Remembering Sydney Williams

sydney williams
sydney williams
Mr. Sydney Williams

Yesterday when I opened my Facebook app, I was stunned to read the news of the passing of Sydney Williams, who was a good friend and a great man. Sydney was the eldest son of Muriel and Mervin Williams, who were lifelong friends of my parents and our families were close.

I wanted to post about Sydney today because he was a leader and activist and until the end, he always spoke his mind and his truth. In 2018, Charlie Clark of the Falls Church News- Press wrote about Sydney’s perspective of growing up in Halls Hill in his column, Our Man in Arlington. Here’s an excerpt for you:

A commemoration of a different sort sprang up spontaneously on the Facebook page “I Grew Up in Arlington, Va.”

Sydney Williams, a 68-year-old Washington-Lee High School graduate now living in West Bay, Cayman Islands, lit up the site with bittersweet recollections of growing up in Hall’s Hill. Some of his posts stirring up memories of segregation were “liked” by 300 or 500 Arlington alumni.

“Hall’s Hill was a self-contained community. As children we did not have to venture out for much,” wrote Williams, who has a master’s in theology and worked in corrections in Virginia. “Ms. Allen’s store sold everything a kid could want — two-for-a-penny cookies, cold soda, fried bologna sandwiches, chips. If you did not want to walk down from the playground, you could go to Mr. Montrose’s bus (converted into a store). Hall’s Hill [was] self-sustained, walled-off, isolated, safe and secure. Segregation was great!”

Williams did not mean the Jim Crow laws and customs were fine. From 1950 to 1962, Hall’s Hill was “like a county within a county. I could not go to the movies [or] the pools” or use the close-by Arlington Hospital, he noted.

“When I attended Stratford [Junior High], we still were not totally accepted as blacks,” he wrote. “I was the only black on Stratford’s basketball team…. Every night I had to walk through the white neighborhood in the dark by myself. I moved at a fast pace through dark places. I did not feel safe until I got to Lee Highway Peoples Drug Store.”

Williams pays tribute to his grandfather, Edward T. Morton, one of the first black doctors from Hall’s Hill. “We had black educators, professional race car drivers, dentists, [and] excellent athletes,” he continued. Other colorful characters were called Popcorn, Chick or Mother Goose, and Pop Burrel. “Pop provided softball equipment for us before” before the Recreation Department would, he said. Often saluting, Pop “would dress in his World War II uniform and march to the playground with a burlap bag of balls and bats and gloves for everybody. The only catch to him providing the equipment was he had to umpire. He was the worst.”

“Even though it may appear that because of the racial climate of the times that it was hard or bad or unfair, that is not the case. Our parents prevented and shielded us from even thinking it was bad. Our childhood was wonderful, funny and interesting.”

Williams does not minimize segregation. But he added, “Please don’t feel bad for us or apologize for what we had to go through. The truth is it made me the man I am today.”

**

Sydney was a big supporter of my book, website, and the work I am doing to expand the knowledge of the untold history of Arlington’s Black community. When he visited Arlington a few years ago, he graciously granted an interview for this blog. I am sharing the interview again today to help remember Syd.

My condolences to Sydney’s wife, Floretta, and his daughter, Indigo. Much love.

Sydney was a force in the Universe and he will definitely be missed by so many people who loved and respected him. He positively impacted and educated thousands as a thought leader, a minister, a counselor, and a friend.

Roundup: Halls Hill History

Interviews and Articles

I am getting ready for new interview projects on an NPR show and I am super-excited. I was asked to provide a roundup of any interviews or articles on my work to spread Halls Hill history and related projects since my book, My Halls Hill Family: More Than a Neighborhood was published in late 2018. I decided to share this list of highlights with my website family. I hope you can check them out if you’re unfamiliar.

Stay tuned for more information about the upcoming interview right here on HallsHill.com!

Alliance for Housing Solutions

Stay Arlington: Spotlight

Arlington for Everyone

ArlingtonNow: Progressive Voice Column

Curious About Our Roots Radio Show/Podcast

Arlington Connection: It’s a Beautiful Day in the (Hall’s Hill) Neighborhood in Arlington

The Roanoke Times: Gibson: Virginia’s untaught history

Arlington Magazine: Once There Was a Segregation Wall in Arlington

Arlington Historical Society: Learn From This Place

Dennis Price Radio Show

Our Man in Arlington: Charlie Clark

Arlington Magazine: You Want to Build It Where?

WHUR-FM Radio: Taking It to the Streets Segment

WDVM-TV: Flash Floods Damage Segregation Wall

Lee Highway Alliance: Renaming Lee Highway Video

Cigar Box Project Video

Cigar Box Guitar Project from Kenmore Middle School on Vimeo.

Inside NOVA: Cigar Box Project Article

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Were Our Communities the Foundation of Our Black Power?

Growing Up Confident in Strong Black Neighborhoods

It’s interesting that many times people think growing up in a segregated neighborhood was a negative experience. Now from an infrastructure perspective, it wasn’t fun. We knew our streets, homes, school books and supplies, were not like those offered to white people. But the love, comfort, connectedness, and confidence we gained was far more important to our growth.

I’ve talked about it in previous blog posts. In my local access cable television show, UNTOLD: Stories of Black Arlington, episode two, which premieres tonight, Sunday, April 4th at 9 PM, my sister Lydia Jones Cole speaks about one of her perspective’s on segregation and racism and it’s affect – or lack of – growing up in the strong Black neighborhoods of Arlington.

Clip from UNTOLD: Stories of Black Arlington S1: E2, Lydia Jones Cole, Author, “You Must Be a Jones”

The show features Lydia speaking about her book, “You Must Be a Jones: A Family Memoir,” and Dr. Alfred O. Taylor, Jr. Author of “What an Amazing Journey!” His journey and family history really is amazing! Both books include their perspective on growing up in segregated Arlington and so does our conversation. I hope you can join me this evening. Watch on Comcast channel 69 or Verizon channel 38 in Arlington, Virginia, or streaming live on the Arlington Media homepage.



NOTE: UNTOLD premieres Sunday, April 4th at 9 PM, will also air on Monday, April 5th at 8 PM, and Friday, April 9th at 3 PM.

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UNTOLD TV Show Returns Soon!

Episode Two Features Arlington Authors

I am excited to announce that after an unexpected delay, the Arlington Independent Media television show, UNTOLD: Stories of Black Arlington will return to the airwaves later this month.

The next episode features Dr. Alfred O. Taylor, Jr. and Ms. Lydia Jones Cole, who have both recently authored biographies about growing up and living in Black Arlington. As soon as the episode is scheduled, I will update everyone on the email list and via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Host and producer Wilma Jones, left, Dr. Alfred O. Taylor, Jr., top right, Lydia Jones Cole, lower right.

Dr. Taylor’s second book is, What an Amazing Journey: To God Be the Glory which he will discuss in the episode. Dr. Taylor really does have an amazing story, and I can’t wait for him to share it with you on this episode.

Dr. Taylor’s second book.

Lydia Jones Cole is my sister and her new book gives you a deeper look into our immediate family, You Must Be a Jones: A Family Memoir during the period when the seven of us kids were growing up. It’s her perspective of life in Black Arlington, and I must say, I really like her book. In the show, she’ll tell us all about why she penned the memoir.

The cover of You Must Be a Jones.

Catch a little of the show in this interview clip below.

Lydia Jones Cole

The interviews for episodes three and four have been recorded and will be delivered to the skilled editor, TL Wilson before the end of this month. Look for those shows in April and May. I’m back on track with lots more to come in 2021.

I hope you’ll be watching as UNTOLD returns!

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Swimming in Black Arlington

Racism in the Water

Listen to the blog post, “Swimming in Black Arlington.”

I love to swim. I learned at around six years old at the Baptist Center Camp in Gainesville, VA. My best friend’s uncle was the camp lifeguard. At that age, I was only allowed to visit the camp with my friend when her grandfather came to service the pool on weekends. I naturally “took” to the water and over a few visits in the summer, I learned how to swim.

I recently began to regularly workout at the Arlington Aquatic Centers at the two Arlington high school facilities near my home, Washington-Liberty, and Yorktown. It’s great exercise and it also allows me to have a way to meditate, thereby killing two birds with one stone.

As I counted my sets in the water yesterday evening, I began to think about the fact that I didn’t learn to swim in my hometown of Arlington. Racism and discrimination permeated every facet of Black children’s access to recreation facilities, whether playgrounds, amusement parks, or pony rides. But as I began to read more about our access to pools, I was surprised by the level of hate and violence Black people endured just because they wanted to enjoy a dip in the pool. The effects of this racism endure today.

There was one public pool in Arlington where Black people could swim when I was a child, and that was the Veterans Memorial YMCA Pool in Green Valley. The “Y” opened in 1949. The building had a Community Room where they had dances and showed movies for the neighborhood youth. But because we lived on Halls Hill and didn’t have any relatives in that neighborhood, I only went swimming at the “Y” during Arlington Recreation summer camp day trips.

The first pool in Arlington was opened in 1924 at the Army-Navy Country Club off of South Glebe Road. As Charlie Clark details in his Falls Church News-Press column, Our Man in Arlington, “Arlington’s postwar boom brought subdivision membership associations. Arlington Forest got there first in 1954, with its handsome pool nestled below the Carlin Springs Road. Dominion Hills Pool on Wilson Blvd. wrote its bylaws in 1955 and built on the site of the 19th-century Powhatan Springs. My own Overlee Community Association formed on Lee Highway in 1957.” These private pools did not allow Black people to join when I was a child.

Pools in D.C. provided an alternate option for Black youth to swim. The Negro Recreation Section of Arlington County used to take children to the East Potomac Park swimming pool at Hains Point on day trips in the 1950s. In communities across America, pools were just another example of discrimination that Black people endured just trying to enjoy life.

I was stunned to read about the desegregation of pools being the cause of the first “Race Riot” in Washington, DC! In 1949 after the Anacostia Pool was desegregated Black swimmers were attacked by Whites. The aftermath of these uprisings across the country against Black people trying to swim in pools with White people was described in the book, Con­tested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America,  “millions of white Americans who once swam in public for free began to pay rather than swim for free with Black people; desegregation in the mid-fifties coincided with a surge in backyard pools and members-only swim clubs. In Washington, D.C., for example, 125 new private swim clubs were opened in less than a decade following pool desegregation in 1953

In 1973 Arlington opened its first public pools at the three high schools. It took a long time for the County government to approve the new pool system, and I’m sure in the early years when it was considered, interracial swimming was one reason to delay. I am proud to say I was an employee at W-L pool under the late Don Quesada, the pool manager, for quite a few years as a teenager. Although I didn’t learn to swim in an Arlington pool, I am happy to be able to get my swim on today in the public pool.

Segregation Q&A

One Impact of Telling Your Story

Every so often when a blog post gets a lot of traction, I receive messages from people I knew in the past. One interaction with a former elementary school friend was the subject of the blog a few weeks ago. As a result, more people from my past are reaching out to me.

I received one Facebook message from an elementary school classmate. Note, I said a classmate. We weren’t friends, and honestly, I don’t remember her. But she remembered me. After an introductory exchange, she posed a few questions. 

The Facebook message I received from a former elementary school classmate.

My initial reaction was, “I’m not responding to this.” My second thought was to turn the questions around and ask her the same things from my perspective. How did you feel about Black students coming to your school? Was it scary? Why? Were you mad at everyone Black?

Then I took a few breaths and decided that I would answer the questions in my blog. Pre-COVID after speaking engagements people would ask questions like these during the Q&A. And truthfully, since I wrote a book and continue to write about these issues, I decided to share my answers.

How did it make you feel to go to a desegregated school then? 

I missed my old school, teachers, staff (my mom was a lunch lady at Langston), and friends who were assigned to different schools. I was not looking forward to attending the new school in any way. I knew I had no choice in the matter. One interesting note was I had to take a bus to school, which was a new experience. 

My sisters and brothers had attended Stratford Junior High School with White students following their respective promotions from Langston. I always knew that I would go to school with White students one day. I just did not expect it to be so soon, in second grade. 

I didn’t think that attending a White school was going to be better than going to Langston. I knew the books, desks, balls, and art supplies would probably be better because even in the first grade I knew the government always gave Black people the worst version of anything available. But I knew I would miss the feeling of family that we had at Langston, where everyone knew everyone, and many of us were related. 

Was it scary? 

I don’t remember being scared at all. In my comparison based on what I knew about White people, I didn’t expect it to be more fun or exciting. Everything I personally knew about White people came from television. And at six years old, the family life I saw on tv did not touch the experiences I had at my home. They may have had a bigger house, a color tv, and a community with paved streets and sidewalks. But the home and community life I knew was full of experiences that were never shown on television in those days. Granted, not all of them were good, but that’s true of all homes and neighborhoods.

The way White children played on television didn’t appear to be as much fun as the things my friends and I did. Except for the fact that they could go places that we were not allowed to enter. Parks. Playgrounds. Pools. Movie theaters. But integrated schools weren’t going to change that. I wasn’t going to be able to join the Overlee Community pool. Nor was I going to be able to go swimming at Lake Barcroft. 

Allowing 300 Black students to attend five White schools wasn’t really going to change our life for the better.  Our neighborhood school, our beloved Langston, now educated kindergartners, both White and Black students. The government wouldn’t let us continue to use the building as a neighborhood school because the White parents didn’t want to send their students to a school in a Black neighborhood. But now white five year olds were sent to the school?! It was another slap in the face to our community by the school board. 

Were you mad at everyone who was white? 

Why would I be mad at White people?! 

From my perspective, it was White people who didn’t like Black people. Initially, I didn’t know any White people to be mad at them. 

I was a happy child. I was spoiled by my parents, six siblings, aunts, and uncles. I had a large community of people who thought I was a great kid. I had lots and lots of friends. As a little kid, I lacked nothing because my life was full. The adults in our community made sure that although we couldn’t go everywhere, we had the things that mattered most. So I wasn’t mad at White people, nor did I envy them. I felt like my life was better. They may have had more money. But there were Black people in my community who had more money than my family, so that didn’t mean a lot. After I began to get to know some of the White kids at my school, I knew I didn’t need to be mad at anyone. The type of family I had, I knew everybody didn’t have. 

I didn’t understand then, and I still don’t understand now, why people don’t like other people because they are different. My mom told me that “it takes all kinds,” when I would ask her about someone being different. Explaining that God made people different, that no two people ever in existence would be exactly the same. 

My perspective as a child was that the government was designed to keep Black people down. To keep us below White people in every way. But I knew that was only because they had power. At six years old, I was well aware of institutional, systemic racism, although it didn’t have a name.

Image from the National Museum of African American History and Culture

I knew Black people were just like White people and honestly, I thought we were better. I knew we had more style. I thought our music was better. I knew our church services were better. And the more I became exposed to other things created by Black people, I knew that no other group of people was better than us. Then I began to feel like maybe White people wanted to keep us down, because they were afraid that if (when) we came into our own, we could potentially exceed their accomplishments. 

What happened to your old school and the teachers who taught there?

I talked about that in this blog post. Here’s a little piece:

The final decision was made to disenfranchise the Black students and the Halls Hill community. In June 1966, Langston was closed as a neighborhood elementary school. Proposal 6 was approved. The 300 students were transferred to five White elementary schools. This was because the School Board succumbed to pressure from White parents concerned about Black children comprising the majority of students at any of the previously Whites-only schools. The School Board made sure that Black children would not exceed 35 percent of the school population.

The Halls Hill community was denied a neighborhood school, unlike every other established Arlington community. However, the School Board assigned kindergarten classes to the Langston building – both White and Black children! That decision was an insult to the Halls Hill community. And as my old elementary school friend, King Prather’s message advised, the influence of two Black males teachers in elementary school impacted him greatly. How many White children could have been positively impacted by the influence of the Langston teachers and administrators?

On the Arlington Public Schools website the information about Langston is not included in the history of desegregation of schools.

In Closing

One of my favorite poems about Black people, our families, and community perspective is Nikki-Rosa by Nikki Giovanni. It speaks so clearly of the opinion of many Black people who grew up in segregated neighborhoods in America. The opening and closing stanzas are:

Childhood remembrances are always a drag

If you’re Black

You always remember things like living in Woodlawn

With no inside toilet

And if you become famous or something

They never talk about how happy you were to have

Your mother

All to yourself… 

…And I really hope no white person ever has cause

To write about me

Because they never understand

Black love is Black wealth and they’ll

Probably talk about my hard childhood

And never understand that

All the while I was quite happy

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The Black Church on Halls Hill

Henry Louis Gates’ PBS Special and Companion Book Bring Back Memories

Listen to “The Black Church on Halls Hill.”

In mid-January, I read the PBS.com blog announcing the two-part special, “The Black Church: This is Our Story, This is Our Song.” Like most Black Americans who grew up in the Black church, the words to the subtitle were immediately familiar as the first lines of the chorus of a favorite hymn, Blessed Assurance. I was excited because I knew Dr. Gates would present this subject with the reverence and importance it was due. The Black church was the foundation upon which so many of the advances in Black American life was built. Many of us in the Black community know this fact. It is past time for this important information to be brought into the mainstream of American history.

I watched with anticipation when the show premiered. As the stories were told and songs and experiences of our ancestors were displayed before me on the screen, I remembered my personal experience in the churches of Halls Hill. My mom and dad were faithful members of Mt. Salvation Baptist Church, and Calloway Methodist Church, respectively. They grew up in those churches and after they married, they both continued their service and faith journeys at their “home” churches. I and my siblings grew up in the same churches as our parents. My mom took the seven children with her to Sunday School and 11 AM morning service every week. (We all went to Calloway for anniversaries, special programs and events, and of course, Vacation Bible School.)

Rev. N. R. Richardson, who became pastor of Mt. Salvation in 1931. This pic was taken in 1954. My mom is fourth from the left.

When I remember going to Mt. Salvation as a young child, this picture is the vision I see in my mind. If the church was open, my mom was probably there. By the time I was a kid, she was the Superintendent of the Sunday School, the Church Clerk, sang in the Senior Choir, served on the Senior Usher Board, and more. And her level of service was not unusual. This was the norm. It was true of most of my friend’s parents as well. At Calloway, my dad was on the Trustee Board, Financial Secretary for many years, and was a Senior Usher, too. Dr. Gates reflected on this characteristic in the documentary. That’s how people in the Black churched rolled. They served.

A picture of the Calloway Trustee Board from the Centennial Celebration Program in 1966. My dad is second from the right.

The church was the center of our life and faith was the foundation of our home. The churches in our segregated neighborhoods filled the gap in our racist society. Black people did not have equal access to education, social, and or entertainment opportunities. The Black church is where we planned and strategized. As the documentary described it, the Black church played the “bedrock role as the site of African American survival and grace, organizing and resilience, thriving and testifying, autonomy and freedom, solidarity and speaking truth to power.”

This is definitely true for the role the Black Church played in Arlington. The first Black church established in Arlington in Freedman’s Village was the Old Bell Church, which became Mt. Zion Baptist Church, which still stands in the Green Valley neighborhood. The church members set the tone for all the Black churches that would follow to focus on faith, responsibility, education, and organizing their members for the betterment of the entire community. Combining faith, praise, and worship with a focus on social justice and equality. And now in 2021, it remains important work that many Black churches continue to do today.

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What is Best for the Children

But Only When the Children are White

Listen to “What Is Best for the Children.”

I entered the segregated Langston Elementary School as a kindergartner in September 1964 in Miss Green’s class. As a child, I was completely unaware of the battle the adults in our community were engaged in with the Arlington County School Board. Our parents, the John M. Langston Citizens Association, the Arlington Branch of the NAACP, and the local Congress of Racial Equality were all working to convince the School Board to have Langston remain a neighborhood school.

There were discussions and proposals throughout the next two years to determine what would happen to the students and the school building once segregation of Black and White children was scheduled to end. The School Board feared that White parents would not want their children to attend the school in the Black community. This was despite the fact that the Halls Hill neighborhood was surrounded by White communities. Many of the White children who would be assigned to Langston lived only a few blocks from the school.

The proposed plan that would have kept the Langston Elementary School as a neighborhood school following integration. This planned was not approved.

This plan described in the article above would have bussed far fewer students than “Plan 6,” one of the previously proposed plans. However, many of the parents of the White children preferred “Plan 6.” The School Board “made it clear” that race was not to be considered but that was an obvious falsehood.

It had been well-documented that school boundaries for Langston were gerrymandered to segregate the races at the school. The School Board was taking heat for the way they were addressing the integration of the three segregated elementary schools, as documented by multiple newspaper articles, one of which is excerpted below.

The final decision was made to disenfranchise the Black students and the Halls Hill community. In June 1966, Langston was closed as a neighborhood elementary school. Proposal 6 was approved. The 300 students were transferred to five White elementary schools. This was because the School Board succumbed to pressure from White parents concerned about Black children comprising the majority of students at any of the previously Whites-only schools. The School Board made sure that Black children would not exceed 35 percent of the school population.

The Halls Hill community was denied a neighborhood school, unlike every other established Arlington community. However, the School Board assigned kindergarten classes to the Langston building – both White and Black children! That decision was an insult to the Halls Hill community. And as my old elementary school friend, King Prather’s message advised, the influence of two Black males teachers in elementary school impacted him greatly. How many White children could have been positively impacted by the influence of the Langston teachers and administrators?

On the Arlington Public Schools website the information about Langston is not included in the history of desegregation of schools.

In my experience, I have found that the Arlington County School Board has rarely (if ever) made a boundary decision that favors Black, POC, or poor children over the middle and upper-class White majority. Unfortunately, this record continues today.

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We Have to Wrestle Our Demons in the Daylight

How Do We Confront the Racism of Our Nation’s Past?

Listen to the blog post – “We Have to Wrestle Our Demons in the Daylight”

I attended segregated Langston Elementary School in the Halls Hill neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia for kindergarten and first grade. In June 1966, Langston was closed. All of the students were divided by address and forced to attend five white schools, to ensure that the percentage of Black students would not exceed 35 percent of the student population at any of the schools.

I was enrolled at Walter Reed Elementary School and began second grade in Miss Harmony’s class. I was one of four or five Black students from Langston in the class of about 25 students. In Arlington County, third-grade students were tested for admittance into the talented and gifted program, called “Seminar.” To the school administration’s surprise, two Black students at Reed would be among the 24 Seminar students in the upcoming fourth-grade class. By fifth grade, the School Board cut the budget. The funding would support only 12 students and I was to be the lone Black Seminar student. Trust that there was a lot of communication between the school and parents because there was a major effort to keep Black students out of these programs. Unfortunately for the school, my parents were well versed in the strategies used to delay and deny Black students their rightful accommodations, and I remained in the program.

I knew that many of my fellow students were racists. I knew many grew up in racist households and that their parents did not want us in class together. I didn’t know any White children before I started school at Reed. I developed a friendship with one White girl in elementary school. We were in Seminar classes together for all three years. She was Jewish and her mom had earned a graduate degree at Howard University. For most of the other White kids, I am sure the Halls Hill kids were the first Black people they had interacted with at that level in their lives.

I have since reconnected with many of my fellow classmates from high school on Facebook. Very few from elementary school. A few years ago, my White friend from Reed school reached out. It’s been great to re-establish our friendship and meet each other’s children.

After I published My Halls Hill Family: More Than a Neighborhood, I heard from a lot of my old classmates. They gave me feedback and discussed their thoughts of those old times. But most of the interactions were not deep exchanges. I often wondered after those exchanges what they really thought and experienced during those times.

On Thursday, June 25, 2020, I received a Facebook message that let me know my book was bringing back thoughts for an old classmate. He wasn’t afraid to address his family history and have courageous communication with me about how the book impacted his perspective.

You may or may not remember me, although I am cursed with a memorable name.  We met when we spent time in school together in Mr. Marsh’s and Mrs. Scharff’s classes at Reed elementary.   I remember you as curious, and very confident. I also remember that you were very fast.  Funny the things we remember.  

Last week I read your wonderfully personal book about Halls Hill.  I was envious of the familial feel you described, the sense of community.  I was proud that you were describing a neighborhood in my hometown.  I lived in Woodlawn at 14th and Buchanan.  Through your eyes I was able to see what I had missed growing up.  Four blocks away, on the other side of the wall, my perspective was different.  My perspective was mis-informed.

I should tell you that I hovered over the purchase button for your book a few months ago.  Sometimes I don’t know why I act or procrastinate, but this time it is clear.  George Floyd sent me back to buy the book.  And he sent me to you because our paths crossed way back when.  Black lives matter.

Whoa! I was like, what the what?! Needless to say, I was shocked.

He goes on to explain the disconnect in his elementary school mind, of the things he heard from his Alabama relatives about Black people, compared to the experiences he had in his classroom in Arlington, Virginia. And based on his experiences with Mr. Marsh, our Black male fifth-grade teacher.

Although my parents were very rarely overtly racist, I never recall speaking about differences. I do recall being exposed to overt racism when visiting extended family.   Our vacations in Alabama were littered with relatives who laughed at dropping fireworks into the bathroom stalls when the rest rooms were integrated, or who taught their dogs to bark at the N word.  Really.  

I do recall trying to square the impression I was getting from this environment that blacks were inferior with the experiences I was having that would tend to indicate otherwise.  As a traveling PE teacher, Coach Willie Jones was assigned to Woodlawn as well.  I remember him encouraging me with my sprinting form.  I also remember his “no cuttin’ up” rules, applied equally to black and white kids. He was a good role model.   Hank Aaron was my baseball hero.  I recalling being sad when I read about the death threats and ugly notes he received while chasing Babe Ruth.  Mr. Marsh was a hero.

These are the tough conversations that are starting to happen with more frequency. I am happy that my book helped to drive this dialogue with my old elementary school friend, N. King Prather as he confronts his past with his present and the efforts he is making to be anti-racist in his village in North Carolina today.

Fast forward……..Throughout my professional career, I worked with my employers on diversity efforts.  Today I am working on Governor Cooper’s DRIVE Task Force here in North Carolina in an effort to increase the number of minorities teaching in the classroom.  Life has taught me the invaluable advantages of diversity, and the reality of systemic racism in so many areas that remain impactful today.  I also believe that we all owe a contribution to the community woodpile.  It takes a village.

Today, King sent me a link to an article published on WRAL.com, We are all ancestors of ourselves where he states, “Black lives matter. Justice is a process, not an outcome. Silence is complicity.” I am proud that the “rambling letter” he sent to me last summer was the beginning of the thoughts that became this article.

As I wrote to King this morning, “I think it’s through this type of introspection…that real change in this country will finally happen.” And he responded, “We have to wrestle our demons in the daylight.” Well said, my friend.

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