In light of the first anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, I decided to write about my own experience with racism. I grew up with educated parents who taught us to love people of all races and religions. At an early age, my dad took me to the library and I still remember a book called April Love about an adorable black girl who suffered injustices. At the Lutheran Sunday school, we sang “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, red and yellow black and white, they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world. The pastor’s wife taught us about missions in the world helping those of other races. But I never knew a black person until high school. I played soft ball with Thorpe High School in Chicago and they would always beat our Warren Elementary team. I found myself fearful of unknown people, but then in my homeroom I met Harriet, a beautiful black girl. I was getting to know and love her but then one day she was gone. I found out that she was pregnant and back then a pregnant girl did not attend high school.
When I met my future husband, Larry, I also met his black roommate, Troy. Larry and Troy became close friends, and would tease each other with Mother jokes, etc. An example would be “Your mother wears combat shoes.” They would refer to Larry as fish belly white—all in good humor. Troy’s girlfriend, Gladys, taught Larry how to dance. To this day, Larry is a smooth dancer. They wanted him to join their fraternity and he would have been the first white person in a black fraternity. But Larry didn’t stay in school long enough to have this happen; instead, he became an air-controller in the Marine Corps. One Saturday night, Larry and I along with Troy and Gladys went to a Beach Boys concert and we decided to switch partners to see how people would react as we crossed the street. This was during Martin Luther King’s marches in the 60’s. Larry observed a young, white couple sitting in their car. The woman was looking at us and pretending she didn’t see us. She poked her husband and with her body language, pointed to us as we made our way to the entrance. Larry stopped, smiled and waved at the freaked-out couple.
I admired Martin Luther King and his non-violence stance. My family and I were shocked and deeply saddened when he was shot. I recall his prophetic words, “I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.” How sad that we are still so far from the Promise Land. In the 90’s, Walter Payton was not allowed to join Barrington Country Club because of his race. How heartbreaking that so much emphasis has been placed on race.
As a high school teacher, I did my best to teach my students through literature and personal experience about the importance of loving others regardless of their race. We read Raisin in the Sun, the Power of One, stories about Rosa Parks among many others. When Obama was running for president, the students would turn to a black student in my class and ask him if he was going to run for president someday. Fast forward to today. I thought we were making headway, but I think we are moving backwards.
If we claim to be Christians, then our actions must reflect God’s love for each human being. “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus (Romans 3:23-24)” He is the light that enlightens every person who comes into the world. How can we be enlightened? It’s a process of stepping outside of the lines and shaking hands with new friends. Volunteering with Humble Design in Chicago and working at the Care Center in Barrington has given us an opportunity to forge friendships and to become color blind.