Picture this: You’re driving through a neighborhood that forces you to roll all of your windows up (even on an unusually warm morning). You’re sweating in the safety of your locked car and about to turn into a dark viaduct when your car stops. There you are: a woman with a big, stylish (albeit empty) purse riding shotgun on your front passenger seat. You have to pee because you told yourself before you left the last location that you’d arrive at your next destination in a few minutes anyway. You try in vain to start the car, and you look around you and notice in even more vivid detail the dilapidated houses, closed businesses, and empty cans strewn about the street. Panic sets in as your heart starts to pound and your bladder starts to feel weaker. You fish out your cellphone and call your dad who tells you that he is in the shower, but he’ll be there soon. Then you notice a dark mini van approach yours from the rear, and a black man steps out, walks to your window, and asks, “Do you need any help?”
“Yes, I do,” I replied, handing him the keys as I explained what happened. He pushed this and looked at that, and in less than three minutes, the car was again running. He told me what precautions I should take and vehicle checks I should make. He explained how I could reach my destination (I was lost) and promised to follow me there just to ensure that I made it safely. Just before I turned into the parking lot, he pulled up along side of me and said, “Okay, you’re here. Good luck to you.” I thanked him again and continued on my way.
As I sat watching a group of high school seniors taking exit exams for their specialized academic program, I wondered about my good Samaritan. He was in a perfect position to take advantage of me had he so chosen, but he didn’t. He merely helped me. I could say that I never once felt concerned about the man who helped me, but the fact that I glanced quickly into my rear view mirror to check to see if he was alone and the fact that I grabbed my purse before I stepped out of the car to accept his help would contradict me. Moreover, even after he got my car started, I called my dad and asked him to stay on the phone with me until I got inside of the building I was searching for when the car stopped. I have been trying to tell myself that I would have felt the same apprehension no matter who approached my car to help, but the reality is that I’m not so sure. What I am sure of is that the man who helped me had absolutely nothing to gain from being a nice guy. Like the 10 or so cars before him, he could have just maneuvered around me, leaving me stuck waiting on my dad.
I looked around the room as I proctored the exam and took particular notice of the young black men writing various essays. I wondered if they perceived the magnitude of the fear they induce in the “average American citizen.” If we buy in to the spotlight fallacy, we would assume that most of the young men seated in front of me would be machine-gun toting, illicit drug dealing, baby mama bashing adults destined for the penitentiaries and cemeteries in less than ten years. I wondered what those young black male students would think if they knew that even their teacher, a black woman herself, tightened up at the prospect of an approach from a black man. Because each one of those young men know they are going to college, with dreams that reach beyond a basketball court and a amphitheater full of screaming fans, I wondered what exactly is making the difference in their young lives.
Every weekend, especially in the summer months, we are inundated with tale after horrific tale of young black youth gunned down by other young black youth. The offenses, however slight or gargantuan, don’t seem to matter to me as much as the fact that another life is snuffed out before it had time to mature and make a positive contribution to society. When the media (oftentimes produced and directed and perpetuated by fellow black Americans) shine their brightest lights on the plights and chaos in the black community without attention to the good that lives there, services that would be beneficial there, or the interconnectedness of a lack of honesty, refusal to help, and varied political agendas, small wonder why so many fear those native sons growing up in that community.
John Fountain, a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, argues that education is “the greatest hope for all boys and girls predestined to become statistics” (from “Don’t give up–hope doesn’t have to die in the ‘hood“). He furthers his argument by revealing that his own successes, fueled by “[his]smarts, [his] tenacity, or even [his] faith” could not compare to the love, expectations, and sacrifices of his mother (from “My best asset: A mother who gave reason to hope“). It is this combination of quality education and solid parenting that seem to make the most difference to me. For all the mayhem in an urban high school hallway, I still am asked if I need help as I drag in bags full of papers I still need to grade. Young men still hold the door to my classroom open for me as I enter (and as their female counterparts enter). They still apologize when they realize I’ve heard them curse or make lewd comments about girls. Their faces still flush with embarrassment when their mothers and grandmothers and, less often, their fathers chastise them publicly about their poor grades or classroom behavior. They live in a variety of neighborhoods with a variety of experiences, but for the most part, they are good kids.
When I think about others being fearful of the young men I watch testing, I cringe. Then I get embarrassed and feel hypocritical when I think about my good Samaritan. I understand that I won’t be able to eradicate generations of fear (and hate) by simply willing it so, but I can do my best to teach my own children and my students pride, humility, and genuine good will toward others.
I watch these young men on the precipice of a world they know very little about, a world that knows even less about them, and I pray for their safety, their discernment, and their strength. I then pray for the world. Hopefully sometime soon, the peace we pray for in the Middle East will reach our corner of the world, and the surprise of a black male good Samaritan would be replaced by the expectations of benevolence and love, even by their sisters living with them in the struggle.
- Young black men frisked more often by NYPD (thegrio.com)