It was during the early morning hours of June 7th 1998 that 49-year-old James Byrd Jr. of Jasper, Texas was dragged nearly three miles behind the bumper of a pickup truck to his death.
Just the day before my wife and I brought our second newborn daughter home from the hospital and I wondered if we had done the right thing. Was it fair to bring child into such a troubled world?
I asked how it was possible that three individuals could wrap a fellow human being in chains and drag him to his death simply because of the color of his skin. My answer came easily. It was hate. Hate is a powerful emotion. In this case, hate nurtured from birth for the color of another man’s skin.
Over the years the number of disturbing events I saw on TV were too many to count, but this time it was different. The words that reverberated through my being were, “If you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem”
I had become an expert at seeing things troubled me and complaining about them, but very rarely was I part of the solution.
One year later I entered the Salvation Army Headquarters in the North End of Hartford. The North End is a galaxy away from the side of the city I knew. I had never seen so much despair in the form of abandoned cars, broken glass and boarded up windows.
I met Rev. Brian Keith Sinclair, who headed the Teens and Jeans program, and asked, “What else do the kids see besides what I saw today?”
He said, “The absence of hope is the reality of their existence, as this is all they know or ever see!”
I invited him and a “few” of his kids to our home in the country the following weekend. You can imagine the look of surprise on my face when a full size yellow school bus pulled in our driveway and 47 kids from inner city Hartford piled out. It was awesome!
For years “My Kids” came to visit each month. We would hike, swim, sled or simply play board games around the fireplace. Each time the message was “Love.” Each time it was with the hope that my children would see beyond color.
A friend asked my wife one day, “Do you really think you are making a difference?” It was a fair question, and one that we were never really compelled to measure. The reason was simple. We weren’t doing it to make a difference as much as we were doing it because it was just plain fun. It felt good. It was good for our family.
A short time after that question was asked, my eldest daughter Kendall was sitting in my lap, and I showed her a picture of her and a friend.
I asked her, “Kendall what’s the difference between you and Chaneen?”
“That’s easy Daddy” she said, “Chaneen is 5 and I am 4”
“Yeah Daddy, I have straight hair and hers is curly”
She thought a moment.
“Oh yeah Daddy there is one more big thing, Chaneen has lost four teeth I have only lost one.”
A sense of wellbeing covered me as we sat together.
More than fifteen years later Kendall and Chaneen are still friends. Without question they now see each other’s “color,” however what they see first is a friend.