My Friend Joe…

There is SO much going on in the world today.  mlk6Actually, there always is a lot going on, but media coverage puts the protests so consistently in our view and thoughts.  I’ve seen many posts on FB and thought, “You should write something.  But what?”

You see.  I’m a white female living in a small town.  Yes, there is crime in our small town, but if you compare life in our small town to that in a big city….it’s vastly different.  I’ve always known that I’m not a big city girl….unless God has some huge plan for me that I don’t foresee.  So….what can I write?  What could I share to impact the views of someone else?  Uncertainty of a direction prompted a prayerful pause….while I waited for the words and the wisdom to compose this post.

mlk7The pandemic saddens me because it claims lives and as of today there’s no vaccine.  The protests break my heart.  Not because they’re taking place, but because they’re needed. There’s no vaccine that can “fix” the issue.  This problem or disease must be fixed by policy change, government change, and…to be honest….a heart change in all of us.

In February, when I focus on Black History Month in my classroom, my heart is always gladdened by the disdain and confusion that our history (slavery, Jim Crow Laws, segregation, Civil Rights Movement, etc) prompts in my students.  It makes no sense to them, which is right.  There is no sense.  Sadly, it is our history.  Even sadder still, it is also still our present.

Have I ever experienced discrimination?  Probably.  Some look down on Christians.  mlk2Some judge a person by their weight.  However, when compared to what black people experience, it’s nothing.  People may not like me because of my faith or my weight, but they don’t fear me.  They don’t treat me like I’m unequal.  So, I obviously have no idea what a black person, especially a black adult male faces in our current situation.  I’ve never had someone lock their door or hold their purse tightly to their body just because I walked by.  How does that feel? I cannot fathom.

Looking back, I can count on one hand the number of black students in my high school graduating class.  I’m certain that each of them probably felt prejudice or discrimination even though I don’t recall it ever being addressed.  Then, I went to Tennessee.  East Tennessee… to attend Carson-Newman College & attain my degree in education.  This small town girl went to a small town in a state two states south.

On this small campus in this small town, my circle grew.  When a friend of mine hurt her leg, I met a football player named Joe.  As would happen, he always sat in the same place in the college cafeteria, and I would walk past him when taking my tray up or to go get in line.  It became a habit for me to greet him as I passed.  Soon, I would stop and we’d chat.  He soon became someone I’d call a good friend.  If he saw me having a bad day, he’d try and say something to cheer me up.  I never really thought about it.  We were friends.  Yet, I still recall many things said to me…

“You need to watch stopping at that table, Jodi,” a friend warned.
“Why?” the clueless blonde in me replied.
“People will talk,” she explained.
“Let’ em talk.  They’re my friends, ” I replied.

One weekend, I remember I visited a church that a friend attended with two others friends.  Joe was one of them.  As we walked across the parking lot, he asked, “Am I gonna be stared at for walking in here with the three of you?” When he asked that, I remember being confused.  Then, I realized that I never had to think things like that, and I was saddened.  Lisa assured him that if anyone stood out it would be the three of us with our pale skin tones.  We all laughed….on the outside.

mlk1When I graduated from college, Joe sent me roses.  NFL players can do things like that.  It touched my heart, but my heart was saddened by the reaction of some when they saw the card.  Why?  It simply said, “Congratulations!  Love, Joe”.  You see, I saw my friend congratulating me on finishing my degree and letting me know that even though time and distance separated us that we were still friends.  Yet, others read it and simply saw his skin color.  I said nothing, but my heart cried.

In the past 28 years (yes, I’m that old), there have been way too many incidents like what happened to George Floyd on May 25th. When a person is judged or treated more negatively than others due to their race, our hearts should break.  There have been instances where someone was feared simply because they were darker than another.  Each time these stories end up on the news, my heart cries.

As for Joe?  He and I are still friends even though I’ve not heard from him in a long time.  I think it was through LinkedIn that we were reconnected.  After reconnecting via LinkedIn, I “friended” his wife on FB because as a Christian single woman I won’t be friends with a married man if I’m not also friends with his wife.  I wish it wasn’t over 450 miles from here to there, or I’d go meet his lovely wife and handsome sons.

Today, during one of those interviews with George Floyd’s family, I reflected, “If George had been Joe, how would that have changed my reaction?”  Oh, how I pray it never is someone I know, but my true prayer is that it never is anyone.

Yet, I also pray for my friends who are police officers. I pray all police officers are not judged by the actions of some.  The four officers involved in the death of Mr. Floyd should face justice for the actions (or inaction), but I hope my friends Wayne or Josh (or others) are not judged harshly due to the hate of those four.  To be honest, I keep hearing Rodney King’s words in my head, “Can’t we all just get along?”mlk4

Taking it a step farther….can’t we all be judged not “by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character”?  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had it so right.  I don’t know how to fix it.  But….staying silent isn’t a choice I wanted to make. Silence means you either agree with actions or don’t care about it one way or another.  So, I write.  I may not have the writing skills of MLK, but I have a heart filled with sincerity and hope for a change in our current reality.

I will continue to teach our history, including the ugly parts, to my students.  I will continue to model acceptance and love to my kiddos.  And…if my path ever crosses my friend Joe’s (and his family), I’ll give him the biggest hug and remind him that friendship lasts even when time and space separate…remind him that “Lea” loves him and is glad to call him friend.

Did I accomplish anything with this post?  Not really.  I just needed my thoughts to get out of my head and written down so that maybe one person would consider to examine himself and see how he treats or judges others.

Justice is important.  Yet, I don’t see justice.  I see judgement.  My heart aches, and though I can’t do much.  I can write.

In closing, as I finished the first draft of this blog, I was listening and watching Mr. Floyd’s memorial service.  One of the speakers said something about not letting evil win or not being overcome by evil.  God has wired me with two habits that occur in times likes these.  Words often trigger a song in my head or a scripture verse in my heart.  Let us all “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  What good can you do to help overcome this very present evil of racism and prejudice?mlk8

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