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Silence

Martin Lutrher king Jr. once said, "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." The silence has to be broken.

I had my first encounter with racism in 1963. I've never forgotten it. I wrote a poem about that incident several years ago. Tragically, the message of that moment and of this moment is still the same. Here is my poem:

 

DEWAYNE’S FENCE

Pontiac, MI  1963

020309

 

We were just grade school boys

Doing what grade school boys do:

Playing baseball in the back yard

And imagining I was Al Kaline.

I don’t remember who you were,

Or who Jim pretended to be…

Actually, come to think of it,

We all wanted to be Al Kaline,

 

I was the oldest and biggest, and

Regularly, I’d get ahold of one

And most literally “go yard,” on you,

While Jim went over or around

The fence that divided our small yard

From the next-door neighbor’s,

Endlessly running the path to

Retrieve both the ball and our dreams.

 

It turned out, that fence segregated

More than just the families’ spaces.

Jim, exhausted and frustrated,

Asked to swap places for awhile,

So you could be the rabbit

And hunt all the homers down,

While Don Spaula cheered our

Real game and imagined heroics.

 

I didn’t know. Honest, I didn’t.

When you ran after the first homer

Just like Jim had been doing,

I didn’t know Mr. Spaula would be mad.

I didn’t understand his words:

“Youare not welcome in this yard,”

But by the look on your face

I could tell you were not confused.

 

As if it were yesterday, I can see

The hurt, the disappointment,

The humiliation and the knowing

Casting a shadow on your dark face.

The innocence of boyhood play

Ravaged by a devastating reality;

The contentedness of friendship

Shattered by such cruel intent.

 

“I didn’t know” wasn’t an excuse then

And it can’t be claimed now.

Your memory etched in mine

Has refused to let me resign

To the cultural status quo.

I wish I could tell you I remember,

And how your pain shaped my life.

As if that would erase the wrong.

 

Words are cheap.

The difference that counts is to live it.

My life has been too often silent

About those wearing shoes like yours.

That darkness is on my soul.

I must – we must – do more than

Avoid the same prejudices.

We must tear down the fence.