Before anyone came up with the phrase "Black Lives Matter," I saw it being played out as a way of life for the kids, black, white, and many others, who grew to adulthood in our diverse neighborhood in Seattle's Mount Baker area.
And despite watching the protests in cities across the country the past week over the slaying of George Floyd, a black man, by a Minneapolis police officer, I hadn't thought about that long-ago interaction among young people until one of them created a Facebook post this week.
But before I get to the moving post by Brett Omri, a Seattle firefighter, I need to offer a little background on the neighborhood, which had been the upper-middle-class area where doctors, attorneys, investment advisors lived. Until the Black unrest in the late '60s lashed Seattle and created fear for those upper-class whites who moved out to safer neighborhoods.
So we and other young couples, white and various minorities, with young children discovered the neighborhood and found prices that were marked down so much by escaping longtime residents that we couldn't pass up living there since we had no problem with mixed race.
So our three kids commuted to a mixed-race St. Therese catholic grade school where Michael's focus on athletics immersed him with the talented young minority kids Together, with Michael as the only white boy on the starting five eighth grade boys basketball team, they won the state championship.
The parents who followed their basketball-hopeful sons grow from barely capable to state champions knew the amazing change was the handiwork of former Seattle U. basketball star Peller Phillips, an African-American who truly cared about the boys. They came to know he was their friend and he became a friend of all the parents.
In track, the team coached by Wayne Melonson, an African-American who would become the principal and whose funeral in 2015 would fill St. James Cathedral (see Flynn's Harp: Wayne Melonson) with mourners of every race, wiped out the completion.
The three young black boys, with Michael, on the 400-meter relay team that won its races against other Seattle catholic school kids, included the young Peller Phillips, who routinely took the baton from Michael. In one meet, Michael stepped on Peller's shoe and it came off and by the time he ran back a couple of steps and kneeled got his shoe back on, the second-place team's runner was within 30 meters. Then Peller took off, and it was over.
And the lasting impact his friends had on him was evidenced when Michael came home from his first day of basketball practice at Seattle's Blanchett High School, where blond hair and blue eyes marked the student body, I asked him how it went.
He looked at me and said, "I guess ok." "So what's wrong?" I asked. "They all have white boy's disease!" "What's that?" "They can't jump," he replied seriously.
Now to Brett Omri, who grew up on the corner, two houses from ours, with the African-American editor of the Seattle Times in the home between us and the Omris. Across the street were the homes of three African-American families, including the number two executive of the Bellevue School District who raised her family directly across the street from us.
Brett is a 45-year-old Seattle firefighter, a friend of my youngest daughter, Eileen.
"Black Lives matter to me. Not because it's 'politically correct,' but because I'm selfish. Black Lives have been intimately and beautifully intertwined in the story of my life. Black Lives have run and played with me as a kid. Black lives have both learned with me and educated me. Black Lives have competed and performed with me. Black lives have hung out and broken bread with me. Black Lives have welcomed me into their homes and brought me to church with them. Black Lives have celebrated and mourned with me. Black lives have created with me. Black Lives have lead and worked with me. And sometimes in those moments, Black Lives have been gracious enough to share their stories.
What is happening is not new. What happened to George Floyd has happened thousands of times before. Each incident is woven, painfully, into another family's history; sometimes more than once. I can't claim to grasp the depth of that suffering. I just know that my heart hurts. I can't help but run over the faces of Black Lives that have touched mine and wondered about my loss if their lives had been cut short before they intersected with mine.
Black Lives are our neighbors, teachers, classmates, bosses, coworkers, teammates, coaches, leaders, family, and friends. That's why Black Lives Matter. Black Lives are a part of our lives. Why do Black Lives have to keep reminding us of that? How sad is it that Black Lives need to plead to the rest of us that they simply "matter." And that our response is to get cute with a hashtag that invalidates their pain. So, yes, this is my line in the sand. If you can't bring yourself to say, at the very least, Black Lives Matter then I don't think I have anything more to say to you.
The destruction that is occurring as I write this is a consequence of a dream that has been deferred indefinitely. This is our fault. We don't seem to take notice of anything else and then have the audacity to judge when the pain, sorrow, and rage boil over. It is the cruelest form of gaslighting I can imagine. When Black Lives marched, we released the dogs and fire hoses. When Black Lives stood up, we cut them down. When Black Lives kneeled, we called them un-American. What is there left to do but rage?
To the Black Lives that have touched mine - you have my undying support and love. You have made me a better human being and opened my eyes to so many things. I wouldn't be me without your influence, friendship, and love. I am at a loss of how to help ease the pain you are experiencing, likely because I can't. Please, just know that I see you. #BlackLivesMatterToMe."