Well, we thought COVID-19 was bad, until we saw the events unfold recently around race, our police officers and everything in between. Sadness and anger have overwhelmed our country.
I have mentioned before my love of the classic southern novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.” In this book the most profound thing I recall is when Atticus Finch says to his children, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
This was the only thought that rolled through my head like a film for days. I began to imagine myself in the skins of others. Some I knew well, and some I didn’t know at all.
I also began to wonder how the ideas and realities of race and justice in a book published in 1960 still look the same today. This is an idea I cannot fix. I cannot change people, but what I can do is show others how to love.
Like most writers, I slipped into bed one night, and, as a dialogue started in my mind, my soul began to process the suffering I saw and felt. And by no prompting of my own, my mind began to recall every black human whom I loved and who had a positive influence on my life…
I began to imagine Miss Phyllis, who cared for me when I was 3 and 4 years old. I recalled perfectly her great big cheeky grin. I remember her genuine love and adoration for me while I was her daycare room every day. I could still see her smiling at me and calling out my nickname, “Hey BJ!”. For my parents often called me Bradley Jean. One knows how honored they feel when receiving a nickname. I was honored by her calmness and care for my life. She held me and loved me every day I knew her. Miss Phyllis showed me the value of human warmth and joy.
I remember a young girl in that same daycare named Kristy Jackson. She was a spicy little friend. One who made me laugh and made me feel right at home. She was a tad bit larger than me and her skin was not the same as mine, but we never minded. We were buddies. She was silly and sassy, and I have no clue what I offered this friendship. Many years later, we were in high school together. We still grinned and laughed at one another often, for when you connect with someone at a very tender age, that someone is always special. Kristy taught me the value of laughter and of being a real friend.
I remember a man named Roy who used to serve my family sweet tea and water at the Elks Lodge. He is the kindest man I recall at that and, and I looked forward to seeing him on Sundays more than fried chicken or chocolate pie. He knew us by name. He knew what we wanted to drink before we sat at our table. He was gentle. He was humble. My family adored him, and I believe we all showed up simply to check on Roy. Roy taught me what true service and humility look like. I don’t know what Roy felt every day or what he went home to, but I know that he held high a standard of love, for this was his offering to us every Sunday.
I remember my fourth-grade teacher Mrs. Sweeney. She was kind and always dressed to the nines. She had big hair that complimented her big grin. She wore bright red lipstick and had a kindness about her that rippled into her classroom every morning. I felt safe with Mrs. Sweeney. I felt smart. I felt at home. I felt as though she cared for my future, and I’m very sure she did. Mrs. Sweeney taught me leadership. She showed me that I can do great things and do them well. She taught me that smarts and kindness go hand in hand, along with a little lipstick.
I remember my principal from the 7th grade, Mr. Stinson. I’m pretty sure he did not know my name, but I recall returning from school after having broken my foot. I was wobbling down the hall on crutches, alone, and my principal passed me by and said, “What up, cryp?” I was so shocked I stopped, in motion and we both began to laugh. I don’t remember our words exchanged, but he patted my back, and we grinned and both went about our business. I think he wanted to make me feel at ease. I think he knew I was not happy in my situation, so he made it a little lighter. He taught me that we don’t always have to be so serious. He taught me that a quick, funny comment can help settle a soul. He didn’t just pass me by, he showed up for me. He taught me to pay attention and that little details can make big impacts.
I remember when I worked at the club house at Robert Trent Jones. We had two vivacious funny cooks in the back, Willie and Theresa. They were full of laughter, and yet their work was the best around. They stayed on it. They stayed calm and cool when the other staff got overwhelmed. They kept smiling and cooking when it got wild and busy. They never let off the gas. They were happy rollers, working harder than hard to provide for their families. I loved them. They showed me that joy and work go together. They taught me not to let chaos take over and to remain in your lane. Keep doing your thing well and we’ll all end well together.
Today, I think about my friend Michelle. She is one glorious, anointed woman. She knows more about me sometimes than I sometimes know about myself. She is kind and giving. She has discernment that I can only dream of. She can laugh up a space and she cares for people in deep corners of their own heart. Michelle is heaven sent. She has taught me to be still and listen. She has taught me to go forth and do likewise, in love and genuine concern.
There are many, many more people I can share about. But what is true for all these folks is that they chose to love. Should we not all do the same?
Do we not all have black and white brothers and sisters who have had a positive impact on our lives?
What have they taught you? What have they showed you?
Perhaps, if we got into everyone’s skin, whatever the race, we would feel and see that what we all simply need is a little extra love.