Stand Up

I was 22 years old when I surrendered my life to my Lord Jesus Christ and from that day forward my life has never been the same.  As I have matured in my Christian walk, one of the things I have learned to do is act when I feel the gentle nudge of the Holy Spirit.  Usually, it is an uneasiness during the day or not being able to sleep at night due to thoughts running through my mind that need to be organized and expounded upon.

Tonight is one of those nights.  So, at 12:35 a.m., I am going to share with you what God has placed on my heart because I have learned if I don’t take the gentle nudge, He’ll turn up the heat until I finally come on with it.  Thank God for maturity!

For 11 years (2006-16), I taught U.S. History to most of the juniors at White Oak High School.  I say most because some elected to take Dual Credit College History instead, which usually assured two things: 1) my class sizes would be fairly small 2) All the History Channel nerds were probably in college history so I was most likely the smartest history dude in the room.  That was good for my confidence.

As we embarked on our study of the history of the United States, I would always start off by mentioning how blessed we were to live in the greatest country in the world.  I would illustrate this point by pointing out the fact that every day people risked their lives in order to get to our country and that most people in the world would trade places with us even on our worst day.  I could say this with conviction because I believed it.  And I still believe it today.

The second thing I would point out was my belief that, historically, the United States had failed greatly in two areas: 1) our treatment of women 2) our treatment of black Americans.  In my opinion, these were the two biggest black eyes on America.

As we moved forward in our course, I always looked forward to the units on World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II but without a doubt my favorite unit for us to study was the Civil Rights Movement.  For many of my students, this was a topic that hit home and for me, I loved the stories of courage, determination, and the fight for the greater good.  I was passionate about the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr., the transformation of Malcolm X, and the courage of Rosa Parks.  I loved the fight and determination of Thurgood Marshall to end segregation in our public schools and the courage displayed by the Little Rock Nine.

There were a lot of things I was not as a history teacher but there was one thing I could do…tell stories.  With meaning and with passion. And these people had a story worth telling!  I can still recall the looks of shock, anguish, and oftentimes embarrassment of the mostly white kids who sat in my class as they heard the stories of what it was like to be black in America during the 1950’s and 1960’s.  They were white kids but the vast majority of them (though there were a few exceptions) were good kids, kids of character, and they knew it was wrong.  It was not uncommon to see tears being wiped from cheeks as they imagined to the best of their ability what that treatment must have felt like.

Then there were the few black kids I would have in class.  Many times only one per class.  Kids like Joseph Young, Kris Anderson, Levi Yancy, and Hayden Nichols who were not only my students but they were also some of my basketball players.  Their faces would show anger and pain as they identified with those who were treated unjustly due to the color of their skin but eventually those looks would be replaced by appreciation, adoration, and pride as they heard the stories of those before them who carried the torch of change.  

As much as I loved telling these stories, by far the thing I looked forward to the most was doing our project on the movie Remember The Titans.  This was for 2 reasons: 1) this meant TAKS, STAAR or whatever was the acronym of the year was over 2) Football, great music, and overcoming prejudice was now on the agenda!

As most of you know, the movie centers around the integration of T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia in 1971.  The two best players on the team are Julius Campbell (black) and Gary Bertier (white) and my favorite scene in the movie takes place during their preseason camp at Gettysburg College.  The team is struggling immensely with the color barrier so Coach Boone (black) takes them on a midnight run to where the battle of Gettysburg was fought during the Civil War.

As a last ditch effort to bring the team together, Coach Boone tells them “Listen to their souls men:’I killed my brother with malice in my heart. Hatred destroyed my family.’ You listen and take a lesson from the dead.  If we don’t come together, right now, on this hallowed ground, we too will be destroyed – just like they were.  I don’t care if you like each other or not.  But you will respect each other.”

After returning to camp and during the 3rd practice of the day (must not have been a UIL in Virginia), something happens for the first time.  Gary chews out his best friend Ray (white) for missing a block.  Ray gets pissed but Julius takes notice that Gary jumped his butt and on the next play instead of just forming up on the ball carrier (Petey – black guy), Julius lowers the boom on him and cleans his clock.  Gary and Julius proceed to start the renowned “Left side, Strong side” chant thus signifying the breaking down of the racial barriers between the two leaders of the team.

It never failed that so many of the kids had seen this movie but never understood that the chant “Left side, strong side” illustrated how saying something, with the same meaning, a different way relates to looking different but being the same.

I believe this scene is the most powerful lesson of the show because it illustrates that true change will never come through blame, finger pointing, or calling out the other guy.  Lasting change must start with getting our own house in order first.  

Until we are willing to call out the people who look like us and empathize with those who don’t , we will continue to fight the same battles over and over.  As long as we only point out the inequities of the other race, our words will fall on deaf ears.  

Integrity, honesty, respectfulness, fairness, kindness, and forgiveness know no color any more than dishonesty, disrespectfulness, greed, cruelty, and selfishness.  These are not color traits.  They are character traits!

If as a society, we are determined to lump groups of people together and paint them all with broad strokes, then let’s do it by character and not by color, location, occupation, etc.  There are good people of all colors, people of character, and we must stand together to fight against the inequities that still exist in our society today.

As a Christian, I know there is evil in this fallen world we live in and until the day comes when Good will eternally overcome evil, we must fight.  Evil will always seek to divide and conquer.  Evil will seek to devour.

It’s now 3:20 a.m. and I am at peace with the words I feel God has laid on my heart.  They are not words that haven’t been uttered before but sometimes they bear repeating. That feeling of uneasiness has subsided now and I will soon call it a night.  I will leave you with the words that I would always write on the dry erase board at the front of my room as we would begin our Civil Rights unit each year.

Racism is not a color issue, it’s a character issue.