I was thinking about the way we were back when I was a youngster and walking to school in the morning. Sure, we all had our problems. We all had our differences too and regardless to how divided we may have been at times, we were still together as a community.
America, I grew up in a middle income world. No one I knew was overly wealthy and no one was tragically poor. We were all somehow safe in our modern day ignorance. There was racism. Make no mistake about it. Racism was alive and well but we never really spoke about it much. We never complained; we just knew what it was.
Going back to the years when I was so small, I wore one-piece pajamas with little feet on them, I remember my neighbor, Mr. Praus. He lived in the house next to mine with an elderly woman named Laura. Mr. Praus was dark skinned and spoke with a very thick Brazilian accent. He was difficult to understand but then again. I was too young to speak with Mr. Praus very much. Laura was from Belgium. She was divorced and older in years. She was kind to my family and always offered vegetables or fruit, which she grew in her garden.
I was too young to know much about the relationship between Laura and Mr. Praus. I know there was nothing intimate about it. I know that Mr. Praus helped around the house in exchange for a place to live. To me, it always seemed like a happy, mutually beneficial relationship. I never saw their difference of skin color. I never thought there was a problem with it and I certainly never thought much about the racial tension at the time. Then again, I was too small to know, think about, or understand anything like that.
One evening, a small group of men decided to plant a wooden cross on Laura’s front lawn. To help with a better picture, our house was on a main street. Mine was the fifth house on Merrick Avenue, just north of Front Street. Laura’s was the fourth house. Our town was no different from any middle-income town. We had our supermarkets and neighborhood delis. We had our neighborhood gas stations and service stations. There was a Carvel further south on Merrick and a bar known as Sugar Mountain Lodge on the corner of Front Street. My street was a busy street but we were safe and secure in our own neighborhood.
On the afternoon when the group of men decided to plant a wooden cross on Laura’s front lawn, they also lit the cross on fire. This was about sundown and the weather was somewhat warm.
I never understood why this happened. I never knew there was anything wrong with the arrangement in the home next to mine.
Mr. Praus worked hard and he worked often. Laura was a fine woman, a grandmother, a friendly neighbor, and always kind. Why would anyone do something like this? And all I could remember was the swirling lights on firetrucks and police cars. I remember standing on the front stoop in my blue pajamas. It was evening and the sun had already begun to sink downward. The Old Man stood next to me. Then he grabbed me by the hand and walked me down the steps. The Old Man took me over to the house next door, walked passed the firemen and policemen standing at the scene, and then The Old Man walked right up to Mr. Praus and explained, “Not everybody feels this way.” He shook Mr. Praus’ hand and apologized for what had happened. After which, The Old Man took my hand again and walked me back home.
I remember the look on Mr. Praus’ face. I remember the blackened parts of the burned wood on the cross. I remember the smoke lifting from the arms of the smoldered crucifix. The cross itself was not very tall. In fact it was equal to me, the height of a five to six year old boy.
I was too young to understand what happened and why. I was too young to know what the word “Nigger” meant, which apparently was one of the words screamed when the cross was ignited. I was young, however, I was old enough to understand the cross had something to do with religion. I knew it had something to do with God so I asked The Old Man, “Doesn’t the cross mean something about God?”
Then I asked, “Why would someone burn something that had to do with God?”
The Old Man was as tough as they come but this hit him hard. He was sad and I didn’t know why. I asked, “Why did they do that?”
“Because they’re stupid,” is all he could say.
I never forgot this.
This is when i learned what hatred is
I admit it. I am guilty of my own share of prejudice. I am guilty of ignorance. I remember being a boy and walking to school. I remember the homes in the town with the American Flag planted on flagpoles in front yards. I would see cars warming up in the winter, exhaust fuming into the cold winter air as working men ran from their front doors, a thermos with coffee in hand, newspaper folded and tucked under one arm as they rush to their car and rush off to work their lives away.
We were ignorant. We were angry. We were misled and misinformed. And for as long as I can remember, there has always been racial tension. There are wrongs on all different sides. There are wrongs on the white side and wrongs on the black. There are leaders who do not deserve to be called leaders. And there are those who claim to want want to make our country great, but we are falling from greatness America. And I’m tired of listening to the political know-it-all minded. I am tired of the liberal and the conservative. I’m tired and I don’t want to talk with either of them anymore. Instead, I will stand tall with my beliefs to strengthen my spine.
America, I thought I had seen a lot in my life but I have never seen the tension as tight as it is now. With all my heart, America, I am sorry. I am sorry for the left side and the right side of our government. I am sorry for the citizens who disgrace your freedom. I am sorry that we the people of The United States of America, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, and provide for the common defense, we have lost our way more now than ever before. Our sense of unity is furthermore being destroyed from the inside out, and with heavy heart, it pains me to admit this truth.
America, I refuse to give in. I plan to stand with you. I plan to stand with the country, which I wholeheartedly believe in. I will not give in to the systematic destruction of your constitution or your threads which weave together and give meaning to the words, Red, White, and Blue. I am still proud of who I am. I am the tired, the poor, and the huddle masses yearning to breathe freely. And because of the warmth in your bosom; I am not poor, or tired. No, I am a man alive in what I will call the greatest place on Earth. I am an American and proud to be. In spite of our faults, in spite of our differences and ignorance; I am an American and to those with “Love it or leave it,” in mind—I cannot and will not leave or surrender my home soil because this is who I am and this is where I live.
I am tired of the far left and the far right. I am tired of them because both sides of our political system seem to forget about us, the middle, otherwise known as the heart of our country.
America, I cannot say what will happen in the near future. I cannot say whether war is eminent or if we will arise triumphant in the face of danger, terrorism, and the threats to your democracy. I can only tell you that I still believe in you. I may not believe in the people who serve you. But America, you are a spirit to me. And it is that spirit which I still choose to believe in.
I will not give up. I will not listen to either side of thought. I will not allow myself to be drawn into debate. I will, however, defend my soil with all my heart, soul, and even flesh.
And remember that so long as there is breath in my lungs, you will never be alone