I grew up poor in the South as the son of a single mother. We lived on food stamps in a trailer park. There was disparaging commentary on other races and stories which glorified the actions of hooded men in white robes. It was normal talk and it unfortunately was the way I was raised.
Things began to change for me when I was accepted to the Savannah College of Art and Design and moved to Savannah. On my first night in town, Floyd Adams was inaugurated as Savannah’s first black mayor. As I began to take classes, my world opened up immensely.
My best friend was a Muslim from Turkey. I dated a girl from Central America, and made friends from all over the world. My perspective changed. I finally got to know people for who they were and not just the biased stereotypes I had been taught.
After graduating, I immediately started working as a photojournalist at a daily newspaper. Over the years I have photographed all kinds of unique stories ranging from KKK rallies to the funeral of one of Savannah’s leading Civil Rights leaders, W.W. Law. More times than I care to count, I photographed grieving families who lost loved ones to senseless acts of violence. In these times, I met innocent children whose lives were being shaped by the world around them.
I know from experience that we change. We can grow in love and compassion and change how we perceive and think of others. We can lay aside our judgement and prejudice and support one another as the human family we are. It isn’t easy and it doesn’t happen overnight.
You see, racism and hate isn’t just a southern thing. It’s worldwide and like a virus, it can spread and continue to infect those most susceptible. Children don’t see bias. They learn it. Our words and actions are the map our children will follow.
If we want a better future, we have to do a better job of modeling for our children. Believe me, the words you speak will impact them. I’m not perfect. In fact, I’m far from it, but I’m glad I was able to see the truth behind the biases of my childhood.