Part 1// Where I'm From (Dad's story)
These past few weeks at NYCUP race has been a topic that has come up a lot. We have been talking a lot about racial reconciliation and how necessary it is in this country (not only between white Americans and black Americans, but also with Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, Middle Eastern Americans, etc.). Being a multiracial person, I have been struggling a lot in where my place is in all of this.
A few months ago my roommate asked me if I defined myself as more white or as more black. I honestly had no idea how to answer this question. This lead me to create this photo book for my Experimental Film class in which I projected images of segregation and racial conflict from the 40s and 50s and images of both of my parents from when they were growing up onto myself. It was my way of placing myself into the history. This photographic study was just the beginning of my ongoing discovery of my identity.
I think in order to figure out the answers we are seeking in the present, we must first look to the past. So for the next 2 weeks, I will be sharing the stories of my parents.
Interview with My Dad
Where/When were you born?
Washington D.C. in 1963
Where did you grow up?
In D.C. until I was 7 when we moved to Maryland
What was your neighborhood like?
In DC, we lived in part of the DC ghetto. We didn’t have grass to play on- just dirt, rocks and glass from broken jars and beer bottles. We were creative kids that would pretend that someone’s new clothes dryer box was a spaceship. We played basketball with a crab bushel basket nailed to a pole as our hoop and net. In Oxon Hill, we had a yard with grass where I could play…it was such an incredible change!
Where did your parents work when you were young?
Both had two jobs. Mom worked for an insurance company and a vending machine company as a change girl (she had an apron and a change dispenser and would give people change so they could use the machines). Dad worked for the US Tax Court as a file clerk and at a retail store at night unloading trucks full of new tires. While we were poor, my sister and I NEVER knew it….we wanted for NOTHING.
What were your favorite hobbies/sports/ classes in school?
Music (trumpet), drawing, skateboarding and football. For classes, I liked science- particularly those science classes where we could touch and make stuff and not just memorize stuff.
Any important stories that defined your childhood?
I can remember my friends regularly looking to me for direction and advice…I can remember how that led to the expansion of my circle of influence. I can remember being inducted to the National Honor Society and winning several band awards in Junior high. I can remember having crushes on a couple of girls…but not knowing how to mature those crushes (although I was a leader, I was a pretty shy kid). I can remember busting my lip playing tackle football in Elementary school when were told not to play football. I can remember being drum major in high school. Many memories that culminated in who I am today…but not one any more impactful than the next…at least in childhood. My acceptance of Christ in to my life in 1990, however, IS a single moment that has secured who I am today.
How did you view your parents as a child/teen/adult?
My parents were always loving and supportive. Dad was the softie where Mom was more of the enforcer.
What did you admire the most about their character?
I admired Dad’s ability to be inclusive and be kind and respectful to ALL people- rich, poor, important people, people in support roles, any race, gender, or ethnicity, etc. As a contrast, however, my mom harbored some prejudices- mostly racial. For me, that contrast between mom and dad really led me to define my own experiences and lean far more to dad’s approach with people and less so with mom’s.
What did stories did they tell you from their childhood that influenced the way they raised you?
Both told me stories about obstacles they faced growing up when race was far more a sensitive topic than today (hard to believe I know!). They told me, particularly dad, not to blame race for everything and close down when obstacles came my way, but to rather go at the challenges head on and overcome them….not to give up…know that theirs is goodness on the other side of the challenge- whatever that may be. They told me that I can only control my response and actions and to not get wrapped up in the actions of others- I can’t control them. Influence, yes, but not control them. They told me not to take on the opinions from others until I’ve had a chance to develop my own opinions- about people, about experiences, etc.
When did you know what career path you wanted to pursue?
I thought I knew in college…but apparently, God had a different plan. I chose the Air Force because it seemed to offer the most applicable careers that could also be done outside of the military. I took a test…the test said I was analytical…and the Air Force put me in Intelligence. It wasn’t my choice…I didn’t know anything about it other than stuff in the movies…it sounded cool and interesting…so why not? In hind sight, it was the absolute right decision that has led to awesome life experiences and ultimately putting me in a place where I met your mom…and then had you guys.
Was race a factor in your decision to marry the other person?
Absolutely NOT. . Your mom was EVERYTHING I needed in a life partner and I couldn’t resist her servant’s heart and spirit.
How do you feel about the current state our country is in?
It scares me. I’m very concerned for our future. And this current election is scary. The goodness though is that God’s got this.
Have you ever experienced/seen racism during your time?
Yes. When I was in the Cub Scouts as a little guy…being followed around stores as a teenager…being looked at funny with walking with your mom early in our relationship.
Do you believe racism is more prevalent today or is it just now being shown more in the media?
I think media is a problem. It’s improved I believe, but this Trump campaign is showing me that it has only been suppressed and that it is still a VERY real thing. I’m hoping that you guys (our next generation) would fix that for us old farts.
What is your definition of justice? How can justice truly be served?
Justice to me is the allowance of all peoples and persons to live the life of THEIR choosing- not to be influenced or driven or owned by someone else. It’s freedom to work…freedom to survive with the resources available to them. Can it ever be served? Yes…but likely not globally and unequivocally. The primary reason- human greed and need for power. As Jonathan Walton said at the Justice Summit, we can’t change the world. We can only directly impact our immediate circle of influence. The challenge then becomes how do we develop more spheres and empower them to take on the oppressors around this planet?
If you could be remembered for one thing you’ve done in life/ one thing about you what would it be?
That I was a man of faith and servanthood.
What is the most important thing in your mind that you have taught and/or have yet to teach Kayla and I?
My prayer is that I modelled the kind of guy you want in a husband. That you say to that guy, I love you because you remind me of my dad.
(see next week for Part 2 with my mom!)