Growing up in the South, you learn a lot of things. When you’re six, you discover what a ‘June Bug’ is. By the time you turn thirteen, you already know how to drive thanks to that one uncle who lets you borrow his car to go to the store for him. And, as you approach your seventeenth birthday, you learn about the birds, the bees, and the bullcrap. All in all, the South is a place of discovery for those of us who call it home.
But, for some of us, you also learn a few things that are hard to understand. When you turn 10, you start talking about why you have a whole month dedicated to being the color you are. At age 16, you get taught how to act if the policeman pulls you over so you don’t get into a situation. And, by the time you turn 21, you’ve seen more than one of your childhood friends lose their life to violence of some kind.
Here in the South, you learn very quickly as a person of color that you weren’t always invited to have a seat at the table, or that money in your wallet.—or even that book that you’re reading. Here, you learn that while everyone else gets the joys of talking about great, great, great grandpappys, you get the pleasure of talking about the Emancipation Proclamation and why Selma almost didn’t happen. You learn that the country you’ve always called home didn’t even want you until they discovered that you could be herded into fields of ‘bunny gold.’
You learn very quickly that life hasn’t always been as easy for you as it has been for your neighbors. As a matter of fact, you learn that you couldn’t even call them 'neighbor' just seventy-years ago. As time rolls on and you get older, you learn that not everyone is as happy about you being in the same place as them. And you learn that some of them might be inclined to do something about it.
But, here in the South, you learn a lot of other things too. You learn that people can change. You get taught about how this country was founded on freedom and the pursuit of happiness. Your grandmother teaches you about loving God first and your fellow man second. You learn that the way things used to be is no longer the way things are going to be. You learn that down here—things do not have to be what they used to be.
By the time you’re eighteen, you discover what America really stands for. At the age of 23, you see the good in people of all kinds, and you choose love, every time. Growing up in America, you learn that no matter what age or color you are, you belong here just as much as anyone else.
Because growing up in the South teaches you a lot of things. It teaches you what genuine hospitality looks like. The South teaches you that, no matter where you’re from, you’re home here. As you grow up and learn more, you discover that the darkness of the past can offer a torch that will ignite the pathway to a better future—regardless of what you used to be or think.
And so, to those who see things in the news and wonder why can’t things be better; who wonder why can’t we just treat each other the same—don’t worry.
We’re all still learning. And compassion is the greatest teacher.
So, find someone who may look a bit different from you. Someone who doesn’t sound the same, eat the same meals, or even speak the same language. When you do, stop what you’re doing, look them square in the eye…
..and say, “Welcome. I’m glad you’re here.”