This will be short. In this lifetime I was born into the body of a black male. I have had the privilege of living each day after being maliciously attacked at a playground in Toronto at the age of 6 by many white kids most older than me. I was bloodied and bruised. It felt as though I was going to die at that very young age. I had never been beaten before. I survived that encounter.
I have survived other encounters never knowing if it is to be my last. There have been too many to name. There have been many wounds.
In high school I wrote about the murder of my soccer mate Michael Habib [black teenage boy]. He was shot by a white supremacist in a parking lot at Fairview mall in Toronto. Our high school newspaper refused to publish my article; the school principal nixed the article. The principal did not feel the ‘students’ [white students] were ready to discuss the issue.
That same year I helped a Jewish student when he was being bullied beside his locker by a white supremacist with a hunting knife. The irony is that Jewish boy’s last name was Zimmerman. I told him he should report this to the principle – Zimmerman said something to the affect, who is going to believe us? The ‘us’ being a Black and a Jew.
There are so so many racially charged moments that happen that it is hard, even on a good day, for many within the presently dominant culture to grasp how someone black like me can survive or even thrive. One of my coping mechanisms is to create something beautiful or at least attempt to create something beautiful while enduring the countless moments of hurts caused directly and indirectly by that same dominant culture. I will often just pause to contemplate the scent of the air, the light through the trees, the depth of laughter from my children and their friends. I will give thanks for every day, every moment of the day to the possibility of seeing/knowing the beauty that lay in the ever-present face of ugliness. Race in this case – but we know there are more areas than just race.
For instance: As a young architecture student in my first year of university, I lay in a couch late at night trying to grab a short nap while pulling an all-nighter. The school and program was predominantly white and privileged. It was a privilege to be accepted as the 3rd or 4th black raced kid in 25 years. Anyway, late in the studio, I hear the voice of one of Canada’s preeminent professors of architecture. He is speaking to a group of late night studio hounds like myself. He nor the other students know that I’m there behind a blackboard laying down on the sofa. As I lay there trying to sleep, the topic of conversation changed to race and social issues.
What got my full attention was hearing from this famous white professor the description of Dr. Martin Luther King … “he [Dr. King] was just the son of some NIGGER BAPTIST PREACHER” …
Now rather than get upset at the ingrained hateful language and the holder of that language I simply reflected on the ‘other’ benefit of studying another black survivor, Josiah Henson (a.k.a. Uncle Tom). Survival is a political and creative act. Further, any survival that uplifts a family, a street, a town or a nation to the benefit of the whole is divine.
So back in the studio; I simply got up from the couch walked over to my desk and continued to try and make beautiful ideas. The professor and some of my schoolmates now knew I was there. I had 4 more years to go not knowing if I’d make it from one year to the next.
BTW: This professor quietly turned into an ally in the subsequent years. Truth is stranger than fiction.
Today is the day after the George Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict. Travon Martin continues to contribute so much beauty to my world … I am speechless and I am thankful to have known even a little about him. Beauty is found in unlikely moments. I hope to be part of the many who will continue Travon’s beauty.