Today’s MOZEN: Color Blind
Growing up in the 60’s in Fort Lee, NJ wasn’t exactly like “Leave It To Beaver”. But it sure wasn’t quite “The Jeffersons” either.
Neighborhoods were not flashy but, rather, solidly working-class with a fair amount of ethnic diversity featuring a healthy mix of Irish, Italians, Christians, and Jews. However, the racial component was virtually lily white. There were a handful of Asian families but I can’t recall a single black family that we even knew of much less associated with. In fact, I really didn’t experience any aspect of black life until I attended university at Rutgers in Newark!
However, despite that deprivation, since I was so into athletics as a young man, most of my roll models were black! I don’t think that it was some type of spiritual awareness but much more practical: I loved playing football and most of my favorite players were, well, black.
I remember my first encounter with a professional football player — who also happened to be black. His name was Sherman White and he was making an appearance at the local Shop Rite. I was about 12 or 13 and since I lived just a few blocks away, I walked to the store early so that I could get a good spot to meet him.
When I did, I thought I saw a god. He was big. He was handsome. He was incredibly well-dressed, and his dark skin made him look like he was carved out of a block of ebony. I swear his feet never touched the ground when he walked — like a mythical black panther.
It never occurred to me that role models came in particular “colors.” Now, I understand that it is important to see others who look like us and have achieved great success to show us the possibilities — especially for minority communities. But, at that time, it simply didn’t matter to me — he was a pro and he looked and acted the part. That was fine by me.
Furthermore, my favorite player on my favorite team (the NY Giants), Ron Johnson, was African-American. I even wore his jersey #30 in his honor for my entire playing career. I even went to great lengths to find and wear Puma football shoes — just as he did.
Of course, my parents played an important part in emphasizing the only truly important thing about a person is their strength of character, not the color of their skin. That just seemed natural to me — and it still does.