It wasn’t a Sunday morning. It was a Thursday evening.
I sat on a wooden pew where, beneath my feet in the 1800’s, slaves had congregated to worship in a hole made of dirt. On April 27th, at that same location, I was inside the Simpson Methodist Church erected in the 1930’s.
I haven’t been a church-goer in a long while. I was not there to worship. Yet, inside, a hymn came to me – “Shall we gather at the river, the beautiful, the beautiful river.”
In my past, I’ve held workshops on tolerance and celebrating diversity. I taught my early childhood staff how to teach bias-free education to our young children. I paired kindergarteners from east Austin to the kindergarteners from west and gathered the 800 or so children together at Burger Center to enjoy the music of Kinderman.
I’ve done many things to teach tolerance and acceptance of others and each one has made me proud. Yet, each time we step out of our “comfort zone,” we learn something new. This meeting was no exception.
We were not there to worship. Nor were we there to hear a lecture. We were there for the unfolding of a “warm” conversation on diversity and equality.
Reverend Robert Waddle was strong in appearance and gentle in manner. He led the group – around 15 warm souls- in prayer. Then, our local president of the NAACP, Nelson Linder and Dr. Guner Arslan, a Muslim from Turkey and director of the Dialogue Initiative Austin, began the discussion.
Here is a bit of what I learned, re-learned and processed:
We, as human beings, have always strived for identity — both within ourselves and within a group (or tribe). Identity is core to our “humanness.”
But here’s the problem–
When we don’t attempt to understand or appreciate “different” identities, an “us vs. them” scenario is created. So imagine how having 4200 religions around the world could easily contribute to this unfortunate scenario.
As we struggle to understand ourselves, and who and what we identify with, we often reject the identities of others.
Unless we expand our awareness.
Have you been integrated as a person? Who are the folks you struggle with?
Nelson Mandela once said, “Everyone has a seat at the table.”
How round is your table?
“Love is the absence of judgment” – Dali Lama
How much do you love?
What are you fearful of?
Try being comfortable being uncomfortable.
Mr. Linder and Dr. Arslan told us, “Find excuses to bring people of ‘differences’ together to discover commonalities.”
So, the small group at Simpson Methodist Church became our small group. We had metaphorically gathered at the river, “the beautiful, the beautiful, river“.
Folks, this river is wide. And there is plenty of room for everyone. Yes, let’s gather at that river. Or any other place where thoughtful hearts are shared.
I was not there to worship, but I did. There are many ways to worship Great Love for Humanity.
Please join us at this round table for a warm discussion on diversity, acceptance and love. I will bring the water for your parched throats but there will be no need for food. Our hunger will be satiated by the breaking of bread in our open and honest dialogue.
I hope you choose to be part of the discussion. Because, if you do, and as the song says, “Soon our happy hearts will quiver with the melody of peace.“
I would be most grateful if you would leave a response, a personal experience, even a link to similar posts or articles related to this topic.
See you at the table.
I can’t see anything out of the ordinary, only Olvie’s backyard. But I hear it. Words my mother has heard slammed in her direction.
“<N…> lover!” the boys chant.
Five of them emerge from the backyard bushes and run towards the front yard.
I grab a frying pan and head for the front door.
“Cooking out tonight?” Olvie says.
I ignore her and run outside.
Boys scramble in the cab and the back of the pick-up truck and shoot me the bird. Kent, the last one in, glares at me. “Beam that Fry pan over your own head, Grace. You’re not thinking straight.”
They peel off. Hearing the frying pan slam the sidewalk gives me a bit of satisfaction. But not enough.
Olvie stands on the porch, her eyes pinched and curious. “Somebody got shot?”
The damp cloth feels good on my forehead, but I could forego Gladys’ positioned arm against mine.
“Want me to call that imbecile Garvey?” Olvie says sitting next to me on the leopard skin couch.
I shake my head. “He couldn’t do anything anyway. Name-calling’s not against the law.”
“So, who were those ragamuffins?”
“I only know one of them. They called me a <n….> lover.”
“Next time,” she says, “Don’t be so stupid. Pull out the cast iron skillet instead of that cheap enamel one. No, never mind that. You’re too scrawny to lift it. Be best if you grab the baseball bat under my bed. But if you swing it, don’t miss.
“I don’t want to be violent,” I say, trying to sound like my parents.
“You hear what I said? Don’t miss.”
Olvie pours herself another cup of Folgers while I start the pancake mix. “I think that was the door, Olvie.”
“Come in, Wise-Guy,” Olvie yells.
“Well, that was pleasant,” Tanner says, wearing a clean pair of “underground” railroad pants.
I pour circles of batter into the hot skillet. “What?”
“Man came charging toward me from across the street. Said I didn’t have any business being here. Guess he doesn’t like Negros.”
“Asshole,” Olvie mumbles.“That’s because he doesn’t like himself, that stupid son of a bitch.”
Pondering her words, I wonder if Olvie is really smarter than the rest of us. Mom and Dad told me people are often scared of things they don’t understand. And instead of trying to figure out what they’re afraid of, they resist anything new, anything different. Mr. Roberts must not have any Negro friends. If he did, he wouldn’t be afraid of a teenage boy.
“What did you tell him?” I ask.
“Nothing. I ignored him.”
“Why’d you do a thing like that?” Olvie says. “Should have told him off.”
“And why would I do that?” he says. “I don’t want trouble.”
Olvie huffs. “You sound like your uncle. ‘Don’t wants to cause any trouble, ma’am. Yes’m, anything you want, ma’am. Ain’t no good stirring the pot, you see.’ Ugh.”
“You think Uncle Elias should stand up for himself? Like I told Chicken Coop, he’s old school. He’s still afraid of the white man’s world.”
“Oh, and you’re not?” Olvie says.
“Oh, yes’m, I is alright,” he says in dialect. “Jes’ try nots to show it.”
Olvie stops in mid Chuckle. “Elias still thinks garlic hanging over a bed will cure a cold. If you tell him otherwise, he won’t listen. Speaking of, how’s that finger, Wise Guy. Need me to chop it off? You hung those tools up real nice in the utility room. I can find my saw easy now.”
Tanner squeezes his hand. “No thanks. Think I’ll hold on to it for a while.”
This makes Olvie laugh. She has a good laugh, one I’d like to hear more often.
Excerpt from my work in progress set in 1963.
NOTE: The photo is of Emmett Till who reminds me of my character, Tanner Ford. This novel will be in honor and memory of Emmett.
“Well, well, well,” says asshole pimply-faced Kent behind the glass window. “Thought you were leaving for the summer.”
How could the tolerant Mr. Pryor hire this racist?
“Two tickets.” I thrust the money in the hole.
“Two? Where’s your friend?”
I don’t want to get Tanner in trouble. I also want to stand my ground. “He’s behind me.”
Kent squints at Tanner. “Now you’re friends with a …” He looks behind him. Mr. Pryor faces toward us. He’s chatting with an older lady with bluish hair. “Friends with a colored? He your boyfriend?”
“Let’s go, Chicken Coop,” Tanner whispers behind me. “Ain’t worth it.”
“My friend and me came to watch a movie. Now, sell us the goddamn tickets, Kent.”
There is that look of anger and there is a look of hatred. Kent’s wearing both. He hands me the ticket.“Next,” he says through clinched teeth.
Tanner finds a place to sit in the back of the theater. I go for popcorn and cokes. When I return, he asks if we can put a couple of seats between us.
From my Work in Progress about a biracial friendship in 1963.
“Ready?” Daddy says, looking at me.
And then I remember something. “Brandon? You said Rachael liked Scooter’s get- well letter the best. How come?”
“He drew her a heart. It was Purple with a big smiling face and red pokey hair. Had freckles, too.”
“Kissed by fairies many times,” Scooter says. “More than you, Emma June.”
I hug Scooter. I want to bounce him up and down like he does me. I can’t. Scooter’s been growing, not like a weed, but like a beautiful wildflower.
Then the three of us, a Choppers-legged dog family, say our goodbyes and are about halfway home when Daddy says, “Doodle Snip? Think we can tell you about everything tomorrow? It’s been and long day and we’re—”
“It can wait,” I say. “Besides, it doesn’t matter now.” Then I’m sandwiched between two pieces of Wonder Bread.
Excerpt from The Moonshine Thicket
Being offended by social injustice is Meaningless if you don’t do something about it.