And I realized, for the first time in my life, that I really “don’t get it.” I grew up in a loving, just household, one with two progressive, open-minded and kind parents. And I realized today, for the first time, that though I had all of those positive influences, I truly don’t know what it means to be “black in America.” I’ve been a journalist for almost a decade now. I’ve seen a lot of things, for good or ill. As a journalist, all of us in this profession work on every level of society — we see the entire spectrum of a community. One day we’re with a state senator, the next day with the homeless.
And within my extensive travels around America, I’ve witnessed things that will forever be vivid in my mind. I’ve driven through Gary, Indiana, (a rust belt city, completely rundown and crime-ridden) and saw schools abandoned, where the only successful business anywhere to be found were the funeral homes. I’ve slept with one eye open in a ghetto Memphis hotel room where the locks on the door didn’t work. I’ve been handed food through bulletproof glass in Harlem (and beer through bulletproof glass in Savannah). I’ve also had my fair share of interactions with law enforcement where I felt I was unjustly treated (but I kept my mouth shut, showed them my ID, and moved along).
And yet, with all that, I also reflect on my time during my senior year of college as an after-school teacher for elementary-aged students at an inner city community center in New Haven, Connecticut (a place with a long history of racial strife and police brutality against blacks). I remember being one of the few whites there, and being the only male in any of the classrooms. The kids were mostly African-American and Hispanic. Many didn’t have a father at home or one around to spend time with. Many came from poor households.
And all of them had smiles on their faces when they walked into a room, our room, filled with encouragement and support. I often wonder how those kids are doing these days, as high school students and such. I remember how excited they were to have a male around, someone to teach them basic math or how to throw a football. I remember how excited I was everyday to see them. They were incredible kids. I remember also thinking, at that time, that I knew nothing about inner city life or the black community.
Growing up in rural Upstate New York, there really were no black people or families around. Sure, a couple here and there, but I didn’t really have any black friends until college (which even then was mostly white at Quinnipiac University). Even today, I was thinking, though I do have friends from all walks of life, I still really don’t know what it means to be “black in America.” Yes, I’ve had in-depth talks with my black friends about what it means to be “black in America” and what it means to be “black in the South.” The conversations were as incredible as they were eye-opening.
But we, as a society, and a white society, will never be able to attempt a solution to any of these racial, societal and economic issues, until we stop thinking “we know what they’re going through.” Because we don’t. We can try, and maybe someday we will get close, but unless you walk around within black skin, you’ll never know 100 percent what it means.
Thus, I still believe peace and unity can be achieved. At the end of the day, we’re all human beings trying to survive. All of us. And if, and when, we finally decide “enough is enough,” then the wheels for change can get out of the mud we’ve been spinning in for generations. Support education, support community connectivity, support law enforcement getting more positively involved within their jurisdictions, support more programs that aim to help all members of society move up in life.
Coming from a family of law enforcement and education, I know in my heart-of-hearts that the majority of folks wearing a badge or standing in front of a chalkboard are amazing people, who truly want the best for their community. We have to stop looking at cops as enemies, teachers as the scapegoats for why everything is falling apart. Sure, there are asses within the ranks of both professions, but they are the exception rather than the norm. And that same notion goes for the image of the “scary black man” we as white Americans have had stamped on our brains from the media and pop culture.
Fight for change. Fight for peace. Fight for understanding in a modern world. We’re all in this together.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
1: The WNC QuickDraw art education benefit will be from 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. May 16 at Laurel Ridge Country Club in Waynesville.
2: The Feast for the Furries animal shelter benefit will be at noon May 17 at the Fryemont Inn in Bryson City.
3: The Russ Wilson Quartet will host an evening of jazz standards, swing and blues at 7 p.m. May 16 at The Classic Wineseller in Waynesville.
4: No Name Sports Pub (Sylva) will have Humps & The Blackouts (rockabilly/hard rock) at 9 p.m. May 8. The band will also play the Water’n Hole Bar & Grille in Waynesville at 9 p.m. May 9.
5: The Heritage Bluegrass Music Festival will be held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 16 at the Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center.