While I dug into my bag to find my reporter’s notebook and pen, he poured me a glass of sweet tea. We sat at his kitchen table and he couldn’t have been nicer. I had called him for help with my story and he suggested that since he had the day off from work, I was working on a tight deadline, and my office was nearby, I should stop by his house. I forget the gist of the story, long forgotten in the cobwebs that I call a brain. I think it had something to do with a proposed zoning change. Who knows?
The story may be a distant memory, but I remember very clearly the conversation. He was talkative and friendly and we quickly found out that we had much in common. I was in my mid 20s, he was in his mid 20s; I was trying to build a career in journalism, he was trying to build a career in municipal administration. I loved the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers, he was a big fan of the Steeler’s rivals, the Dallas Cowboys. The similarities went further. Our wives were both pregnant with our first children. We commiserated on the challenges of keeping up with our spouses and the changes that were about to take over our lives.
Despite our similarities, we had one big difference: He was black, I was white.
The topic that never goes away
We started talking about rights-of-way and zoning options, but we somehow took a left turn and ended up talking about race relations in the U.S. I’m not sure how we got there, but the conversation was rapid-fire, back and forth. He talked about how his parents moved from somewhere in the South to Detroit for a better life. His father had gotten a good paying job at a Ford plant, but the week before they moved he said he watched as large crowd of KKK members took over a local Memorial Day parade. He got quiet when he told the story of how one minute his family was enjoying their Memorial Day Weekend, the next an impromptu gang took over the parade and members in white hoods pointed their fingers at his family and made a sign like they were slashing their throats. He told me, “Brian, I was pretty young, but I’ve never been so scared in my life.”
I was struck by the honesty of the conversation. I thought of my own little town’s Memorial Day parade and the role that it played in my community and how it was something fun and exciting. I talked too about how I didn’t have a lot of friends of color growing up, not because of choice, just because there weren’t a lot in my rural community. The closest minority being the Amish. With that comment, we couldn’t help, but laugh.
Dreams of a better world
We could’ve kept talking the rest of the day. We weren’t a white guy or a black guy. We were just two Dads-to-be trying to figure out this crazy world of ours. Unfortunately, I had a deadline and needed to get back to the newspaper and he had errands that he needed to run on his day off.
Before we went our separate ways, we shook hands, wished each other luck, and he gave me some advice that has stayed with me. I thought of it often after the Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd tragedies this summer. The advice came from something Martin Luther King, Jr. said in August 1967 and the quote goes: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
I have many feelings about the state of race relations, too many to fill a small little blog, but I continue to believe that we are more alike, than we are different. If two guys of differing skin colors can come together and chew the fat about their hopes and dreams, there has to be hope. Yes, yes, I believe Dr. King was right, love is the answer, it’s the ultimately the only answer to humankind’s problems.