“I’m not accepting the things I cannot change. I’m changing the things I cannot accept.” – Angela Davis
Ask anyone who knows me, I love my alma mater – the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
Many brilliant and beautiful men and women have walked through the doors at the Capstone and have made a huge impact on the world. To say nothing of the mighty Men in Crimson who wash over the college football world every fall.
I love my school. In many ways, I was destined to go there. I grew up up a mere 15 minutes from campus. It was where my Mom and Dad met. I will always love that place.
Let’s take you back to my days as a student. I believe it was the spring of 1997 or 1998. I had a class on a part of campus that I hadn’t spent a lot of time in previously. With the parking situation the way it was (and still is) on campus, I found myself walking past Foster Auditorium three times a week. Foster Auditorium was where Alabama’s basketball teams played once upon a time. It was also the site of many memorable concerts. Foster was where my late Dad once got to play Elton John’s piano at a soundcheck in place of a tardy Reginald. Elton’s bus was stuck in Birmingham traffic. It’s called “Malfunction Junction” for a reason.
A little more notoriously, Foster Auditorium was the site in June of 1963 where Governor George Wallace took his “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” to keep black students Vivian Malone and James Hood from registering for classes. This was where he stared down the National Guard as well as high-ranking members of the federal Department of Justice. There’s a National Historical Landmark plaque commemorating this occasion and that always rubbed me the wrong way.
I always had black friends growing up. But they weren’t black in my eyes and in my heart. They were my friends. Even now, they’re some of my best friends. I was even a guest on Derrick’s radio show early in the year.
And I know how this can read. The white guy being like “oh, but I have black friends.” I get how disingenuous that can sound.
The fact that I never judged anyone by the color of their skin doesn’t eliminate the fact that the house I grew up in was right next to one that proudly flew the Confederate Flag.
And yeah, private property. They can do what they want. I still hate that f****** flag.
My home state has less than a stellar reputation when it comes to race relations. Y’know, to say the least. “Bull” Connor became famous in Birmingham for turning dogs and fire hoses on black civil rights protestors during the 60s. There’s an image that none of us can escape.
Even my grandfather wasn’t immune to this. To this day, Melborn Ivey is one of my greatest heroes and he’s been gone since 1992. Granddaddy was a wealthy farmer whose power was at its peak in Jim Crow Alabama. One of my grandfather’s best friends and most trusted advisors was an uneducated black man named Hosea Daniels.
One of the sweetest human beings you’ll ever have the honor of knowing, Hosea became my Granddaddy’s farm manager, overseeing better than 1000 acres of cropland and a herd of registered Angus cattle. His late wife Mable and my late Grandmother Martha were dear friends as well. My Mom and her brother and sister all were great friends with the Daniels’ kids – I think they had 5 kids (their oldest died in Vietnam before I was born.)
My family still owns a lake outside Ashford, Alabama. My old house sits on that lake (and I miss it every day.) During the spring and summer months, my grandfather would open the lake to the public. For one small fee, you could fish from sunup to sundown and you could keep what you caught within daily creel limits.
Also, on the lake property was a small general store and bait shop. You could stop by and get some crickets or worms, and snacks and an ice-cold “co-cola”. The Coke machine was only $.35, and it was the first time I learned how to count change. “Just a quarter and a dime, son,” Granddaddy would say.
There were also restrooms at this building. Now, I grew up in the 80s and this practice had long since passed, but I’ve heard this. Once upon a time, the restrooms in this building were marked as “Men”, “Women,” and “Colored.”
I feel like this entire nation is on the edge of a great shift. The COVID-19 pandemic was the catalyst. But I believe that the protests that have sprouted all over the United States over the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Aumahd Arbery, and many, many more who don’t get recorded and put onto social media, are the spark that’s lighting the fire under this nation’s a$$ that we so desperately need.
A few weeks ago, Birmingham saw some pretty scary unrest following a protest rally. One of the speakers at the rally was a comedian named Jermaine “FunnyMaine” Johnson.
A Crimson Tide superfan, FunnyMaine is probably best known for his weekly “How Alabama Fans Watched…” series of YouTube videos during the college football season. A must watch every Sunday morning during the fall.
Johnson (who is black) delivered a fiery speech at a protest rally that many feel sparked rioting and unrest. Speaking of going over to nearby Linn Park in Birmingham and “tearing some s*** down” – speaking of a confederate statue in Linn Park. Johnson caught some serious heat for that and was charged by the city of Birmingham for inciting a riot. He wasn’t booked, but he did pay a $500 fine.
Johnson also helped to raise and distribute well over $10 thousand to help repair primarily black-owned businesses damaged in the unrest. Some have painted him in a terribly negative light. While others have said he’s this generation’s Dick Gregory (which I can totally see.)
Here’s the thing, while Johnson got charged and fined…the statue is gone.
Alabama is ready for a major change. It’s no irony to me that Birmingham and Montgomery – the two hottest beds of the civil rights movement of the 60s – both have young, black mayors.
This shift is clearly not just in Alabama.
NASCAR admittedly doesn’t have the world’s best record when it comes to race relations themselves. While Wendell Scott is the only black driver in their hall of fame, he also got screwed royally out of his first-ever race win.
And even today, they have but one full-time black driver (Bubba Wallace). And they have few black fans. I like to kid my friend and coaching colleague Jason that he’s the only Black NASCAR fan. Jason’s also a former high-ranking NASCAR employee as well.
But NASCAR made big news this past week for banning the display of the Confederate Flag at their events and at their tracks.
Wallace drives car #43, made iconic by NASCAR royalty (and Wallace’s car owner) Richard Petty. Wallace carried a paint scheme honoring Black Lives Matter during a recent race.
NASCAR’s history is decidedly Southern. While they hold races all over North America, they primarily race at tracks in the Southeast and mid-Atlantic.
Here’s my point to all these words.
While I may lay my head in Connecticut, my heart still lies in Alabama and in the South. I love Southern food. I love Southern accents. I miss the central time zone and authentic sweet iced tea.
While my home has an awful history when it comes to racial inequality, I believe my home can be the birthplace for REAL racial equality.
It’s incumbent on all of us to sit down and have a conversation. More than that, I believe white people need to take a deep look inside and ask ourselves some serious questions.
Moreover, I think we need to take the time, open our hearts, and listen. Listen to the stories of discrimination and of bigotry. We need to listen to our elders – men like my friend Hosea should be right at the top of that list. What must HE have gone through growing up the son of a sharecropper in Cairo, Georgia during the Great Depression!
Our nation has been on pause for the better part of this year. We’re tired, angry, and fed up.
But what’s three months for most of us, compared to 400+ years for our black brothers and sisters?
Like my Grandmother was famous for saying – God gave us two ears and only one mouth. Listen twice as much as you speak.
So many feel unheard right now. Let us hear the unheard.
Let’s stop idolizing flags and idolizing people who formed a new country because they wanted nothing more than to keep human beings as property. My Alma Mater has taken some huge steps toward fixing this.
All lives can’t matter until Black Lives Matter! Let’s come together and create a nation – a world – where ALL are welcome and safe.