I retired as an Industrial Arts teacher in June, 1996. Over the years I had students of every color. Occasionally there was a fight between a black and white student, but no more often than between two whites or two blacks. The school had a good sports program and the black and white students played football and basketball together. Race just didn’t seem to be an issue.
When I was a child growing up in the small Western Kentucky town of Fredonia, I had black friends. We played baseball together. We hunted, fished and just hung out together. One of my closest friends went off to Detroit and went to work. I stayed in Western Kentucky and went to college because I was too dumb to get a job. 🙂 We kept in touch over the years. Race just didn’t seem to be an issue.
Then, July 1996 came along and off we went to Perth, Australia. My son who was 18 at the time, went on the church mission trip. The only time he had any negative racial experiences was in the first grade when one of his classmates used a racial slur directed at a black girl in the class. My son punched him out and got in trouble with the principal. He got his butt spanked. I was extremely proud of my son.
In Perth, the three of us lived with an Aboriginal couple named Wally and Leisha. Over the two weeks we came to love those people. Leisha had been taken away from her parents when she was two years old. The British thought they could provide her a more suitable environment than her family. She was forcibly taken from her mother’s arms and placed in a dormitory with other Aboriginal children
Wally taught our son to throw a boomerang Aboriginal style. I’m sure he was the only kid in Western Kentucky that had ever had a boomerang lesson from a real Aboriginie. We sensed an uneasy feeling from them when we first got there. As the time passed, tensions eased and we became comfortable with each other.
As we went to various places; church, The Autumn Center (nursing home), The Aboriginal Museum, we kept seeing posters with the word “reconciliation.” The Aboriginals were making an effort to reconcile the differences between them and the whites. The whites seemed to be set to hate them no matter what.
At the end of the two weeks of work, the time came to go home. On the last night there was a dinner with all the host families and the sixty of us on the trip. We, of course, took Wally and Leisha. We loved them as our own brother and sister. We sat down at a table with a family of white Australians. They seemed to be very nice people. I noticed Wally and Leisha had not come in. I went to find them, they were outside. When I asked why they had not come in they gave some off-the-wall reason that I perceived as not being the real reason. They were apprehensive of the whites reaction. I talked them into coming in to sit with us. When we sat down at the table, the “really nice” whites got up and moved to another table. I was livid. My wife was extremely upset.
We sat at the table with Wally and Leisha and had a really enjoyable evening. When those of us on the mission trip had a chance to give a three minute talk, I gave them a talk on the love we shared with our new Aboriginal brothers and sisters. We had just simply gotten to know them and be very accepting of a different culture.
I will never forget the last time I saw Leisha. She gave me a big hug and said, “I never thought I’d be able to say to a white person, I love you.”