I was 5 years old when my mom told me this. As a little kid, I took things very literal. I crinkled my face and nodded my head as to say "of course, Mom", but inside of my head I thought "well, yeah, duh. Why would I think any different of someone based on the color of their skin?" It just didn't make sense to me why I would treat someone any type of way based on the color of their skin.
I grew up in a rural area and racism was not uncommon. It made me mad and confused as a kid. I didn't understand how you could hate a group of people that you've never met. And "hate" isn't overexaggerating. There was such conviction in the words said by some of those around me. I was vocal about my opposition to what they were saying, but nothing I would say mattered and it would turn into a group of my peers joining forces to cut me down for having a different viewpoint which lead to my eventual silence. I can remember the Spring of 2007 being the last time that I verbally communicated that what was happening isn't okay.
Fast forward and we're here today in 2020, and it's just as much of a problem today as it was back then. The positive thing about now vs back then is racism is discussed more, shared more, and on our radar more often due to advances in technology and having a larger number of platforms for discussion. Couple that with the fact that I do believe that as a unified race, we humans have grown to be more "accepting" (I'm not a fan of that word…implies that we have to give thought to it being okay that someone is a certain color, sexual orientation, etc.) and understanding of others that have a different skin color than our own. Unfortunately, racism still exists. I believe it always will, but that doesn't mean we can't make progress with diminishing the effects.
I find it sad that in a country where we talk about America being the land of opportunity, that black folks don't even get the opportunity to live the life that they should be able to live. Simple things like being able to walk down the street without having to worry about being profiled or go for a run in a neighborhood without being suspected of being a felon. Being white, I've never had to worry about things like this and understand my privilege. A privilege that for so long I took for granted.
In our pledge of allegiance to the flag and our country, it states "liberty and justice for all". Based on what we've seen over the years, and most recently with the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, it seems that it should say "liberty and justice for all…unless you're black."
I've mostly sat here silent about racism for over a decade now outside of private conversations with others. It angers me, but I've always told myself that if I do my part of just being a good human being to everyone regardless of the color of their skin, then that would be good enough. I believed that it would translate into others "paying it forward." I don't believe that to be true anymore. I need to be more vocal about it and stand up against it. I believe that my fellow white people should do the same in order for there to be change.
I've met a lot of awesome people through COVAL, and a lot of them happen to be black. One thing that really hit home for me is after the George Floyd murder, I thought "What if that was one of my friends? What if that was one of my clients? What if that was one of the kids that I work with?" I don't know why the thought popped in my head so quickly, but I'm glad that it did.
I work with a lot of young, black men and with all of the things that happen in our country, I worry about them being profiled. They are all great kids yet because of the color of their skin, they are at greater risk for falling victim to the injustices that occur in this country. I can't tell you what I would feel if something were to happen to one of them. If you have ever heard me talk about the kids that train at COVAL, I call them "my kids" and it's because they mean so much to me. I get heavily invested in their success and development. I can only imagine what their parents feel and I empathize with that 100%.
There have been a number of black, female clients mention to me that COVAL was the first gym they've been to where they didn't feel like an outcast. They felt that they were treated as equals. They felt comfortable. They felt appreciated. After hearing that, the brief moment of feeling good about what has been built here at COVAL was trumped by sadness and anger for those clients as I feel for them, but also because I know that they aren't the only people that have gone through that experience. They're great human beings and their extraordinary character is what they should be judged for, not the color of their skin.
Nobody should ever treat anyone as less than because of the color of their skin.
One of the things that I've been most proud of in my life is COVAL. Yes, it's great being able to help others achieve things in their life that they didn't think were possible. Yes, it's awesome being able to do what I love and get paid for it. But, the thing that is most powerful and meaningful to me is the diversity that we have at our facility. You will see folks from a variety of different races and ethnicities getting along, laughing, working together, sharing stories, and working independently yet together toward one common theme….they want to live a happier, more fulfilling life. This may sound corny, but it truly warms my heart. And what happens at COVAL also represents what I believe to be a part of the solution to racism in our country; integration. I believe, that when you peel back the layers of why people are racist its fear, misunderstanding, and one off, anecdotal instances and stories that lead people to believe what they believe. Like all things in life, when we fear something or misunderstand it, we avoid it at all costs.
I mentioned that as a human race we have gotten better over the past couple of decades, and I truly mean that. It doesn't mean that we can't stop improving though. We all can do better and it starts within ourselves.
I look forward to the day when it is no longer "liberty and justice for some" and becomes "liberty and justice for ALL". Right now, we're not there yet and have a long way to go.
To my black clients, friends, and "my kids"….I apologize for being silent for so long. I have no excuses for my silence. Please let me know what I can do to be better for you and this fight for justice & peace for all.
Much love & appreciation,