When you look at this photo, what do you see? I see a friendship. Though a small band of brothers, I see two brave men destroying a large prejudice and setting an example of which this country would do well to emulate.
This is my husband, Clay, and his dear friend, Anselm. They call each other, “my light-skinned brother and my brown-skinned brother.” Their friendship extends back over 25 years.
Do you know how Clay and Anselm became friends? They started talking to one another and they started listening to one another. They found they shared many of the same convictions and passions like, being good citizens, husbands, devoted fathers. They believed in good old fashioned ideals like, respecting each other and acting like gentlemen. Their friendship never had a racial divide. They didn’t take a first look at one another and think, “We are too different. We are not the same. We will never see eye to eye.” You know why? Because they never saw skin color, ethnicity, or cultural divide. All they saw was a man standing in front of them. SO they began to converse in order to find out what sort of man that was. Nothing else. The first time they met they talked for hours getting to know one another. They connected in their shared passions of faith, patriotism, work ethic and family values. A friendship was birthed that night in those late hours. A friendship that has endured time, distance, and societal divides (as a matter of fact, social divide never, then nor now, found its way into the equation of their friendship). Anselm is one of the few men that my husband will spend time on the phone with simply to just chat. As a matter of fact, my husband has mentioned before that Anselm is more blue-blooded American than most Caucasian men he knows that were born in this country.
What’s interesting about their friendship is that should they ever not see eye to eye on a matter, they will listen to the other with an ear of respect and hear what the other has to say. Imagine that! They value the opinion of the other even when it disagrees with their own. The old gentleman’s creed of agreeing to disagree has not been lost on their friendship.
These two men didn’t meet because they were neighbors, worked together, attended social functions together, or shared a church membership. They met because I first met Anselm’s family in a parking lot in Baltimore and we started chatting. I had no preconceived idea of who they were or what they were like. My first impression of them was not even formed until after talking for several minutes. You know why? Because shouldn’t you get to know someone on the inside before you ever base an opinion of what they are like on the outside? After my short encounter with this family, I fell in love with them. Why? Because they were kind. They were polite. I could tell right off that they valued me as a fellow human. We didn’t even know one another but we honored, respected, and valued each other. And, that, my friends, was enough of a foundation to build a whole friendship upon. So I found out that they would soon be passing through Indiana on their way to Michigan to see family and I insisted that they stop over at our place. And there in that plan was birthed a life-long family friendship that would extend to the next generation and hopefully continue on from there.
I know of a man who would have fit right into this two-some’s circle. He is actually one of my early American heroes. Booker T. Washington. His way of thinking, his ethics, his moral compass- they would have meshed right into Clay and Anselm’s way of doing and believing. Mr. Washington was the foremost black educator of the 19th and early 20th century. He was born a slave but earned his freedom and educated himself (no small endeavor during that time in our country’s history). [Side note: If it were up to me, his book, “Up From Slavery” would be required reading for every middle-school student and every immigrant desiring to become a U.S. citizen.]
Booker T. was a man of utmost integrity, fortitude, and wisdom. He wasn’t afraid of hard work, bigotry, or racial divides and that is saying a lot for a man of his era. As a matter of fact he believed that racial prejudices were mere obstacles in life to be overcome that made one a better man. Washington had great wisdom and insight into what brings down cultural divides. He did not judge a man by anything outward, especially color. Rather, he judged a man by who he was on the inside and how he performed on the outside. I truly believe that he would have loathed our current racially divided society. He was about fellow man helping fellow man. Indeed, he said, “In order to be successful in any undertaking, I think the main thing is for one to grow to the point where he completely forgets himself; that is, to lose himself in a great cause. In proportion as one loses himself in this way, in the same degree does he get the highest happiness out of his work.” Booker T. Washington believed great men cultivate love and only little men cherish a spirit of hatred.
Yes, I can envision a third chair in that first photograph with a man of noble character sitting there next to the other two. Black, brown, and white? No sir. A band of brothers that share a common color of red flowing through their veins. And they share a common heartbeat for what is right, for what is good, and for what is true. I can just hear them discussing truth and goodness. Not only would they discuss it but they would come up with ideas for what they could do to bring it about in their corners of the world. This is what Mr. Washington did and this is what Anselm does in Pickens, South Carolina and it is what Clay does in Kirklin, Indiana.
We would do well to take a closer look at this photograph, a closer look at this friendship. I do not see a divide. I see a coming together. It is a friendship worthy of emulation.