It was during the early morning hours of June 7th 1998 that 49 year old, James Byrd Jr. of Jasper Texas was dragged nearly three miles behind the bumper of a pickup truck to his death.
Just the day before my wife and I brought our second newborn daughter home from the hospital and I wondered as I watched the events of Jasper Texas unfold on our living room television if we had done the right thing. Was it fair to bring such and innocent child into such a troubled world?
I asked myself how it was possible that three individuals could wrap a fellow human being in chains and drag him to his death simply because of the color of his skin. My answer came easily. It was hate. Hate, is a powerful emotion. In this case, hate nurtured from birth for the color of another man's skin.
Over the years the number of times that I had seen disturbing events on TV was too many to count but somehow this time it was different. The words that kept reverberating through my entire being were; “If you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem”
I had become an expert at seeing things that troubled me, would complain about them, but very rarely if ever was I part of the solution.
One year later I entered the Salvation Army Headquarters in the North End of Hartford. The North End is about a galaxy away from the silk tie, shiny shoe side of the city that I knew. I had never seen so much despair. It came in the form of abandoned cars, broken glass and shattered dreams.
I met Rev. Brian Keith Sinclair who headed the "Teens in Jeans" program. I quickly asked him; “What else do the kids see besides what I saw today?”
He said; “The absence of hope is the reality of their existence as this is all they know or ever see!”
I invited him and a “FEW” of his kids to our home in the country the following weekend. You can imagine the look of surprise on my face when a full size yellow school bus pulled up in our driveway and 47 kids from inner city Hartford piled out on our front lawn. It was awesome!
For years “My Kids” came to visit us each month. Some months we would hike, swim, sled or simply play board games around the fireplace. Each time the message was “Love”. Each time it was with the hope that my own children would see beyond color.
A friend asked my wife one day; “Do you really think that you are making a difference?” It was a fair question and one that we were never really compelled to measure. The reason was simple. We weren’t doing it to make a difference as much as we were doing it because it was just plain fun. It felt good. It was good for our family.
A short time after that question was asked my eldest daughter Kendall was sitting in my lap and I showed her a picture of she and her beautiful, dark skin friend, Chaneen.
I asked her; “Kendall what’s the difference between you and Chaneen?”
“That’s easy Daddy” she said; “Chaneen is 5 and I am 4”
Anything else I queried?
“Yeah Daddy, I have straight hair and her's is curly”
Once again I asked "anything else"?
She thought about it for a moment and then said “Oh yeah Daddy there is one more BIG thing, Chaneen has lost four teeth I have only lost one”.
A sense of wellbeing seemed to cover me as we sat together that day.
Now more than fifteen years later Kendall and Chaneen are still friends. Without question they now see each other’s “color”, however what they see first is a friend.