I was going to focus on my father’s 90th birthday this week, but then all hell broke loose in the streets of major cities across our nation after a rogue white cop from Minneapolis, captured on video, senselessly took the life of another human being, George Floyd, who is black.
The second the video went viral, Americans, and people throughout the world, regardless of skin color, universally condemned Floyd’s death, either verbally, or silently.
Peaceful protests began first in Minneapolis, and then in big cities across our land. Nothing could have been more warranted.
What followed (though in no way equivalent to the loss of one’s life) are the actions of anarchist thugs injuring law enforcement personnel, setting vehicles, businesses, police stations, a post office, and even a church ablaze.
I’m 60 and was really too young to understand, as it was happening, the Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
I also didn’t understand racism, having spent the formidable years between Kindergarten and fifth grade in El Paso. A black cop, his wife, and son (Monty) lived behind us, and Hispanics lived throughout our neighborhood. We all played together with no thought of skin color.
When our family moved to Baytown in 1970 my naiveté about racism really came into focus during the first couple of weeks of my sixth grade year.
All the black kids threw around the “N” word when talking to each other.
I don’t think I had even heard that word up to that point in my life.
One day, I walked up on a new friend as he was getting a drink from the water fountain at my new school.
He was always joking and laughing, and was one heck of an athlete and a popular kid at school. In fact, his son (Ell Roberson III, who was born the year before I graduated from college) would later grow up to be the starting quarterback at Kansas State.
My friend, with rake inserted in his short cropped afro, had to be shocked when I patted him on the back, as he was getting his drink, and said, “Hey (N-word),” with the coolest voice I could muster.
I guess I thought I was being hip.
He turned, looked me in the eye, and started laughing uncontrollably.
“Mike,” he said. “I know you’re the new kid in town, but you can’t say that word.”
I was silent. I thought I was being cool with my new friend.
We remained friends, playing football, basketball, and baseball throughout our junior high days. We parted ways upon graduation from junior high because he went to one high school and I went to the other one.
When I was in high school I personally witnessed every event that led to a huge fight between white and black students during the second of three lunch periods.
When I walked onto campus one morning, the week before Easter break, I saw a skinny little black kid rush toward the cafeteria. It was totally encased in glass. When he pushed the door open (the handle was one of those horizontal bars one pushes down) his hand slipped off the bar and his entire arm went through the glass door.
His arm was cut almost its entire length. Blood was everywhere on the tile floor.
I learned later he was mad at someone who might have been in the cafeteria and was planning to start a fight with that individual.
By the time the second lunch period neared its end, the rumors were flying that a white student had thrown the black student through the glass door. That did not happen. I was an eyewitness.
Right before the bell sounded to return to class, the black and white students separated to either side of the commons area.
You could cut the tenseness in the air with a knife.
Out of the blue one of the black players on our basketball team decided to walk across the vacated middle part of the commons, and started yelling obscenities at the white students lined up on one side.
A white linemen on the football team, with full cast on his leg, hobbled across the commons on crutches and cold-cocked my basketball teammate.
The fight was on. I was smart and drifted into the background.
Before it was over, fists and (afro) rakes were flying, students were bleeding and on the ground, and the star (white) player on our baseball team, who went on to sign with the Montreal Expos, had blood streaming down his face after being struck with a rake. The baseball coach, who was on duty, pulled the black kid off his star athlete. I had never seen a coach get involved in a fight like that.
As quick as it started … it stopped, but it was scary as hell.
At the end of the day I saw another black kid brutally attack a white kid, who was sitting on the steps with his girlfriend, waiting for their ride to show up.
I was so glad when my father arrived to pick me up. It had been a frightening day. I saw white and black friends, who the day before had been laughing together, brutally beating one another.
The next day at school was the safest day in my history of schooling. Very few parents allowed their daughters to go to class that day. Police manned the hallways.
Luckily, the Easter break soon followed and there was never an inkling of trouble the rest of the year, or the rest of my years in high school.
Fast forward to when our daughters were growing up. We were on a family vacation to Tennessee. One of our first stops was Memphis, the city in which Dr. King was assassinated.
The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel (where Dr. King was assassinated) was one of our stops.
I wasn’t allowed to bring my camera inside, and missed the picture of a lifetime.
As I was looking at the displays, I rounded one corner and saw my daughters, one on either side of a little black girl about their age. They were talking and laughing with each other as new friends, not understanding the significance of the Rosa Parks bus display.
All three were colorblind.
I all but cried, understanding immediately what I had long since learned - children are not born racist. They must learn racism.
Thank you for letting me share those memories. Writing in this space is healing for me during troubling times. Prior to this it was a storm named Harvey. Writing has been therapeutic my entire career, which is a bit odd since I was a solid C- student in English in high school and college.
I understand the protesting, even if the protesters get a little rowdy.
I don’t understand anarchist thugs who cross state lines (most likely getting paid from unknown sources) and cause mayhem by throwing objects at the police and burning businesses and vehicles, completely taking the attention away from the original issue.
During all this turmoil, something I’ve never witnessed in my 60 years of life, two things crossed my mind.
Massive contrasts, albeit through a white man’s eyes.
Dr. King was a man who led peaceful marches and demonstrations. He and others involved in the Civil Rights Movement faced unthinkable actions by law enforcement personnel, political leaders, and “ordinary” citizens in the Deep South.
Yet, his actions changed the world.
This past week we’ve seen thugs, thinking they’re protesters, attack police, burn up things, and run.
The image that will never leave my mind is the graffiti on the Lincoln Memorial.
Only an anarchist, trying to stir up as much hate as he or she could, would do such a thing.
I can’t imagine a peaceful protester, no matter how mad inside he or she might be, defacing the memorial of a white president who ultimately paid for his fight against slavery with his own death.
What this country needs right now is local leadership leading our cities and towns and driving out the thugs, so those who want to practice their right to peacefully protest may do so.
We need huge doses of love and forgiveness, as witnessed by cops and protesters kneeling together in prayer.
We need parents and/or guardians who instill in their children the basic rights and wrongs of life.
One of the biggest realities of life is that it isn’t fair, and that rule applies to everyone.
Victims come in every color.
One day, we might come to understand we are all born as equals, in the eyes of God, and we, by our own actions, make us different.
Hate, in either direction, is not the answer.
Every death is a sad occurrence for someone.
Rest in peace George Floyd.
Peace, please, America.
Dad’s 90th birthday
Because of COVID-19, my family, like many families, can’t celebrate in the normal way a birthday for a parent living in a nursing home.
My father turns 90 Friday, June 5.
I know many of you have either met him at some point during the past 36 years I’ve been here at the newspaper, or know of him through this column.
We are lining up one heck of a birthday parade at the nursing home Saturday morning, and a birthday card/email shower for his big day, weekend, and week to follow.
I know he won’t see this column before his birthday because all his mail is quarantined for 24 hours after it’s received!
So, if you have a second, and care to do so, consider sending my dad an email birthday greeting at email@example.com, or if you’d like, mail a note or card to:
Eden Hill Communities
631 Lakeview Blvd
Heritage, Room 204
New Braunfels, TX 78130
Thanks in advance for helping me make my father’s birthday a special one during this crazy time!
Until next week, have a good week … and love one another, regardless of color.
Mike Probst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.