Tag Archives: ferguson

Swimming Safely

24 Jun
The original handwritten caption to this photo: "Negroes at Fairground Swimming Pool."

The original handwritten caption to this photo: “Negroes at Fairground Swimming Pool.”

I grew up in North St. Louis County, Mo., specifically Jennings. Midway through high school, my district decided to (finally) open the pool that had been sitting dormant since the ’80s. We were ridiculously excited. The pool had closed because of lack of funding in the district. Don’t ask me where the sudden burst of cash came from. Jennings is still a pretty low rung on the ladder when it comes to getting money from state.

Jump back about 30-35 years, and you’ll still be in Missouri, but a few miles south in St. Louis City, where my parents grew up. Fun fact: my parents went to the same high school, are both one of at least six siblings (who all went to the same high school) and had never met each other until my father returned from the Vietnam War. Across the street from their high school is Fairground Park, which had a municipal pool.

Fairground Park’s swimming pool has a storied history. The pool was built on the grounds of the World’s Fair amphitheater. It was a ginormous pool, hosting up to 12,000 swimmers a day. It was the largest municipal pool in the country at one time. And it was only open to white people. In 1949, the year my father was born, the pool finally opened to black residents. That didn’t go over well and eventually lead to a riot.

Flash forward to present day and me still trying to get my sea legs back. I’ve thought a lot about this in the past week as I’ve watched a world grapple with the racism that is so inherant that there was actual debate about taking down a treasonous, racist emblem casting a shadow over a town recovering from tradgedy.

The pool I swim in each week has people from all walks of life. As with all workout routines, sweat cares nothing about your bank account. We are all large, small, tall, short, 1%, the rest us. There was a time in many Americans’ recent memory that the color of our skin would have kept us from enjoying our morning routines together. The hate that once would have kept us separated is the same hate that took nine lives a week ago today.

Charleston is Baltimore is New York is St. Louis. It is every city, every hamlet, every unincorporated part of the country. It is a cold bucket of water to the face that race relations may have improved, but haven’t done a complete 180. Symbols of hatred and oppression and tyranny can be washed away, burned or even shot into outer space. We can do our best to scrub the taint of these symbols away. But it’s not enough to push them aside and act like it never happened, especially to the people who can recall the events so vividly.

An honest, no-holds-barred conversation needs to happen between all races for there to be at least a modicum of understanding. Until then, we’ll continue to front like stowing away the symbols of hate in a broom closet will solve all of our problems.

 

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Forever an STL Girl

14 Aug
photo: The Associated Press

photo: The Associated Press

Editor’s note: This will be brief because it’s off topic. But I have to share.

One night, many, many moons ago, my boyfriend at the time was driving me home from night at the movies. My boyfriend had a Ford Taurus, which at the time was the isht car to have.

It was about 12, 12:30 in the morning when we were pulled over less than a mile from my house. The officer asked him to step outside the vehicle without asking for license and insurance. They talked for what seemed like 15 minutes, then I had to pass the insurance info out the window. When my boyfriend got back into the car, he was seething.

One thing you’ve got to know about this guy is that he was and is one of the most easygoing people you’d ever meet. Sure, he’s he’s an enormous human being, but it takes a lot to get him to grit his teeth in anger. The officer pulled us over not because he was driving recklessly, not because he was speeding, not even because of some citywide curfew for teenagers that didn’t exist. It was because my young, black, teenage boyfriend was driving near the speed limit. That’s right: boo had the audacity to drive 34 in a 35 mile-per-hour zone in a nice car.

I tell this story because this light form of police harassment happened almost 16 years ago less than two miles from where an 18 year old, not unlike my ex in stature, was killed by a police officer working in North County St. Louis.

Not all police officers choose to be antagonistic toward the black citizens of North County. But I grew up not far from where the turmoil from last weekend started. I know the anger and frustration that the people there feel. I still have family living in that community. My cousin owns a business in that community. And my heart breaks every day that I see new stories come out.

I’ve met some of the journalists covering this story, one of whom was arrested, and I commend them for going after what appear to be war-zone stories. I have to watch from afar, relying on MSNBC, Twitter and the occasional family phone call to keep me updated.

What I can tell you is North County is not Iraq nor Afghanistan nor the Ukraine. It is my home, and it is hurting. I want justice for Mike Brown. I want peace in the home that I love so much. And I want a resolution that causes no more pain to a grieving public.

I’ll leave you with a song that has been on heavy rotation on my iPhone since my cousin suggested it the other day. I hope it eases you as it did me.