By Pastor Jim Jenkins
I just got my varsity basketball jacket. It was cardinal red with gold accents. It had our high school name and my name and the year I was awarded the jacket embroidered with gold letters. I put it on and determined that I was pretty hot stuff.
There was to be a football game that crisp fall night in 1968. I had asked my dad if I could go to the game and he said, "No, there is going to be trouble."
I was no angel, but I rarely opposed his authority overtly. I was more likely to play the angles and try and find a way around his instructions. I waited until he fell asleep after supper and snuck out of the house. I walked to the High School and joined my friends and we drove to the stadium for the away game. Our school (predominantly white) was playing a rival school (predominantly black) and it was 1968.
Maybe you remember 1968:
"On Friday, April 5, the White House dispatched some 13,600 federal troops, including 1,750 federalized D.C. National Guard troops to assist the overwhelmed District police force. Marines mounted machine guns on the steps of the Capitol and Army troops from the 3rd Infantry guarded the White House. At one point, on April 5, rioting reached within two blocks of the White House before rioters retreated. The occupation of Washington was the largest of any American city since the Civil War."
"Six days of race riots erupted in Washington, D.C., following the assassination of the Civil Rights Movement-leader Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1968. A wave of civil disorder affected at least 110 U.S. cities; Washington, along with Chicago and Baltimore, were among the most affected." -Wikipedia.
What did all that matter to me? I was a junior in High School and I just got my basketball jacket. What did my dad know about anything anyway? I must have looked pretty cocky as I got into line to buy my ticket. Looking back, I do remember feeling something was not right. I could feel it.
As we waited in line I heard a girl scream. I looked up ahead and saw my classmate (and neighbor) surrounded by some black guys who were behaving in a very menacing fashion. It appeared they were groping her. She was terrified. I started to run to where she was. Don't get the idea I had any heroics in mind, I was scared to death, but I had to do something.
The next clear thought I had was back at our High School in the boys locker room. I was staring into the mirror and couldn't focus my eyes. I had blood oozing out of my ear. Oddly, I didn't feel any pain. My friends filled in the gaps about what had happened.
When they caught up to me I was already on the ground. One of them said he saw one of the guys hit me behind my ear with a pipe. I was on the ground and they were kicking me, when some people finally scared them off. My friends took me back to the high school and then agreed they had to take me to the hospital.
Through the fog and confusion one thought was crystal clear. Those guys who attacked me didn't kill me, but my dad would surely finish the job when he found out what happened.
After a number of x-rays of my skull (they thought I had a skull fracture) it was determined that I had a severe concussion and they would observe me overnight for more symptoms. As the pain began to manifest in my rib cage and my neck, I turned my head on the pillow and there he was: my dad. He looked down at me and asked, "Are you okay?"
That was all he said, or at least all I remember about that night. He never said another word about that night to me. He knew I was ashamed and sorry that I disobeyed him and he did not berate me about it. Now that I am a dad with grown children and two grand babies I can understand a little bit of what he must have gone through that night.
What I was not prepared for was the response when I returned to school a few days later. Kids I didn't even know, some who never gave me the time of day, were coming up to and saying, "Don't worry, we'll get those blankety blank b______s!"
A Franciscan Priest named Father George got me aside and said, "You and I should talk." He told me that he was sorry I was injured, but that I faced a choice and that choice was going to have enormous consequence.
He said "You can go out in that hall and get those guys all revved up and start a riot. No one would blame you. Or you can ask God to give you forgiveness for those young men who attacked you."
What Father George could not know is that I was already thinking my response to all this was going to be very important. After a while, some of those same guys came up to me and I said something like, "Listen, those guys who hit me were idiots. It does not matter that they were black and I was white. I never should have been there in the first place. We all need to calm down."
Like my dad, Father George also never said another word to me about the incident or my response. He just gave me a knowing look. I like to think it mattered how I responded that day.
Here we are in 2014 in the midst of a contrived assault designed to pit us one against another based on the color of our skin. Now, as then, you and I face some hard choices. Will we succumb to the emotions of the moment and behave like animals? Or, will we hold those accountable who have again stirred-up this mess?
We are living in an era of lawlessness. Politicians from the top down have figured out that chaos is good. People identifying themselves as journalists are in fact narrative crafters, activists who are intentionally trying to foment unrest and perpetuate the anger. It is a growth industry for them. The only thing that can stop it is for individuals to weigh their responses and to cry out to God for His help.
All these years later I turn my head on the pillow yet again and this time it is my Heavenly Father looking at me and asking: "Are you O.K.? How are you going to respond to all of this?"
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