Faces in the streets
As I walked down Colfax at today’s MLK Day Marade, camera in hand, I saw the faces of people I grew up with.
I didn’t grow up in Colorado. I grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in the 1960s and 1970s.
When I was very little, maybe 3 or 4, my dad was active in the NAACP. He would march alongside civil rights leaders in Indiana, calling for equal rights for every resident of Fort Wayne, and he took me with him on those marches. So I began to learn about civil rights from a very young age. But it was one thing to hear about it, and quite another to see it for myself.
I remember the first black family in our school, when I was in elementary school. Dad had wanted to help the family buy a home on our street, but it could have been dangerous, given some of the downright poisonous attitudes of people in our neighborhood. The Thomas family just wanted to buy a nice home in a nice neighborhood, and they eventually found one. It wasn’t in our neighborhood.
I remember the day the schools were integrated in Fort Wayne. I was in the ninth grade, in a suburban school a good 10 miles from what we called “the inner city,” where most black people lived.
My most vivid memory from that first day is of black students refusing to go to class because the suburban school they had been bussed to was so far away from their homes, their schools, their neighborhoods, and even some of the friends they’d grown up with, who were being bussed to other suburban schools.
What finally united us, some two years later, was basketball. The high school I went to was a contender for the state championship, and this was a big deal in Indiana because all the high schools back then contended for the state championship, from the smallest school with less than 100 students to the large urban schools that held more than a thousand each.
But there was one more thing that united us, even more important than basketball: the death of our star player’s mom, to cancer, just a few months before the 1974 state championship.
Everyone, white or black, went to the funeral, which was held in an AME church. The entire basketball team was there. Teachers — all white — went. Dozens of white kids who’d never set foot in that part of town before went.
I remember watching one of the daughters, Laurietta, who was a friend, grieve for her mom. I didn’t see a black teenager mourning for her mom. I saw a friend in pain, who would never get to see her mother again.
We were all a little different after that day.
Those are the faces I saw today – the faces of those who helped me learn so long ago what it meant to believe in the dream.
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