I grew up during integration and got bused in the 9th grade from the suburbs to Central High School in downtown Louisville. I don’t recall any problems or issues except for getting caught hanging a dissected fetal pig in the stairwell. But that had nothing to do with the racial tension of the times. While there, I joined the wrestling squad with a friend named Paul. Neither of us had ever wrestled. But there we stood on the first day with our puny arms and legs jutting out of our singlets, the only freshman on the matt and the only white kids on the team. None of that ever mattered; I had a ball that season.
Unfortunately, I had to practice every day with a senior named Marcus who introduced me to all kinds of takedowns and submission holds, as well as Jheri Curl. (It was the 80’s, after all.) Marcus had a very likeable manner, always quiet and unassuming while he wrecked me on the matt. The funniest thing happened toward the end of each practice. The team captain, Leonard, kept the clock and at precisely 4 pm, he would yell, “White boy time!” This because Paul and I had to leave early to catch the TARC bus back the burbs. Marcus would free me of whatever death grip he was working on at the time and the whole team always gave us a cheer as we left.
I count myself fortunate to have been raised in a home where color was never an issue. Thank you, Mom and Dad. I am blessed to have had experiences like the wrestling team and a stint in the army to show me a man’s heart and metal are infinitely more important than his skin. So recently when my barber made an overtly racist comment to me after my third time in his chair, I walked out, determined never to return. I really thought we were past that.
It didn’t take long to find a new barber shop nearby when I needed my next haircut. I pulled in the crowded shopping center and walked through the tinted glass door, looking for a place to sign in. By the time I got to the counter, I realized I was being stared at by about thirty people in the shop. Ironically, I was the only white guy. Kinda funny after the reason for my switch. White boy time, again.
Time froze as it is apt to do awkward situations until a guy from behind the counter asked, “You want a cut?”
“What’s the wait?” I asked. After all, it was crowded.
“About as long as it will take you to get in this chair,” he said.
It took about three seconds and I got a good cut from Bennie. I’ve been back a few times. Turns out he is from Ohio, grew up on the Reds and King’s Island like me and has a precious baby girl. Nice guy, Bennie. We have a lot in common. I like talking to him more than the guy down the street.
Happy Martin Luther King, Jr Day. I urge you to meditate on his brilliant I Have a Dream speech and other writings regularly and invite you down here to Atlanta to visit The Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site. It is a good thing to honor such a man.