Monday, June 25, 2012

Bus Stop Cafe

Sitting on the big chair together, our children close at hand, I put my hand on her back and urge the children to focus on what she needs them to understand: the worries and reasons for her stern tutelage.

They know her as mother and police officer. She wants them to visualize herself as a girl, 12 years old, alone, on a Greyhound bus in 1967. She is riding from Cleveland to Florida to visit her grandmother for the summer. Somewhere in the Smoky Mountains she is stopped short on the doorstep of the bus stop cafe. “Oh, no, don’t go that way, honey,” says the elder colored woman who whisks her safely ‘round to the outhouse out back.

The woman she has become tries to explain how times then were so different; blacks had only been ensured the right to vote by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965. And how her mother had packed a bucket of fried chicken and corn bread for the trip, so she would not have to hand her money through the back door of the restaurant, and eat a sandwich defiled by spit.

We sit together, black and white reflections of our children’s biological heritage, and strive to transmit the history we have lived. It is our charge to bring to life the place where we have come from, imbue the memory with tangible feelings so the story is not merely told, but instead felt by our children. Planting a seed into their bed of experience to grow into understanding over time.

So son, when we tell you, you need to ac’ right, appear irreproachable and above suspicion, that doesn’t mean you have to step off the curb when a white man passes or avert your eyes from white women. Instead you need to accept that as an emerging young black man that people will not always see you first, but instead the color of your skin evokes preconceptions of who they expect you to be.

The days of lynchings are gone, but your parents lived in the times when they yet occurred. And while slavery is a distant memory of generations past, our heritage is to carve out new paths while being mindful of where we, the people, have traveled together.