What a great picture of two fine men!
They’re holding the red ball that represents Special Olympics unified sports – where all are welcome on the playing field. Regardless of ability. Regardless of race.
On the right is Tommy Walker, an Indiana state trooper. He’s a longtime Special Olympics volunteer and leader within the Law Enforcement Torch Run. Wherever Tommy goes, he knows someone. His charisma is magnetic. By accepting everyone, he’s a hero to thousands of Special Olympics athletes.
On the left is my son Andrew. He continues to raise the bar for those living with the lifelong effects of early childhood trauma and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. Never shy to share his message in crowded high school gymnasiums.
“Nothing in life has ever been easy,” he says when addressing thousands of students. “Yet I don’t want your pity. I need your respect.”
Later the two lit the Special Olympics Flame of Hope at the opening ceremonies of the Indiana Summer Games.
The first African-American athlete and first African-American law enforcement officer having the honor.
It was history in the making.
Role models and heroes, especially for other African-Americans.
History in the making.
But my message doesn’t end there. February is Black History Month after all.
Now back to Andrew. And the life he lives as a black man.
Although his intellectual disability remains an ongoing challenge, the color of his skin increasingly factors into his life – as I’m sure it’s been for Tommy during his career.
Once upon a time, race wasn’t an issue for my son. He was simply the cute kid with the big smile. The kid who tried so hard to please. Then Andrew matured and changed from a boy to a black man. Suddenly some people looked at him differently. Some even became afraid – although nothing changed in his heart.
One professional even said to me, “He’s going to be an angry black man, if you’re not careful.”
I never forgot those harsh words.
Andrew doesn’t notice everything, but he does notice the way people react to him – particularly when a black person acknowledges him and a white person refuses to make eye contact. Extremes will do that to anyone.
Of course, not all white people are racist. That’s not my point. But many fail to recognize the gauntlet that many people of color walk every day for no other reason than their race.
That’s why Black History Month matters to my four children. They have talents. They have beauty. They have worth. And they need to see successful, self-made people who look just like them.
So do I as their father. So do biracial families. So does everyone.
Black History Month is an opportunity to educate. To reduce long-held stereotypes. To end bias.
To educate. To reduce long-held stereotypes. To end bias.
Imagine going through the day and never knowing when you might encounter the one who categorizes you. The one who questions your worth before thinking the worst. The one who then targets you for discrimination.
Recently, a female runner – who happens to be white – accused Andrew of harassment after the two conversed on a well-traveled trail. Not in a thousand years!
Did he ask a lot of innocent questions? Did his intellectual disability create a sense discomfort?
Did his race quickly add an element of fear?
A sad example of reality for our African-American brothers and sisters.
Without question, racism can be overt. However, it’s usually subtle – which adds a layer of uncertainty.
The level of scrutiny must get old. And tiresome. Although prejudice had lessened through the generations, it’s re-surging. Just look at voter suppression in dozens of urban areas, as compared to predominantly white suburbs. Fewer polling hours and places in the former, not the latter. Longer lines. Maybe even intimidation.
That’s why the picture of Tommy and Andrew is so powerful. It’s positive and inviting – while conveying a message of hope. They want to play on the field of life together.
Regardless of ability. Regardless of race.
Who stands with them? Not just during Black History Month.
But every day of the year. DCP
Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE
To learn more about Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love, Craig’s soon-to-published memoir about raising six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love
To follow my son Andrew’s inspiring story, “Like” his special Facebook page Andrew Peterson Goes for the Gold