I've only recently started telling this story to anyone, and even many of you who are close to me may not know this, but one night, back when I was 12, a friend and I were beaten up for being white. We were walking back to his house after visiting a mutual friend, and it had started to get dark. As we walked along, we saw a small group of black teenagers having a conversation on the sidewalk. We didn't really think anything of it, and kept on walking and talking to each other. As we got close, the group decided to move and block our path. They started laughing at us, calling us names, and refused to move aside and allow us to pass. We attempted to cross the street and find another way to get where we were going, but the group decided to follow us, and when they saw that there were no other people around they attacked us, beat us, and called us all manner of racial slurs as we attempted to flee. I was bigger than my friend, and tried to take the brunt of the blows myself, but they made sure to spread them out between the two of us. Eventually we made it to a brighter area with a major street, and they finally relented and ran off. It was an incredibly harrowing experience, and one that I wouldn't wish on anyone.
Not more than two weeks later I was walking alone along the edge of a park in my own neighborhood, and again it had started to get dark. Up ahead I saw a lone black teenager walking toward me on the sidewalk. He appeared, I think it is fair to say, to be the culmination of every stereotype there is: he was wearing baggy clothing, a large black jacket, nice well-kept sneakers, and a beanie, and he walked with a bit of a swagger. I'm fairly sure he even had a few gold chains around his neck (though my mind may be exaggerating the story just a little bit).
Just an aside, to be ultra fair, I was a walking stereotype myself, ha ha! As you imagine him, I want you to also imagine me as the epitome of the chubby white nerd.
Just before we passed each other, I watched this young man stick his hand out, palm up, facing me. We made eye contact, and he just sort of looked at me expectantly, without saying a word. I realized what was going on, and stuck my hand out just in time. He took my hand, gave me a brief but firm handshake, nodded at me, and went on his way.
It's easy to see how the first incident might easily have turned me into a racist. I could have allowed it to confirm the stereotypes that I had been fed by TV news, and withdrawn myself in fear of people who were different from me. If I hadn't already been fortunate enough to have parents that raised me to respect and honor human diversity, I may well have been lost before that man even came along. Instead, here I am, an advocate for love, equity, and the dignity for all people. If I have entertained angels without knowing it, certainly that man was one of them.