is a privilege that I am honored to have.”