I’m back on the corner after too long an absence. I’ll admit it, I was in a funk for awhile.
Frustrated by life. Frustrated by words that seemed to be unread. For some time I had forgotten the one thing I always told myself.
“Keep writing, keep speaking out, keep on…Even if it seems nobody’s receiving it.”
So here I am again, inspired to continue…In the middle of my favorite month. Another birthday coming. Another year granted by the Creator to be better than I was the year before, and the day before.
I’m inspired today by pushing myself in another race over the weekend. I have goals this year. I want to do my first triathlon and my first marathon, and I’m on the way to doing it.
I’m also inspired by a story told from a dear friend of mine from my college days at Northwestern. She’s mother and a professor and she has an 11-year old boy, who recently met America’s spiritual carcinogen face-to-face.
His mom says the young lad was playing football with some neighborhood kids. He his friends, all black, playing with another group of kid who were all white. I guess the teams were divided along racial lines, and the white kids were calling blacks the “n-word”. (Personally, I think we all need to quit dancing around that word. ALL OF US. We need to hear the harshness, the hateful behind it. There’s no reclamation or redemption in it. In my view the euphemism of that term “n-word” is an example of our national cowardice when it comes to actually dealing with the ugly past of violent, institutional systems of racism in this country — But that’s another post for another day.)
Hearing that children spat this venom, showed this cancer make my heart cry in anger. I like young people. Children a gift from God in my mind. Yeah, they can bratty, moody, work your last nerve, etc.. But, the joy they bring outlast the chore they can be. And when I hear or see children being infected with this cancer, to me its child abuse. It is taking pure, innocent, gentle hearts and destroying them. It devalues the things that makes us human, and humane.
Seeing the words of this mom, the disgust and some despair that a next generation feels the abrasive sting of racism, brought back things from my childhood that still anger me some.
When I turned 8 year old, my mother gave my the best birthday present I ever received.
Now at the time all I could think about the serious set of wheels I was gonna get. I was getting my first bicycle for my birthday. But the bike was back-ordered, it wouldn’t be ready in time for my birthday. So I was disappointed. I want that cool bike.
But she said, “Cheer up, son. I’m going to get you an even better gift than a bike.”
My response? “Yeah, right.”
We got in the car and drove to the public library. I got my first library card.
The bike gave me wheels, but that library card gave me wings.
Signed up for the contest the same day. And I spent a summer immersed in books. I took them on road trips. Read before breakfast in the morning. Read at night. Every chance to read, and learn.
I found my love of science-fiction and myself that summer! I picked up books about science and art and music, and….I read about people who look like us. I met our kinfolk that summer, EJ. I met OUR heroes, named and unnamed. All the bedtime stories about relatives I’d never meet, yet put me in the place I am…and…and…all those stories came to life.
And when I looked back, I read 34 books that summer. I finished third in that contest…In the entire city!
My mom got a phone call one day a few weeks before school started and the contest was over. Someone at our neighborhood branch of the library said, “Ma’am we need to talk to you and you son.”
So we went to the library along with my aunt. And when we got there, the librarian of our branch was there, along with another lady. She was from the city’s library department downtown. Now she’s explaining to my mom..”Well we are checking things out because, we’ve never had someone from this branch read as many books and finish this high in contest before. So we are investigating to see if this child can actually read and that he actually read the books.”
I saw the librarian, she looks like us. She is silent, polite but seething. My mom is puzzled. My aunt is furious.
Me, I don’t know how to feel? Inside I SCREAMED!!!!!
I read those books. I read them. I read them on long car rides to summer track meets. I feel asleep with them in my hand. I was in the line with Madeline all in a row, and went to Where The Wild Things Are, and I was sleuthing with Encyclopaedia Brown. I read about how Thurgood Marshall fought the fight that put me a in classroom with all kinds of kids, and read about a group of brave people marching across a bridge and were hurt just so they could vote!
I READ THOSE BOOKS! I HAVE WINGS! I FLEW THROUGH THOSE PAGES AND PROSE!
And that woman…That WHITE woman said. “Young man…read to me.”
And she pulled out a book…It wasn an Encylopaedia Brown mystery.
I read that story. I read it with passion. I acted out the characters with voices from my imagination. I was Encylopaedia…and I was Bugs Meany, and I was person he caught red-handed.
I READ EVEN WHEN THE LIBRARIAN SAID, “YOU CAN STOP NOW!”
I didn’t listen I read and read…and read!
And when I was done, my mom smiled. My aunt said.. “SEE?!”
The woman seemed unimpressed. I looked up at her and I said politely, but with a small hint of hunt, anger and bitterness.
“Ma’am, are you going to make sure the white kids can read , too?”
That day was the first day that I was introduced to being a black child. It hurt.
As we drove home. My mom and aunt angry and me bitter. I thought about it the whole day,
That night my mom tucked me in and read to me, and I asked her “Mom? Why do they hate us?”
And my mom said, “Not all of them do, son. But some do, but you don’t let their hate change you.”
I remember saying, “Why even read. They don’t even think that can read.”
And she said, “DON’T EVER SAY THAT, SON.”
And she told me about long ago, when our kinfolk lived in chains..and how they were killed for teaching and learning how to read. I heard every word she said..and she left me with one sentence.
“My son, we have come too far to go back to those days.”
Since then, my hunger to read grew..and it never gone away since.
That feeling of hurt, turned into a strength, and strength to rise above and shine the same way that those people on the bridge did. The same way Thurgood Marshall did.
I send you this story young man to let you know that the shock and anger you may feel is normal…but it shouldn’t be!
Do not let that feeling become normal. Fight against it with pride, knowledge, love and forgiveness.
Yes, EJ, forgiveness.
The young boys who left that field were taught the things that they said to you. The knew no better. It is sad and hurtful, and there were always be those people as you go through this life a young black boy, who will become a black man.
But I also tell you to take this moment and this lesson and be determined to be a part of the change, and that change will come, EJ. Our history as a people have shown time and time again that change for the better comes as long as we continue rise above the cancer those young boys have. The cancer that people older than them passed to them. The cancer that you will find some of those who like you have as well, many out of despair and bitterness.
Stay strong, blessed, black and beautiful, EJ!