DISCLAIMER: I started this post on 9/24/13, not too long after Sidewalk Film Festival where I also attended the 4th Avenue Jazz Festival for the first time. I’m finally finishing the post. Also, this is a bit of a risky post since it deals with race and I’m sorely lacking in political correctness. Please forgive me if I offend anyone.
The recent 50 Years Forward events sparked a fire inside me, yet I don’t know the proper (or politically correct) way to describe it.
I don’t consider myself a racist. Sadly, I have had racist thoughts pop into my head subconsciously before, but I quickly erased them as fast as they arrived. I hate that they come. I hate that I even know that they are racist thoughts. I don’t know where they originated from or where I got the negative thoughts. I pray they disappear and I never see, or think, them again.
Being from the South, I have always known black people and had black friends. My schools were half and half growing up, some of my best friends on the bus were the black girls down the road, yet we never played together or saw each other outside of the bus or school. Why is that? Why did I never venture down the long dirt road to their house? Was I scared? Was it forbidden? I have no idea. I just know that I stayed in my white suburban neighborhood with my white suburban friends. There were no black people in our neighborhood. Don’t get me wrong, my dad didn’t purposely put us in (or out) of any neighborhood based on the population. He found a house he liked and plopped us down. But I always wondered about the kids down the long dirt road.
There were racist comments in my school – the whites toward blacks and the blacks toward whites. It happens. Sadly. We were all young and ignorant. I am happy to say that I grew out of and away from that ignorance, but I’m well aware that it still exists. I wonder how the children in my elementary school act now. I wonder if it’s generation after generation of the same ignorance and meanness. There was kindness in there too; I had many sweet black friends in school. But there was definitely hate.
Fast forward 30 years. I attended the Taste of 4th Avenue Jazz Festival in August. I had never been before. It happened the same weekend as Sidewalk Film Festival and one of the Sidewalk venues was smack in the middle of the festival, so I went. I hate that it took a film festival venue to get me there, but grateful at the same time.
I had never been to the Carver Theatre for the Performing Arts before that day. Again, I hate that it took so long, but happy at the outcome. Seeing those pink walls lined with pictures from the past, hearing the glorious music and films from yesteryear in the walls, and feeling the history moved me. I spent the entire day in the theatre, popping in and out to watch films, explore, take it all in. I fell in love instantly. Eventually day turned into evening and the Jazz Festival outside really started jumping. I drifted out the doors toward the music. I was immersed in a sea of people, mostly black. My face was awash in the glow of food vendors and smiling faces. I immediately felt connected, happy, at home.
I walked through the vendors to see the offerings and settled on a burger that was “world famous” according to the gentleman that sidled up next to me in line. He said they were the best burgers in the world and I had to get one with everything. I took his recommendation and received the biggest burger I’ve ever seen, dripping from the sauce, onions, and everything but the kitchen sink sitting on top of the patty. This was definitely a 2 hand dinner, so I sat down on the side steps of the Carver, behind a few of the food vendors. I was in good company, albeit the only white person I saw at all. As we all sat there on the step eating our dinners, new friends nodded to me and I nodded back.
At that moment it struck me just how far we HAVE come in the last 50 years. Shoot, less than that. I was overwhelmed by the appreciation I had for all those who came before us, who paved the way so that I could sit there with my new friends and enjoy our burgers and hot dogs, all purchased from the same place, sharing them inches away from each other on the same set of stairs, enjoying the great music, atmosphere, each other’s company and diversity.
That moment will stay with me for the rest of my life. It was the moment I realized just how far we’ve come and how happy I am to be living here now, where I don’t notice color. I know there is still a very long way to go, and though I may have been conspicuous as one of the few white people there at that moment, I never felt more comfortable or at home. Thank you for that Birmingham.
Find peace inside.