Our residence lies on the edge of the million dollar mansions and the ‘rough part’ of town. 99 percent of the time it is a peaceful neighborhood. It is the 1 percent that concerns the warrior-protector inside me. Crossing the street, I see a man meeting the description my wife gave me. He is around 20 years of age, dressed nicely, carrying a clipboard and is black / African-American. I add that last part because in Savannah, Georgia the civil rights movement that occurred in the 1960s is a recent memory. Laws have been passed that grant equality, but grandparents and parents of the youth in this town grew up and continue to live with the hatred that the color of one’s skin invoke in another human being. I approached the young man and said, “I believe you called my wife a racist.”
Now, let us digress and talk about perceptions. We know what the young man looks like, but what of me? Dressed in baggy, black sweats, funky five finger shoes with no socks, and – most importantly – body posture relaxed, hands by my side, voice lowered – sentence uttered in a neutral tone.
Over the next 10 minutes, I had a conversation with the young man. Riding his emotions, I came to realize that he had a very rough time this morning with an ‘older black man’ at McDonalds who had yelled at him. He had walked down the street to our intersection, where it is currently 32 degrees F, with a feel like temperature of 24 degrees, and was uncomfortable. Anger was just below the surface when the ‘lady ignored me and didn’t want to have anything to do with me.’ His first instinct was it was because of the color of his skin.
I told him I understood. I am an Equal Employment Opportunity Specialist for the Federal government. I work the ‘mean streets’ of civil rights every day for a living. I understand how it must feel, as I am a disabled veteran and can also be the focus of discrimination and how the words “crazy vet” are my generation’s racial epithet. I told him to remember the message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We accomplish more through peaceful protest. We should be using non-violence to work our message. We have to endure, persevere, walk those long miles, and endure the ‘fire hose’ of those who would try to stop us. Yes, even the taunts of similar situated individuals, the cold of a Savannah morning, the woman who ignores you and walks away.
It was at this point that I explained that the woman who ignored him, the love of my life, the one who is under my protection, has also endured a rough life. Because of this, and the fact that she is married to someone who has studied the martial arts for almost 30 years, she does not speak or engage with strangers, especially ones that become confrontational.
I wished him well on his journey and luck with his petition drive. I have fought for this right on many battlefields in far off lands. Make a voice for yourself. Find your passion. As I shook his hand and parted ways, I reminded him to come to the MLK parade on Monday. I will be riding on the Corps of Engineers float, celebrating Dr. King’s message of freedom for all, regardless of what others think when they see your outside persona. He said he would do his best to be there. He said, “Sir, you have given me a lot to think about and really shattered how I see the world.”
I smiled and walked back to the house, thinking of those shinobi warriors and their silent means to work their will.