It was our senior year of high school 1972. Tensions were razor sharp. We were the last senior class to not be included in the now Federal legislation that began “forced busing” of children to public schools. The government wanted to promote racial integration.
This was before the proliferation of guns among young people as exists today (2016) yet rumor was that many were armed with knives, brass knuckles, pipes, girls with razors hidden in their afros and such things.
As usual the primary instigators gathered their respective cronies. White youth milled about on the concrete commons outside the cafeteria. The blacks gathered on the grass below the wide four or five steps leading down from the commons where the “Jesus Freaks” usually liked to sit cross-legged in soft laughter and subdued camaraderie.
We were not novices to fist fighting so were prepared though not vocal. My small group was standing clear of the “rabble rousers”. A pang of consciousness troubled me over this ignorant display of mob mentality. I could only muse, “ There’s got to be a better way.”
Just as the anger was reaching a crescendo, one of the displaced “Jesus Freaks” (white) walked out onto the grass and reached out his hand to a petite black girl in bell-bottom jeans and the requisite afro. After a pregnant pause she took his hand. The pervading roar of animosity subsided.
He whispered in her ear, kneeled down on one knee and she stepped nimbly over and onto his shoulders. He stood with his lanky frame, long brown hair, dirty jeans with vest and gazed up at the crowd with soft, clear, blue eyes. The chocolate woman-child on his shoulders stared in kind, black eyes sparkling in the sunlight … both smiling.
I recall the sudden frog in my throat and a welling of tears as I watched transfixed … afraid that someone might see the weakness of my sorrow. Or was this joy?
The opposing masses from the commons area and grass moved toward one another. We were breathless. First a hand shake then a hug and in just moments most were dancing and riding shoulders and singing much to the glaring chagrin of the rabble rousers.
I know today that my tears were not weakness. I know today that it was no accident that a youth that had been branded a “Jesus Freak” was the catalyst for peace. There were no more riots that year at our school.
Would that all nations and all colors and all religions could ground themselves in the message of Christ. Would that our driving force be like the compassion and love of those two, bright eyed youth on a crisp and sunny day in 1972.