One day a while ago while having lunch in Quincy, I barely noticed at first the diversity of the people eating at the restaurant. When I did notice, I marveled at it. I thought how far we have come since the Quincy of my youth.
I remember in the mid-1970s, new classmates at my elementary school. They were part of what was known as “white flight”, i.e. white people fleeing Boston because of the integration of the public schools, because of busing.
I saw the terrible images on the news.
I remember hearing the “n” word.
I remember driving to my grandmother’s house in Roslindale, and as we drove through Mattapan, being told to wind up the car windows and lock the doors.
I remember college. My roommates and I were like the United Nations. One roommate’s parents from Italy, another’s from Greece, another’s from India, one Jewish, a Chinese roommate from Hong Kong, and a roommate who is black, Duncan, from Florida. Some came to spend Thanksgiving at my home, and together we went to the North Quincy v. Quincy High football game. It was packed. It was cold. I remember Duncan asking, while shivering, “Hey, JK, am I the only black person here?”
I cannot count the number of times in my life I have heard a story about something start with, “This guy at work, he’s a black guy, but he’s a good guy,” as if being a good guy was an exception for a person who is black.
So, whether we want to admit it or not, racism is real. And it is everywhere. And we have to stop it.
I know what we have to do in government. We have to change how we educate. We have to change how we house. We have to change how we provide health care, we have to change how we police, and we have to change our criminal justice system. We have to all agree that Black Lives Matter. We have to change so much.
But government can only do so much.
Last December I visited South Africa with my wife and oldest son and some of my graduate school classmates. The classmate who organized the trip is still often referred to as colored – not black, not white – but colored, even though in South Africa racial categories have been abolished. While in South Africa, I visited Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was jailed for so many years. Upon returning home, I read his book A Long Walk to Freedom.
At the end of the book, Mandela wrote, “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
I see the truth of Nelson Mandela’s words when I see children at the YMCA, at childcare centers, at camps, and in our schools. I see kids of all colors and creeds just playing and learning together. Not seeing each other as black or white or brown, but as friends.
We have to change, and we have to start that change within ourselves, in our homes, and in our communities.
We have to make sure that our children, our precious children, learn not hate, but be taught to love.
My hope is that when my children and grandchildren eat lunch at a local restaurant, it is a place filled with people of every color and creed, where all are accepted and treated equally. Where differences are used not to divide, but rather to unite. Where diversity is not shunned, but rather celebrated. It is my hope for my home town of Quincy, for our Commonwealth, and for our country. It is my hope for the entire world.