Fifty Years



Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are. -Benjamin Franklin, statesman, author, and inventor (17 Jan 1706-1790)



Earlier this week, on MLK day, I went to the grocery store and struck up a conversation with the young man checking my groceries.  He was in high school, as I had guessed.  I remarked that my oldest son’s first job had also been in a grocery store.  I asked him if he was interested in sports and he told me he was on the wrestling team.  My oldest son had also been on the wrestling team.  We talked about the strength and stamina training they had both received.  As we wished each other a good day, I felt a sudden stab in my heart.

I realized that the nice young man with whom I had enjoyed a pleasant conversation could so easily lose his young life.  Like all teenagers, he had to navigate deep waters to find adulthood.  He had to avoid getting trapped by alcohol and drugs, steer clear of trouble-makers, keep himself from becoming a father too early in life—the usual snares laid for the young.  But this teen had one more hurdle to clear: he had to be so very careful not to be shot by a policeman.

Because this young man, you see, was black.

As I walked out of that store, I felt close to tears.  I began to pray for his safety and the safety of all the young African-American men whose lives are in danger from those sworn to protect them.  (This is not about cop-bashing.  Please understand, I have utmost respect for those who put their lives on the line every day to be our first-responders.  But I would be naïve if I thought the entire police force was without racism.)

I prayed while I unloaded the grocery cart and all the way home.  And I remembered the first time I had felt concern over the safety and well-being of a black child.

It’s been over fifty years, but I remember well a one-year-old boy I used to babysit.  His name was Lance and he was the most beautiful toddler I had ever seen: big brown eyes with long, curly lashes, a tuft of black hair on his head, soft as cotton and a smile that could light up your heart.  I lived on faculty row in a tiny town in West Virginia.  Lance was the adopted child of one of the faculty members and I was his sitter.  I spent many hours with him, feeding him, changing his diaper, playing outside, climbing on the swing set with him.  I enjoyed taking care of him and told his mother I would do it for free.  She wouldn’t hear of that, but I really would have.  I’d fallen in love with Lance, my maternal genes kicking in full-force.

The Civil Rights movement was exploding during this time.  I’d heard Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and watched the people marching in DC on the evening news.  My heart was with them.  But I couldn’t join in the protests.  I didn’t even have my driver’s license yet. But I watched and I listened.  I also heard George Wallace spew his hatred and I observed as angry white people screamed at a young black girl as she walked into an integrated school for the first time.

It slowly dawned on me that THIS was what Lance was going to face, growing up.  He would meet people who would count him as ‘less’ because he was black.  He could possibly be hurt, maybe even shot, simply because of his race.  I cried and prayed and railed and fumed.  How could I help him?  How could I protect him?

That was fifty years ago.  FIFTY YEARS.  And I’m still worrying about what young African-Americans have to face in this culture.

This is sin.  Collectively and individually, as a nation and as individuals, we are sinning against our Creator when we dehumanize ANY person from a different race, religion or culture.

Sin is not a popular word.  The word itself seems antiquated, very 19th century.  According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, sin means an offense against moral law.  It also means a transgression of the law of God.  Another definition is ‘estranged from God.’

There is no way to justify racism.  The Bible tells us to love God and love our fellow human beings.  That’s pretty much it.  Those of us who call ourselves Christians have an obligation to put a stop to the racism that permeates our culture.  We have an obligation to ourselves to make sure our own hearts are clean by becoming aware of the subtle ways prejudice can wind its way to us.  Because when we hold ourselves above others—as more important, more human, more real—we hurt not only those we help victimize, we also curtail our own humanity.  Such attitudes diminish everyone.

We have a lot of work to do and we must do it together.  Start thinking of ways you can help.  Think about what you can do right where you are.  Together, we can heal our land once and for all.  And then, all our children will be safe.


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