A Shameful Piece of History

In a time when many of us are feeling isolated, whether by Covid or politics, one thing we all have in common is that we view the world through a unique lens that’s crafted by the lives we’ve led. The only way we can try and make sense out of this complicated world is to draw from our personal experiences. I, for example, grew up in Louisville, Kentucky in a middle-income family that loved the University of Kentucky Wildcats, sweet tea, trips to the lake and the Beach Boys. Every single event in my life – from having a nun clean tiny rocks out my skinned knee in the first grade to a family vacation in Colorado before my parents divorced – has contributed to the person I am today and how I view the world.

When I was five, I witnessed a shameful piece of our history that had a profound impact on my sense of right and wrong. I was born in Okolona, a quiet community in Louisville that’s best known as the home of two-time Super Bowl champion Phil Simms (I know, not a huge claim to fame). When Louisville began bussing black students to all-white schools and vice versa to better integrate classrooms, protests (many verging on riots) erupted throughout the city, including in the parking lot across from Southern High School where Simms had graduated.

It was just a block from my home, so my grandparents took me to watch – we sat on the porch of a funeral home across the street and watched men in white robes with pointy hats shouting, throwing bottles and burning the mailboxes where my mom dropped her bills each month. That night, I remember my parents telling me we had to stay inside because there was tear gas, but I didn’t understand what that meant. I only knew that our usually peaceful neighborhood was now full of honking horns, shouting people and flashing police lights. I was so young, I don’t remember what my parents or grandparents said to me that day or how they may have tried to make sense of what was happening. I just remember being scared.

But I can tell you the impact it had on me. I’ve thought about that day so many times over the years, and each time it leads me to the same question – how in the world can people have so much hatred for their fellow man based only on a physical trait that none of us can control? What if we lived in an alternate universe, and instead of race it was the length of your ring finger, or shape of your earlobe, or whether you had an “innie” or an “outie” that people judged you on?  It would seem no less ridiculous to me than hating someone because of the tone of their skin.

It left me with a deep-ruited understanding that it doesn’t matter what color your skin is, or your hair, your eyes, what god you worship (or don’t), who you love, where you were born. We’re all just people, made up of millions of little factors that we’ve had zero personal control over.  

I’m immensely thankful that my grandparents brought me along that day, although they both passed away years ago so I can’t thank them. If they hadn’t, I wonder how it may have changed my perspective on the world. Because having different backgrounds and life experiences gives us a broad range of perspectives, and that matters. What a boring world it would be if we were all exactly the same.

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