Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hoping childhood friend in 1976 no longer thinks: "God must not love me because he made me black"

Today, as I watch Barack Obama place his left hand – that I shook eight months ago – on the bible of Abraham Lincoln to take the oath of office as the 44th president of the United States of America, I’ll be thinking back to a childhood friend in Louisville and 10 words that have haunted me in the 33 years since he spoke them to me:

"God must not love me because he made me black," he said sobbing as he fell to the ground as though deflated by lack of hope. We'd been arguing as all boys do at times. Pushing each other, calling each other names. At some point, he made me really mad and I tried to hurt him -- with words ... one word ... one I'd heard way too many times and always filled with hate. I called him the "N" word.

He burst into a rage and we both swung our fists like crazy at each other. He was mad as hell and I was surprised -- surprised I'd hurt my friend so badly. I didn’t know this word could hurt him this badly. After I fell to the ground and pleaded, "OK, stop! You win. I'm sorry!," he fell to the ground beside me and started to cry.

"Why are you crying? You beat ME up?" I asked. That's when I heard those 10 words he spoke: "God must not love me because he made me black." I felt awful. I wanted to take it back and go after any one who had ever made him feel like less of a person just because of the color of his skin. It was 1976 – the country’s bicentennial – and helped me realize how much further this country had to grow in my lifetime. I vowed then to never use that word again in my life. I never have in the 33 years since then.

It's not just a word. It's like the confederate flag or a KKK hood and robe -- a symbol of so much hate and prejudice and ignorance. It represents to too many stolen hope and unattainable change.

So causes that have meant the most to me involved enhancing civil rights and equal rights ... pursuit of truth and justice ... and reducing racism and sexism and other discrimination.

I'm proud that my 8-year-old son went to a child care center where there were families from many different races, countries, religions, and combinations -- mixed race couples, and couples with two Moms or two Dads. Nobody was treated differently; nothing turned a judgmental head.

He knows that it's OK to be different and that you would never think less of a person because of the color of their skin, their gender, or anything else about them other than their character and choices. He was a Hillary supporter, though, as I became the day after John Kerry lost ... and up until the Iowa caucus proved that YES, HE COULD! My son's rationale for remaining a Hillary supporter up until the end of the primaries was that it's not fair that all of our presidents have been men.

"We've never had a woman as president," he said. I pointed out that we'd also never had a black (or half black and half white) president. And he responded: "Yea, but that's just the color of his skin. That's no big deal.
People come in all sorts of colors. But women, they're like a whole different SPECIES."

OK, I'll keep working on that part of his sensitivity and understanding. But he may be on to something there ... just with the wrong choice of words. ;-)

During each of my son's life, I have thought back to when I was his age. This past year, I realized he was close to the age when I last used that awful word and discovered how much it truly hurt my friend -- truly worse than any stick or stone could have hurt him.

When I heard Barack Obama on television speak the first time in 2004 at the convention, I thought of my young friend from elementary school who thought when he was not much older than my son now, "NO, HE COULDN'T" (that even God was against him) and I hoped he was hearing those inspiring words from this remarkable African American man who I knew, by the end of that speech, would (or at least should) become president some day.

The weekend before the Ohio primary in 2008, when I shook hands with Obama at a Columbus area high school near where I live, I thought of my friend and wished he was there to see this ... and so I could push him toward the aisle closer to where he might get to shake Obama's hand instead.

When I was at an Obama volunteer headquarters on election night November 5 after the polls were closed and we confirmed there were no lines at any of our precincts where we might need to rush water bottles and snacks, a preacher got us all in a circle to pray, and I wished my friend could be there -- to see these passionate, dedicated people of all colors joining hands to make a difference and bring change ... and now joining hands to tearfully ask God to look over our country and our new leader and help us all unify and bring the change we'd worked so hard.

When Barack Obama becomes president, I hope my friend is watching. And, if he still has any inkling of that feeling from 33 years ago, I hope it fades into the past forever.

To my childhood friend, whose skin was darker than mine but whose heart and soul and mind were filled with even more light, God does love you:



Monday, January 19, 2009

Drafting next posting for two decades ...

At midnight on Inauguration Day 2009, I'll post my first real blog entry here.

It's a story I've been struggling with how to tell for more than 20 years. I shared it with an editor in an informal conversation. And he said, "You've got to write a story about that some day."

I've written several drafts and then started all over months or years later.

But I think I finally have it just right thanks to the "closure" that comes tomorrow with Obama puts on Abraham Lincoln's bible his left hand -- one I shook about 8 months ago when he was in town here the Sunday before the Ohio primaries. I couldn't quite reach his right hand as he was passing through but he reached back with his left to shake my hand before moving out of reach.

Please let me know what you think of the story and whether you have similar ones to share. Write through commentary posts. Or just write to me -- tom@4tom.net.


About me (Cliffs Notes verion)

Have a wonderful son, Kevin who is 8. There are pictures of him at http://KevinStone.net. My ex wife (his Mom) and I split up when he was 2 1/2 -- 6 years ago (2003).

Love to help make a positive difference in people's lives through the projects I do and the communications and collaboration strategies I help to enable -- for online learning and other endeavors.

I live in Columbus, Ohio, where I've been working for a university since I moved here in 1996. I've had a couple of different units at the campus that I've worked for (four if you count name changes and shuffling of subunits) and a variety of titles/challenges during that time. Right now, they're calling me a Senior eLearning Consultant. That's like an "eLearning Consultant" but older, I guess (or just been around and won't leave for some reason ;-). I help faculty as they put course resources and activities online or build totally online ("distance learning") courses for students to take from anywhere at any time.

Also worked as newspaper reporter and editor in my first career -- going back to middle school and high school papers and college newspaper to five newspaper internships in college (including one newspaper I started from scratch), and two "real jobs" in newspapers as reporter/editor after graduation.

The second career I fell into by mistake was managing college bookstores. That was interesting. If you want to know more about that or anything else above, read the previous post "About Me." (unabridged ;-)

I've lived in a few places:
  • Chicago area (until 3 weeks old).
  • Alabama (Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Demopolis and Montavelo through age 7).
  • Louisville, Ky. (age 7 through 18; and internship '86; and '88 to '92)
  • Bowling Green, Ky. (college -- 18 to 22 -- '83 to '87)
  • Greensburg, Ky. ('84 internship)
  • Elizabethtown, Ky. ('85 internship & after college '88)
  • Cincinnati, Ohio ('87 internship)
  • Sarasota, Fla. (first real job as newspaper reporter '88)
  • Michigan (Plymouth, Ypsilanti, and Rochester; '92 to '96)
  • Columbus, Ohio ('96 to today)
Intrinsically motivated; not extrinsically motivated. This could explain why I have few assets that you'd list on a tax form. But I have creativity and integrity that is worth more to me than anything else besides my son.

About me (as if you care ;-)

OK, so now I've got a blog with my name on it. Why? I didn't want to be the LAST person in the world to have one. And it seems like more than half the world already has at least one. ;-)

You'd think I would have signed up a bit sooner for a blog because I love to write and pretend someone's reading it.  My first career was working as a newspaper reporter and editor. So I got used to thinking people were reading what I wrote.  But while I was in college ('83-'87), I did a survey of college students back then to find out where they get their news and how many minutes/hours per day they spent with each type of media, and which one they trusted.

NEWSPAPERS? They spent very little time reading them and didn't trust them as much as what they saw in 30-second "stories" on TV news. What the heck?  Thank goodness the Internet hadn't blossomed yet to totally erode all newspaper readers of that age yet as it mostly has now.

What else have done?

COLLEGE BOOKSTORE MANAGER -- yea, that was fun for a while ... until I burned out on retail and management.

INSTRUCTIONAL TECHNOLOGY & INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGN & ONLINE COURSES -- Now I'm an eLearning Consultant for a university. Basically, I help faculty think about how to reinvent their courses when they move them to be totally online ... or just how to put parts of it online or otherwise enhance their face-to-face classes with online materials and activities. It's fun. It's cool. It's sort of like being an "eTherapist" for faculty as a colleague described it. "You can do it, Dr. ___.  Don't worry. It'll be OK. Take the mouse. Good."


Born near Chicago.

Moved when 3 weeks old to Alabama and moved to several different cities in next 7 years within that state -- Birmingham (2 or 3 times), Tuscaloosa, Montevalo and Demopolis.

Just before my 8th birthday, we moved to Louisville, Ky., and stayed put in the same house until I graduated from high school in '83.

During college, one of my summer internships was in Cincinnati, Ohio.

After college, my first job was in Sarasota, Florida.

I'd go back to Kentucky later -- Elizabethtown and Louisville -- before moving to Michigan in 1992 (first to Plymouth -- between Detroit and Ann Arbor; later in Ypsilanti; and, finally, in Rochester when I got engaged to my now ex wife).

She and I moved to Columbus, Ohio, back in 1996 after deciding that we wanted to choose a city where we wanted to settle down and raise a family ... and then find jobs we truly loved -- regardless how much the pay cut might be from our bookstore management jobs with Barnes & Noble College Bookstores.  My pay cut was about 40%. And it was the best move I ever made.

We both still love Columbus ... even if we're not in love with each other any more.  We're still both dedicated to co-parenting our wonderful son, Kevin, who is 8.  You can see him at www.KevinStone.net (although it's been a couple of years since I updated photos there ... used to be a daily/weekly activity ;-).


During college, I had 5 internships at newspapers. I even helped a college professor START a newspaper from SCRATCH. It was a 5,000-circulation weekly in Smiths Grove, Ky. I got to design the nameplate, layout the pages, write most of the stories, take most of the pictures, drive the disk with all this stuff to the other paper he owned where they had a real staff that could paste things up. Then I drove it to a press another hour or so east. Then I'd drive the truck full of papers back to Bowling Green, Ky., where I lived. There were no apartments in the little town of Smiths Grove.  The next morning by 5 a.m., I'd meet the postal service workers at the back door with the load of papers to bulk mail. They'd deliver them that day.  And it all started over again.

I realized before I graduated from college that newspapers would not be my lifetime work. I'd already done most of what I wanted to do before I graduated. And I realized this was a business that acted like a dinosaur and was bent on dooming itself to extinction. Still today, most journalists are deluded into saying, "Don't let newspapers die" when they are already dead in the eyes of most people under the age of 40.  They need to reinvent themselves as a news operation that does not primarily distribute what it produces via print.

Some of my favorite quotes:

"The most important things in life aren't things."

"When a job quits being fun, quit and find one that is." (although I've found it better to find one before you quit)  Good advice from a journalism prof.  It's part of the reason I've left two careers and made sure that my current job is at a university with thousands of different job titles -- that way, I can change jobs without starting all over with retirement and benefits, etc. ;-)

"Be the change that you seek."

"Yes we can."

"Yes we did."

"Yes we will."