I barely knew him in middle school over at Wilbur Wright, at least until the day he saved me. I was playing basketball in gym class when I reached for a ball that was heading out of bounds. Unfortunately, I saved it squarely into this guy Marvin’s face. After a stunned few seconds, he said, “If this bleeds, I’m a kick yo white ass!”
The bell rang and I scurried off to lunch, but I wasn’t really hungry. Almost as soon as I entered the cafeteria, I was told by a number of classmates that Marvin had in fact bled quite profusely, vowing to return the favor during lunch. In came Charlie Jones, a scrawny little black kid with a high-pitched voice. As a mob of students gathered to witness the wondrous carnage, Charlie talked us both into believing a fight wasn’t necessary. He did this not with words as much as through his actions—this tiny man had stood up and made sure we didn’t add to already volatile racial relations at school.
Later on, Marvin, Charlie, and I all played on the same football team in high school, and we all stood up for one another as brothers, Charlie next to me on offense at guard and Marvin behind me on defense as linebacker.
Sophomore year our school ventured downtown to attend a job fair. Around lunchtime, rumors of fights and racially-motivated threats began to circulate. Our chaperones decided to take us back to school, so we headed for the bus. Many of my white friends were very scared—Sean and I held back to make sure everyone we knew was safely on the bus. Besides, we were tough football players—you’re just never as tough as you think you are.
Apprehension rose within me as the crowd began to part for a group of fast-moving black kids. Before we could react, these twenty or so students were peppering the two of us with punches, mostly to the face. Their cold, angry fists drew blood and painted our faces black and blue. You know, I wanted revenge—just as random; just as hateful; just as meaningless. Luckily, I never exacted that revenge, and I think we can all learn from being beat down at least once in our lives.
My parents wanted to send me to a different high school, and I told all of my friends. They made a number of arguments about being a part of a team and a family, but nothing they said would have kept me enrolled. The way they looked halted my transfer, and their faces showed me they cared… Rusty, Scott, Dondré, Dominique, Jose, John, Marvin, and Charlie. No arguments were necessary for I knew where I belonged.
I wish I could say I stayed in touch with all those friends after high school, but we had different places to go. I hadn’t seen Charlie in nearly 10 years when I ran into him on the baseball field last summer. He’s no longer that scrawny kid: he was a good 50 pounds overweight. We no longer play for the same team: he plays for the Milwaukee Police Department with José. We didn’t have much interesting to say to one another when the game was over.
You know what, though, maybe it’s just not that complex—we are still a part of each other because of our friendship and memories. I’ll never be afraid of his blackness and he’ll never hate my whiteness. And I hope that in his role as a police officer he can break up an unnecessary fight or convince kids to change when they’re close to making mistakes. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to race.<-->