My son, Jordan, gave me the ok to share his story today, 12 years later, and a timely reminder, as we honor the impact of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the millions who sacrificed. We Remember.
Introduction: It was summer 2010 when my son and I trekked from a Maryland suburb just outside of Washington, D.C., to attend Freshman Orientation at a Midwest university. After weighing his top 3 choices of higher learning, this university rose to the top of the list as his final choice because of their top-notch telecommunications program. I’d already done the travel calculations – – 90 minutes by plane, 8 hours by car (take off an hour or so depending on who was behind the wheel), and the train and bus were distant 3rd and 4th choices. We also had ‘get-there’ folks who were nearby on-call for him too.
So, there we were on a warm weekend in Hoosier country. Students and parents were separated for most of the Orientation, affording both groups the chance to get to connect peer-to-peer. I wouldn’t hear about the incident that follows until much later. Harriett V. Bennett
I Know My Name: And The “N” Word Ain’t It! by Jordan A.Bennett-Barnes
When I heard it, it didn’t register with me. It was a coward that drove by and didn’t have the gall to stand and say it. But then I played it back in my head and it dawned on me what had just occurred. I’ve experienced subtle racism (an oxymoron) before but never blatant racism. That’s why it caught me off guard. Now obviously, I’m not gonna chase after a car cuz that’s not smart. (Although I have heard of people doing that when they’ve been called that, it doesn’t always end the way you want it to. FYI, there was a time when the Hoosier state and the KKK were closely linked. Now, I couldn’t for sure point the finger of blame at either – – just had to trust God had my back and keep my eyes open. So, let’s rewind about 40 minutes before the ‘incident.’ I was one of a dozen incoming freshmen in my group sitting in the quad, a popular outside hangout area, with our assigned sophomore host for the day. Not one even slightly favored me, but that was kind of expected. After all, I did tell my mom when we started the college search that I was looking for a different and challenging experience. I checked off marks on both here: curriculum and community. This was about as different as it gets.
Most of us sat partially under a tree that offered very little protective shade. Maybe my gulps from the once cooled, but now clammy, plastic water bottle I gripped, just seemed to fuel the sweat beading up on my forehead. Our futile attempts for outside creature comfort was no match for elements out of our control, like the temperature creeping up to a [I’m not trying to tan] level. And at this point, that wimpy breeze we started out with was more hopeful than happening. I wasn’t suffering alone. Maybe the time was right to start a harmless mutiny, shifting the pitch by our upperclassman guide on the fun points of campus life, from outside, to any air conditioned corner inside. Maybe if that had happened just a bit sooner, I would’ve been spared the words from the ig’nant fool who spoke next. Maybe.
It happened quickly, but the words seemed to travel across the quad in slo-mo, landing like the bird dunk that it was, dropping right in front of me: “Go home nigger!” And then, in true coward fashion, the car sped off. I sat there and ‘pondered’ my reaction in warp speed, determined not to let the sun-induced sweat beads that had only dried minutes earlier, now be replaced with the heat from the blood boiling inside of me. I remembered something I learned in karate as a child — to kick discipline of the mind and body into high gear and not a sense of fear. So I held it together. The white kids around me were astounded, shocked and appalled and started to try and comfort me. But I had to wonder if that was an overwhelming gesture for diplomacy in the face of an intense and embarrassing moment for them called white guilt. And maybe I should have appreciated it at that moment, but I really just didn’t want to hear it.
I was raised under the saying: “Folk gonna call you everything under the sun. ’. What you respond to is all up to you – – the old ‘sticks and stones’ philosophy. The minute that you address ignorance, you’re taking on whatever that person called you. And then you’ve given them your power.” Don’t. Wasn’t gonna give them any power cuz I knew my name and knew who I was and what I wasn’t. Was I a lil angry? Of course, but more just annoyed cuz they knew… they knew good and doggone well they wouldn’t say that to my face and so they did it driving by.
I don’t really know why I didn’t tell my mom until much later. Somebody messin’ with her offspring probably would’ve sparked the Taurus bull in her. But maybe I wanted to be strong and show strength, or not have her worry, or just a thought that I didn’t wanna dwell on. They thought they told me to leave but I wasn’t goin anywhere. Perhaps their plan was to strike fear in me. If so they did a terrible job of it.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)
Several years later, I did, in fact, “go home,” leaving the campus that helped to further align and define the person I was becoming, on my own timeline, building a successful career and paying it forward. The Bible says no weapon formed against me shall prosper…and it didn’t.
How many others before I was even born, who looked like me, marched and fought an even more dangerous situation for the right to matriculate wherever and whatever the choice(s)? How many believed it was our right to build a legacy of opportunity, one good name at a time. I am thankful for passing through that place, for however long I was there. That’s a lesson the haters in the car on campus that day in 2010 sure needed to learn, if they ever slowed down long enough to understand what that really meant. #IKnowMyName
“Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.” (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)wordzwoman. #jabennettbarnes. #MartinLutherKingJr AnointedWomenInChrist.com