My Two Americas

In 2005, I worked in the heart of Richmond’s Iron Triangle. I was a single mom at the time, and I often had to take my son to work with me. As he will gleefully tell you, there was at least one time when I sent him to the car, which was parked about 1/4 of a block from the Center, to get something. He had heard stories about the Triangle, and he was frightened. I felt no fear for him, a white boy walking 1/4 of a block. The Center’s kids knew me, knew my son, and were outside of watch him walk to the car. Nonetheless, he was frightened in the few minutes it took to walk there and back. In retrospect, I realize I made the wrong choice, and it is certainly not a choice I would make again.

In the town I lived in at the time, which is about a 10-minute drive from the Iron Triangle, there was an outdoor musical event/town picnic one night of the week for the month of September.

One day after a shooting outside the Center, after I saw several young black men handcuffed and put into the rear of a police truck, I went to the outdoor festival with my son. It was a beautiful night, and we had a great time. As I reflected on the stark contrast between the two events–only a few miles and moments apart in time–I felt compelled to write about it. Yesterday, following the sad outcome of the Treyvon Martin trial, these words came to mind again, and today, 8 years later, I post them here. In 8 years, little to nothing has changed.

My Two Americas

The whole town must have been there:

blankets spread, corners held firm with baskets, rocks found in flower beds.
An elderly couple at a table pulled from their patio,
and shiny-haired children, dancing barefoot in September glow.

I held my breath and waited for the next song to begin,
the small blond boy’s father to pull him from the stage.

So warm, watching these families and their infinite smiles, children
undeniably bright, college bound.

And I thought back two hours—
my work, McDonald Avenue—and saw

corn-rowed boys
face down, hands behind backs, wrists cuffed.
Ten police cars, 20 guns drawn, pointed
at three nappy heads.

I am hit from behind – the boy from the stage –

His father smiles in apology at the miscalculation
of his small son’s steps.

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