When We Remove The Masks We Wear: A story of two black men and a white police officer.
Last Friday night I was standing outside of a barbershop in Cincinnati, Oh,with a small group of mostly black men, when this officer walked over to a group of us. He looked around curiously and said “I don’t see a car blocking an intersection” while shaking his head. I asked him what was he talking about. He said someone called and reported that we had a car blocking the intersection. He paused for a minute and shook his head again. In that moment we both nodded and acknowledged what had just happened. Someone basically saw our group and made a false report. I asked him how long he had been on the job and he said 10 months. He asked what we were doing at the barbershop and so told him about the barbershop challenge Men of Courage and Ford Fund has sponsored. I asked if he wanted to come inside. He said he wanted to, but didn’t want to spoil the fun with his presence. Again we both nodded and acknowledged the reality of distrust between the community and police officers.
I offered to take him inside so he could meet the owners and establish a relationship. I told him that someone has to take the first step to healing these relationships. He said he wanted to, but was unsure of what the reaction would be. I told him it would be cool and that Jerome Bettis and a host of other amazing people were inside. He lit up like a lightbulb and said “No way The Bus is in there”, with a kid like smile. I said hold on, I’ll grab him and have him come out. Jerome Bettis came out and the officer stood there with his mouth agape before saying “if my dad was still alive he would be so excited, because you were his favorite player”. We all stopped and sat in the moment before they went on to take a selfie together.
It was one of those moments that reminded me of our humaneness, our frailties and our similarities. In that moment we were all just men navigating the world without the mask we are taught and trained to wear. I could have taken my offense to the call out on the officer and accused him of being a racist cop. He could have believed the caller and acted based on stereotypes about black men in groups. But we chose to just see each other and talk like humans. It’s ultimately a decision we can all make. When he lit up like a kid at seeing his dad’s sports hero, I saw a little boy and the uniform no longer mattered. We can collectively choose to see beyond the uniforms we all wear. It’s not easy and there is a lot of work to be done, but if we can at least start seeing each other, I believe things will get better. #writingmywrongs