I Am

I Am

When I was a child I lived in a pleasant neighborhood on the west side of Akron, Ohio. Maple Valley was a safe enclave with good schools and kind neighbors. In 1960 my friend Bob and I held homemade placards proclaiming Nixon and Lodge and waved them at passing cars. Our efforts were superfluous. Pretty much everyone on the block was a Republican.

When I was in the ninth grade fear began to grip our neighborhood. We were all of European ancestry and African-Americans began buying houses on our side of Copley Road, the unspoken boundary in the process known as red-lining. “For sale” signs went up overnight and parents began whispering nervously. The elders at our all white church decided to sell the parsonage and buy another in a “safer” part of town. I blindly accepted it all as normal, routine, even necessary. Everyone said the neighborhood would crumble, crime would increase, and we would never be safe again. Except none of it turned out to be true.

My old block looks remarkably as it did when we made our fast getaway almost 50 years ago. Yards are tidy, fences are painted, children play on the side streets and life goes on. The neighborhood appears to be racially and ethnically diverse, certainly a place in which your average Millennial family would feel at home. The truth was obvious. There had never been a reason to leave.

I regret I grew up in a culture that endorsed such racism. I regret no adult showed me a better path or a deeper way. My racism was inherited, implied, and subconscious. I would have said I did not have a racist bone in my body. And of course, I would have been wrong.

Silence is part of the problem. We think, “Well, we are not a part of the opposition, so that says something, right?”  Yeah, I don’t think so. When it comes to justice there are really only two options. You are a part of the problem, or you are a part of the solution. Remaining silent is unacceptable.

When a newspaper posed the question, “What is wrong with the world?” G.K. Chesterton replied, “I am.” Had the newspaper asked, “What is right with the world?” Chesterton might have given the same answer, “I am.” We are all the problem. We are all the solution.

I am pleased to be a part of a church that is racially, ethnically and socio-economically diverse. Yet the little town in which I live just voted down a measure that would have brought affordable housing into our prosperous white enclave. Something seems out of kilter being a part of the solution in one place, and a part of the problem in another. While I voted for the affordable housing, I did not canvas the neighborhood in support of it. It only lost by a few votes. I could have made a difference.

The gap is widening between the comfortable and the desperate. The solution is not complicated. It is simple. The solution is me. When it comes to making this world a better place, I am the problem. I am the solution.

And so it goes.

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6 thoughts on “I Am

  1. Another zinger Paula. Can’t tell you how much I appreciate and enjoy reading your posts. Tom Shadyac and I are planning to meet today if there is a window of time from when his plane arrives from Memphis and when we both have commitments this afternoon. I am sharing this post with him. As you may know, the documentary -ish movie he recently made after his life endangering bike accident and the big life changes he made as a result is called “I am”:) xo

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  2. interesting how you saw and see that era. i had many black friends at the high school during the years just before you reached high school. however, i was told i could not bring them home, not invite them to church. that always bothered me, but i did not know how to handle it. so my black friends stayed “at school” where we could laugh, study together, and once in a while get in trouble together.

    in college Marshall played Kent State and one of my friends played at Kent. we went to the game and afterward when I yelled his nickname he saw me and we met on the floor and hugged. after we separated dad said I should never do that again. once again i was hurt, but this time i said i would do it whenever and wherever my friends were, no matter color, ethnicity, or any other category.

    when I saw Selma with a group of our Millennials I cried, and they asked why. I told them I was a high schooler during that era, and I did not do enough to make a difference. i am so thankful i can see myself a part of both the problem and solution. your essay was reminder of who i am and who I’m becoming.

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