As the steaming hot and gooey pizza was placed on the table, five hands shot out to grab a piece in unison
We were celebrating my son’s fourteenth birthday before I dropped off his posse of freshmen football buddies at their first high school dance. The boys were giddy and amped up as only a potent mix of soda, pepperoni and hormones can do.
They chatted about hot cheerleaders, grueling practices and loads of homework while I secretly listened and delighted in their jibes and roasting.
“Hey mom, can we run over to the mini-mart to get some gum?” my son Kyle asked.
I snorted, “Sure boys, better pick up the minty fresh one for the ladies.” Kyle grinned and took off running with his friends at his heels.
As the boys hustled off, my husband and I smiled weakly at each other from across the table. It had been a big week for our son who started high school and suited up for his first varsity game. Kyle was now playing with athletes of an elite caliber and the stakes were getting higher and higher.
One of the boy’s was a new friend from LA , commuting to play football for J Serra High School. He was a shy kid, a phenomenal athlete and determined to carve out a different path than his gang-banger brothers. I admired the kid’s tenacity and dry sense of humor.
As they walked back in the door, I knew something was wrong.
Kyle burst out, “Mom, a group of older teenagers pulled up in their car next to us, pointed their finger at his friend and screamed, ‘I hate n—ers.’”
(You know, the worst word an African-American can be called)
My heart broke. I looked at the boy’s face as he shrugged it off, pretending not to care. Kyle and Nate didn’t press their friend, although I knew they were concerned and were struggling with how to respond and encourage him.
The awkward space between shock and discomfort hung in the air like the ashes of a wildfire lingering in the haze. We sat in the unease. There wasn’t much to say in the face of such ugliness.
The boy stood proud, not allowing himself to be sucked in by a group of racist white boys trying to intimidate and belittle. I struggled to hold back tears seeing his strength of character.
We changed the subject and moved on, but it affected each and every one of us.
There’s very little I dislike about Ladera Ranch, EXCEPT for the eerily skewed white-bread demographics. Few would deny that Ladera Ranch is a homogeneous Disneyland suburb with white picket fences and Stepford-wives abounding. And if there was a breeding ground for racism in southern California this might be it.
I don’t hate much, but I despise racism…
I hate that we took our young friend out and he was exposed to bigots. I hate that this young man –who is overcoming obstacles right and left to get an education and make a decent life for himself is subjected to idiots running around in daddy’s Mercedes with nothing better to do than make mischief and torment younger kids.
The next morning the boy and another friend from LA came to visit our church. I gulped and prayed they would feel accepted and loved by our congregation. Fortunately my husband, whom they smiled at and recognized, was on stage doing announcements.
A few minutes later a video played with a beautiful young lady from Kenya talking about getting connected and finding relationships here in our community. I turned and saw the boys relax and settle in.
And I knew God heard my heart’s cry to find a middle ground, even if it was just for a brief moment-where black and white didn’t matter and we all stood together side by side worshipping as one.