I am white. Before I was old enough to have experienced anything but innocence, my best friend was black. We engaged in activities most little girls do, including ballet and baby dolls. Because neither of us was raised to recognize otherwise, I was oblivious to any difference between us.
One day, as my mother recalls, I came home from school and explained, “My best friend has brown skin.”
When asked how I knew so, I said, “Because today…she told me.”
It wasn’t until high school that I became aware of others who did not share my heart, though I know many accept that reality much sooner. Because I was the only white starter on our varsity basketball team, my closest friends did not look like me; some came from similar backgrounds, while some did not. I heard the whispers in the hallways alluding to my desire to “be black,” while it never occurred to me that I desired to be more than a trusted teammate.
Critical comments regarding my circle of friends quickly evolved into much harsher judgment when my high school sweetheart was black, too. At my private southern high school, I was told by a member of the administration that I was “making my life much more difficult than it needed to be.” I sat behind mothers of two of my classmates on a field trip, overhearing one of them say, “I would not want my daughter associated with the Ledlow girl,” though my grades were nearly perfect and I had never been in any real trouble.
Upon my graduation from Southeastern University, I felt called to turn down an internship with a prestigious sports network and serve as a counselor at Kids Across America instead. KAA is an organization committed to transforming our nation’s inner-cities by pairing college athletes with underprivileged teenagers for weeks at a time in Missouri. Though my goal was to play a small role in seeing lives changed, it was not long before the course of my own life had instead.
During our first dinner at KAA, I reached for a pitcher of water to serve my campers. One in particular looked confused as I handed her a full glass. When I asked why she seemed so puzzled, she answered, “I’ve never had a white lady do anything nice for me before.” Though I had become a teenager before experiencing racial tension, this young girl had reached the same age before she experienced anything else.
Time after time, I was forced to realize that while I viewed the world in fascinating color, many around me simply saw black and white.
Throughout my adolescence, I was taught about the Civil Rights Movement, unaware that it was not yet complete. I was never told that our nation’s sordid past in regards to racial injustice was anything more than that – the past.
“I can’t breathe…”
Now, our nation faces what may be the greatest racial unrest in my lifetime.
Ignorance, though blissful, breeds hatred on both sides. Though our differences should be celebrated, they must always be embraced. As a nation, we now have the unique opportunity to change the course of our own history by choosing to voice truth.
While we have breath in our lungs, we must use it to speak for those who cannot. The surface of the issue appears to be “the system,” though the root is the hearts of those who shape it. If the system is the problem, let’s become the solution. If our generation sees things in black and white, let’s raise one that dreams in brilliant color.
I do not write because I have the answers. I write because I have a voice, and the ability to challenge you to use yours. We must fight; but our fight cannot mirror that of those who do so in the name of hatred and fear. We must provide hope, as it is the only thing stronger.
What will it take to lay down the hurt of our past, in order to embody a hope in our future?
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