Say hello or smile
To the editor:
I grew up with a famous grandfather who was prejudiced. I was lucky to have parents who taught me to appreciate all people. My first Black person experience was with Charlie Walker in the early 1970s. He was very nice to me as I delivered newspapers as I walked by his work place across the street from the then Holiday Inn. Charlie was outgoing, polite, he participated in community theater, had a tremendous voice, his rendition of “Old Man River” remains fixated in my inner psyche. Charlie set the tone for my like of Black people.
When I entered high school at Northwood, there was a Black student named Wayne Lewis-Hutchinson. He played football but was not a starter. He worked hard in the weight room and did everything he could to remain a part of the team. It was in the classroom where Wayne excelled. Some years he was the only Black student in our school. Did he persevere in our environment? Yes. Did he earn his place at Princeton? Definitely. He was valedictorian, a beautiful writer, exceptional in math and science, and though he beat Heidi Holderied and me out for top of our class, he was our friend.
My sister, Cris, brought a Black tennis player named Judi Wakhungu, from Kenya home from St. Lawrence during a break from classes. Judi was delightful in her wit, her ability to be teased, and especially her ability to tease right back. We brought her to dinner at my grandparents. My grandfather’s eyes grew wide open as she walked in, and he was noticeably quiet at dinner that night. He realized that if his granddaughter was friends with Judi, he better be accepting. As he would look up from the floor, we saw slight change was possible even for an 86-year-old man.
Slight change is no longer good enough. Dare to reach out to someone of color by saying hello, not by painting thoughtless graffiti. Welcome all in this turbulent time with a smile even if it is behind your mask, because eyes don’t lie.