It was 1965, a year following the passing of the Civil Rights Act. An act that prohibited the denial of public facility for all people regardless of race, creed, or gender.
Background: my Pastor and two cousins are returning from a Baptist conference in Atlanta and we stopped in Jackson, Mississippi to get gas and use the restroom. While paying to fill up, Pastor asked the attendant to use the restroom. He said, “the restrooms are out of order”. Pastor asked, “Such a nice station and the restrooms are out of order?” With no warning, the white attendant pulled out his gun and ordered us out of the station.
At 13 years old, I saw fear in the face of my cousins. My Pastor was very angry but calmly walked out. He felt responsible for putting us in that situation. I’m sure he thought about how such a simple question could have possibly led to a tragic event. Pastor drove off and after a few miles, he made an abrupt stop at a telephone booth. He called the FBI local office. Following interviews with me and my cousins, the service station was closed.
Looking hate down the barrel of a gun never leaves you. It leaves the lingering question: how can a human being hold so much hate that he’d take the life of a stranger simply because of race?
Today, that question remains unanswered. Ask about all the innocent lives lost due to excessive policing as well as those who have deputized themselves, as in the case of Ahmaud Arbery.
So where do we go from here? I often use the phrase “a will to want”. A will to want to embrace the notion that America’s greatness can only come about when we all have an opportunity to fulfill what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “the dream”.
Another question comes to mind. What will reality look like as we look to the future for today’s young men of color? I can only speak on behalf of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Dallas who embraces the mission of enabling ALL young people to reach their full potential as productive, caring, and responsible citizens. Though the road may be filled with bumps and detours, the future looks brightest for those who have support…the kind of support we provide behind these blue doors. We all have a part, big or small, in cultivating the next generation. But bigger is best!
As my mind reflects on that awful moment in 1965, I always wonder what would have been the outcome had the business not been shut down by federal authorities. I wonder if that service station attendant, just for that split second, had the “will to want” to do the right thing by allowing those little black boys to use the restroom. And just imagine what life would be like for the thousands of deserving kids if we collectively committed to change and advocate to save the next generation. The possibilities are endless.