Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Life Lesson

Yesterday I worked all night on a problem on the other side of the country. I finished up this morning just after seven. I had a lot on my calendar, but I pushed it all off until tomorrow and I laid down to get some sleep.
I set my alarm for 10:30 a.m. because I wanted to watch the inauguration. I was in awe at the sheer number of people who went to Washington to be apart of this historic event. Black folks have come a long way.
If you look at the yearbooks on DoraHighSchool.com, there is something very different in 1968. It was the first year that African Americans came to Dora High. I really don't remember much about these four girls. Being on the leading edge of integration in those turbulent times, I'm guessing they received some ill treatment but I never witnessed it.
A few years later I got drafted and I found myself at Fort Campbell, Kentucky in early April. We marched, we ran, we crawled we laughed and some of us cried with homesickness. In the Army, the color of the skin seemed less important.
You can't tell it by looking at me now, but in 1971 I was one of the smallest draftees in our platoon. About the third week we did hand to hand combat training. The instructor for that course was a mean spirited guy that enjoyed seeing folks get the crap kicked out of them.
There was one exercise with pungi sticks (six foot long sticks with what appeared to be boxing gloves attached to the ends). When you got hit with one of those, it felt like you were getting kicked with a boot.
The exercise had three people in a circle standing back to back with each wielding a pugi stick. He put the rest of the platoon on attack. It was every man for himself.
The trainer decided to have some fun so he selected the smallest guy in the platoon (Ackerman) as the first man in the circle. Just for kicks, he picked me as the second man I weighed six pounds more than Ackerman. Both of us were white kids. He then asked for volunteers to round out the trio.
The rest of the platoon was salivating in anticipation of the slaughter. All of a sudden, Johnny Johnson said I'll hep 'em. Johnny was a black guy about 5' 6" that weight out at about 240. He looked like a linebacker for the Packers. When he stepped inside the circle, he turned to Ackerman and me and said "jes keep 'em off my back, and we'll take care of some business."
Ackerman and I fought as hard as we could and for the most part we kept the others off of Johnny's back. In return, he beat the living crap out of the entire attacking platoon.
I'm not sure if Johnny realized it that day, but he actually changed my life. He could have joined in the slaughter. If he had, I would have missed a life lesson that has served me through the years. The lesson is that we are on the same team. Together we form the tapestry of life.
Injustice happens when people are afraid, ignorant, or simply mean. When it happens to one person or one group, it really happens to us all.
Johnny looked beyond the color of our skin. He saw what he thought was injustice and he took a stand. I considered his stepping in that circle with Ackerman and me and act of kindness. I have never forgotten it.
Johnny changed the way I view people of color. Since that day, I never use color as a means to put people in a box. A better judge of the character is what people do, not what they say or how they look. That's a measuring stick I may not have used had it not been for Johnny.

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