I can still remember the heat rising in my body as my blood started to boil.
I was listening to my number one son, then 8 years old, tell me about what happened to my number two son, then 6 years old, on the bus that afternoon. He was in tears as he explained how another boy used inappropriate words and actions to tease his younger brother.
“Mother, I know you said not to hit someone unless they hit you first and to ignore words that are meant to hurt you, but this boy called my brother ‘blacky,’ big lips and ugly,” said son number one.
As I held son number two in my arms and tried to comfort him, my mind was searching for positive words to say. I kept thinking of the verse from the Bible that says, “A soft answer turns away wrath,” but all I kept feeling was raging anger.
Why did we still live in a world where the color of your skin or the characteristic of your culture were still used against you in a derogatory manner?
I stood up quickly and demanded to know where the little boy lived and was told he lived just one block from us. I put on my jacket and snatched my keys and in a rage headed for the door with ill intentions.
Suddenly, I heard son number one praying for me, asking God to help me. I turned around and looked at him, and I started to feel a calmness come over me. I stopped in my tracks as I witnessed a young boy have more composure than his mother.
That was when I changed my plan of attack mode. I went and found some candy, baseball cards and my book “Becoming Myself,” and I autographed it. Then both sons and I headed down the block to the boy’s house and rang his doorbell.
His mother answered the door with a surprised and worried look on her face. I saw the young boy peek around the corner, but when he saw my sons he took off running to another room in the house. I explained to his mother what had happened, and she apologized sincerely. She mentioned she had been having some issues with her son’s behavior lately. She called for him to come to her, and he reluctantly joined us at the front door.
I could tell this little boy, age 9, had been in trouble before. He hung his head down low, not at all as confident as he had been just an hour or so before on the bus. He looked as though he was waiting for a tongue-lashing. I lifted his head gently with my fingertips and asked him if he recognized my sons. He nodded with his eyes glued to the hardwood floor.
I told him that I knew what had happened on the bus and that I wanted to introduce my sons to him. I wanted him to get to know them and to get to know some things about black people in general, so he could understand why those words were hurtful. His eyes slowly glanced up to mine, as they filled with tears. He listened intently and never looked away.
I handed him his treats of candy and baseball cards, and told him that he was special and that all children are unique.
He did something that I was not expecting. He reached up and hugged me and then apologized. He shared his candy with my sons and told them he was sorry. His mother said he rarely apologizes without being threatened.
For the next three or four years after that faithful day at his house, whenever he saw us he would run to us and enthusiastically say hello. He was a different boy at school too. My sons said he went from teasing them to protecting them. Then one day he and his mother suddenly moved. I didn’t know where they moved to and pretty much forgot about him.
Recently I was in a specialty pet store when my dog wandered over to a young man who had his hand reached out to pet him. The young man was in his twenties, and he was very friendly. As he focused on my dog without looking up at me, he asked what my dog’s name was. I told him his name was Coach and I continued to shop.
All of a sudden, the young man looked directly at me and asked what was my name. I told him, and his eyes teared up. He said, “It’s me, your neighbor,” and he said his name. “Do you remember me?”
It took a minute, but then it all came back to me. It had been 16 years since I saw him, and he was much younger then. It was the little boy who teased my son.
He wrapped his arms around me so tight that I almost coughed. He went on and on about how kind I was to him and how much of an impact that made on him. He rambled about how he read my book over and over, and how he wondered what happened to us. He couldn’t stop hugging me. He even told the store clerks, “This is the sweetest, kindest woman on earth!”
We reminisced for a while. He had had some ups and downs and was still trying to find his path in life at the age of 27. We traded contact information, then he left, but not without giving me another hug. I couldn’t help but think about how different that scene could have been if I went down to his house with anger and finger-pointing.