Until a week or so ago, whenever I left the house for a walk in my very pretty Fernway neighborhood in Shaker Heights, Ohio to get some fresh air, a change of scenery and exercise, I would wear my black Veterans for Peace tee shirt featuring the organization’s white logo, complemented by my embroidered military baseball cap indicating I’m a Vietnam veteran who served with the First Infantry Division (“Big Red One”) in Vietnam. (I was a reporter, then editor, the division’s newspaper from July, 1967 to July, 1968.)
Several of the homes in my neighborhood feature black-and-white yard signs reading “Black Lives Matter.” It’s a perfectly appropriate, reasonable thought, but not enough–I thought.
A week ago yesterday I finally received in the mail a tee shirt I had ordered about two weeks earlier. It, like my Veterans for Peace tee, is black and says in very large letters on the front, “Black Lives Matter.” I’m having fun wearing that shirt now on my walks and essential visits to stores, always wearing a mask, of course, in stores.
The first time I wore my “Black Lives Matter” shirt on a walk, on Dorchester Road shortly after leaving my Avalon Road home, two Black women were walking toward me on the sidewalk so of course I stepped out into the street, keeping about 10 feet distance between us. They smiled warmly and greeted me with a friendly “Hi,” as I did likewise. I had the same experience on another side street in the Fernway neighborhood with a Black mom pushing a stroller, who clearly appreciated my shirt, giving me a warm, friendly greeting. I said, “The sidewalks are getting a lot of use these days.” She smiled and agreed.
Yesterday, wearing my “Black Lives Matter” shirt, I walked to my nearby Heinens grocery store to buy four sheets of postage stamps, again wearing my mask, of course. When the Black woman behind the counter saw my shirt, she gave me the crossed arms Wakanda salute from the critically-acclaimed 2018 “Black Panther” film. That made my day!
It’s all well and good to have yard signs that say “Black Lives Matter,” but a much, much stronger and personal show of solidarity with our Black brothers and sisters would be for my white brothers and sisters to wear a shirt that proclaims the same message. Such a strong personal gesture would carry much more heft, substance and gravitas than simply having a token sign in one’s front yard.
I’m reminded of a comment I made to one of the many, many photographers who took my picture during the Republican Party’s convention in Cleveland nearly four years ago. I was standing on East Fourth Street downtown wearing my vintage U.S. Army dress uniform and carrying my peace flag. Standing next to me for the photo was Vishavjit Singh, then 45, a Sikh who lives in New York’s Harlem neighborhood.
Mr. Singh, a very gentle, unassuming, soft-spoken peace-loving soul, told me about verbal and physical abuse he has suffered over the years because of his dark skin and turban. The photographer included this quote from yours truly in his photo caption: “Our message is to promote peace and tolerance. We’re all children of the same creator.”