"Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America." -The Honorable John Lewis speaking atop the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on March 1, 2020
To say I was angry when I left school would be an understatement. Dan, Jeremy, Stephen and I had been late coming back from lunch numerous times this year. In fact, just two weeks ago, Nettleman watched us enter about ten minutes late and escorted us to class. He jokingly warned us not to get senioritis too early.
Now, I was on his shit list. Anything I did the rest of the year would be monitored; and if I broke any school rules, he would find some reason to suspend me. I couldn’t afford it. In just a few months I would be graduating with honors. Any more suspensions could greatly jeopardize that. Besides, I might need a recommendation from Nettleman when I complete my college applications. He might also try to interfere with teachers and counselors who I would need as references.
Dad’s car was in the driveway when I got home. I stormed into the kitchen and hollered out his name. “I’m in my office, Parker.” When I appeared at his office door, he asked why I was home from school so early.
“Nettleman suspended me,” I angrily informed him.
“Why?” I then told him about picking up Darius to take him back to Rosemont because the police had impounded his car. He asked, “That took two hours?” I then told him about eating at Charley’s before I drove him home. He grew angry when I told him how Nettleman had reacted when I told him.
“Nettleman is a racist son of a bitch,” he spat angrily. “Of course, he would never eat there. I doubt they would even let his ass in the door.”
“Have you eaten there?” I asked.
“Yes,” he replied. “In fact, Charley and I are good friends. I did surgery on his wife.” I told him about my encounter with Charley, and how much he liked him. He smiled when I told him that Charley had paid for my meal.”
“That sounds like Charley,” he replied. “He’d give someone the shirt off his back if they asked.”
“So,” I asked worriedly. “What am I going to do about Nettleman? He has a target on my back.”
“I’ll deal with Nettleman,” he replied. “In the meantime, don’t do anything to antagonize him again.”
“That’s not going to be easy,” I said. “He’s going to be watching every move I make.”
“Just go to school and do what is expected,” he advised. “I’ll make an appointment with Dr. Johnson, the superintendent. He and I sit on a couple of boards together. I’m pretty sure he’ll handle Nettleman.”
“I hope so,” I said. “I’m worried about my college scholarships.” He again told me not to do anything to provoke Nettleman.
“Dad,” I said hesitantly. “There’s one other thing.”
“I don’t like the sound of this,” he replied with a frown.
“Would it be okay if I attended a rally tomorrow night?”
“A rally?” he asked. “What kind of rally?”
“A friend of Darius mentioned that they are going to hold a rally outside the police station tomorrow night demanding that Anderson be fired for what he did to Darius,” I explained.
My father shook his head. “I don’t want you getting involved in that mess,” he said worriedly. “Those protests sometimes turn violent.”
“It’s not a protest,” I insisted. “It’s just going to be a rally. They’re not going to get violent.”
“No,” replied my father. “It’s not the protesters I’m worried about. It’s Chief Morgan and his deputies. They like to instigate trouble and then blame the protesters for the problems.”
“I’m not worried, Dad,” I said. “I really want to be there.”
My father began to smile. “You have it bad, don’t you?”
I gave him a puzzled look. “Got what bad?”
“You like this Darius, don’t you?” He sat back and smiled.
“Dad!” I said excitedly. “It’s not like that. Can you believe he’s been accepted to Harvard?”
“Yeah, Dad,” I replied. “He told me he’s going to go to Harvard.”
“Damn,” whistled my father. “He must be exceptional.”
“He is, Dad,” I said a little too admiringly. It only caused my father to smile even more. “So, can I attend the rally?”
He asked, “What time is it?”
“I’m not sure,” I said. “We didn’t discuss it too much.”
“I’ll call Reverend Moore later this evening and get the specifics,” he said. “I have a surgery scheduled tomorrow afternoon. If I don’t run into complications, I might stop by myself.”
“Thanks, Dad,” I said as I rose from my chair. “I love you.”
“Love you too, Son,” he said as I left his office.
At dinner, my mother became very upset when my father informed her of my suspension. “Parker,” she warned. “You are too close to graduation to be making mistakes like this.”
I angrily replied, “But Mom, you don’t know what’s going on.”
“I know you were two hours late to school, called Mr. Nettleman a bastard, and now you’re suspended.”
“I didn’t call him a bastard,” I insisted. “I said it under my breath, not to his face.”
“He still heard you,” she replied.
“Cynthia,” said my father. “I don’t think you understand what is going on.”
“Then please explain it to me,” she replied.
My mother is a very busy woman. She leaves early in the morning, and she doesn’t arrive home until late at night. She is extremely intelligent, and I’ve always admired her strength and determination. She rose from an insurance agent for a major company, and after ten years, she has achieved the rank of senior vice president. However, her mind is always at work, and she sometimes misses out on what is important at home. That is the reason my father and I have such a strong bond. We’ve had to make it together while she spends much of her time at work.
I related to her about what had happened since the incident in the gym on Saturday. She was aware of me videotaping Darius’s arrest, but I don’t think she completely understood the significance of it. She knew my phone had been seized, but she thought the matter was over since my father had bought me a new one.
I tried to describe the protest that was occurring outside the school and how my classmates were reacting to it. The more I talked passionately about what was going on, I began to see that she was trying to better understand.
I then told her about what happened today with Darius. She became upset when I told her about my meeting in Nettleman’s office. She looked at my father and asked, “Do you think Mr. Nettleman might be a racist?”
“I don’t know any more what to think,” my father replied. “Since the incident Saturday, it is all anyone is talking about. Every patient that has come into my office has had something to say. Most of it negative.”
She frowned and replied, “Perhaps, you shouldn’t have spoken before that group. You should have thought about the consequences.”
“Cynthia,” angrily replied my father, “That’s the problem now. Too many people are remaining silent on the sidelines to what is happening. When they do that, then they let others control the conversation. That is why we are where we are today.”
“But does it have to be you?”
“I’m well-respected in this community,” he replied. “If I stay silent, then others will think it is okay for them to be also. I had two patients storm out of my office today when I told them they I didn’t appreciate their hateful views.”
“Oh, Dear,” my mother responded sadly.
“No,” my father assured her. “I would prefer that they see someone else. I don’t want to work on a cold and bitter heart.”
“Mom,” I interrupted, “Dad is right. If we remain silent, then it is like we are condoning their behavior. I’m losing friends over this. I’m not just going to sit back and let people use the N-word in front of me and not say anything.”
“Oh, Dear,” she frowned. “Is it that bad?”
“Yes, Mom, it is.”
“Cynthia,” said my father. “It is like we are living in a different world today. For the first time, I’m looking at people differently. I’ve never been one to judge another, but I won’t tolerate hate and racism.”
“Maybe I live in a sheltered world,” my mother replied. “The people at the office don’t think like that.”
“Are you sure?” asked my father. “How many black employees work at your firm?”
“We have a number of black assistants and interns,” she said.
“How many black employees hold a rank as high as you?”
She thought a minute and replied, “Well, none.”
Dad asked, “Have any applied for management positions?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t deal with human resources. However, I’m sure there have been some who have.”
“But they are never promoted to higher positions?”
“Oh, Dear,” she replied with an astonished look. “I’m beginning to understand what you’re talking about.”
“Think about it, Cynthia,” replied my father. “I’m not saying your company is racist, but it is still a large company. Have you ever asked yourself why it is not more inclusive?”
“I’m going to bring it up in the morning with Mr. Oliver, the president of the corporation. I’d be curious to hear what he has to say.”
My father smiled and replied, “Now be careful, Dear. That is what you tell me.”
“No,” she said adamantly. “I don’t want to work for a company that intentionally discriminates against black employees. I know how hard I had to work to get where I am today. I think everyone should have that right.”
I reached out and gripped her hand. “I love you, Mom.”
My father grabbed her other hand and squeezed it. “Me, too, Mom.” Tears filled her eyes as she gently kissed our hands.
We continued to eat when my father interrupted the silence. “Cynthia,” he grinned as he looked over at me. “Our son is in love.”
“Dad!” I squealed. “I’m not in love.”
My mother looked over and asked, “Parker, who are you in love with? Have you found a boyfriend?”
“Mom!” I insisted. “I’m not in love.”
She looked at my father and asked, “Jonathan. You started this. Now tell me who Parker is in love with.”
My father mischievously grinned as my face reddened. “A certain young man named Darius.”
“Darius?” she asked. “Isn’t that the young man you videoed who was beaten the other day?”
“Yes, Mother,” I responded. “But I’m not in love with him.” I looked at my father and stuck out my tongue. He leaned back in his chair and roared with laughter.
She asked, “What is going on?”
My father replied, “Darius is the reason Parker got suspended from school.”
She looked at me and said, “Maybe you shouldn’t associate with him if he’s going to be a bad influence on you.”
“No,” replied my father excitedly. “Parker said he’s been accepted to Harvard.”
“Harvard?” she said surprisingly. She gripped my hand and said, “Then maybe you shouldn’t be a bad influence on him.” She smiled, sat back and laughed. She then leaned forward and said, “Now, tell me about Darius.”
I related to them as much as I knew. I told them how popular he seemed to be with everyone at the restaurant. I blushed when I told them how cute I thought he was. “The only problem is,” I said, “I’m not sure he’s gay.”
She squeezed my hand and responded, “He doesn’t have to be gay to be a good friend.” I nodded, rose and began cleaning the table while my parents disappeared to their bedroom. As I loaded the dishwasher, I thought to myself, ‘I hope Darius is gay.’
I went to my bedroom and sat down at my computer. I opened my email, but there was nothing but a bunch of ads, mostly clothing and shoe stores. I was interested that Foot Locker was having a 25% sale on a pair of shoes I liked.
My parents give me a very generous allowance which allows me to buy most things I want. In return, I maintain good grades in school, and I never cause them any problems. When I turned seventeen, Dad gave me the Lexus I drive. Most of my friends seem to have money anytime they need it, and they all drive nice cars, so I never looked at myself as being anything special.
I began playing a video game when I heard the doorbell ring downstairs. On the third ring, I got up to answer it, but when I opened my door, I heard my mother talking to someone downstairs. I then heard her say, “Parker is in his bedroom.”
I looked out the door and saw Jeremy and Stephen climbing the steps. I stood back and waited for them to enter. “What’s up?” I asked.
They walked in and sat on my bed. “Hey, Parker,” said Jeremy. “What happened at school today? There’s all sorts of rumors going around.”
I walked over to my computer chair and sat down. “Nettleman suspended my ass,” I informed them.
Stephen asked, “Why? I heard you cussed him out.”
“Naw,” I laughed. “I just called him a bastard.”
Jeremy started laughing. “What? Mr. Perfect cussed out Nettleman? You’ve never been in trouble before in school. What happened?”
I replied, “I went out for lunch, and I returned late. Nettleman caught me when I was going to class.”
“Where did you go?” asked Stephen. “A bunch of us guys when to Taco Bell. You should have joined us.”
Jeremy laughed and said, “Maybe your ass wouldn’t have gotten suspended. Where did you go where you couldn’t get back to school on time?”
I didn’t want to answer the question. After Nettleman’s reaction when I told him, I knew that my friends would also react the same way. “Nowhere, really,” I replied. I was hoping that would be the end of it. However, it only made them more curious.
Jeremy looked over at Stephen and asked jokingly, “Nowhere? You ever eaten there?”
“Naw,” laughed Jeremy. “Food must really suck if we haven’t heard of it.”
“It doesn’t suck,” I replied without thinking.
“So, where is this place?” asked Stephen.
‘Fuck it,’ I thought. Why was I being so ashamed to telling them where I ate lunch? I had a good time, and everyone treated me like a friend. “It’s a restaurant on Route 41,” I said.
“Route 41?” asked Jeremy. “Why were you eating that far from school? No wonder you were late getting back to class.”
Stephen asked, “What place is on Route 41? That’s heading out toward Rosemont. Why were you out that way?”
“I was just driving, and I saw this place,” I answered. “They had good wings.”
“I’m up for good wings,” responded Jeremy excitedly. “When you get back from suspension, you’ll have to take us there.”
“Yeah, sure,” I replied. I didn’t want to say anything more. I was hoping they would change the subject.
They did change the subject, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. Jeremy said, “The reason we came by was to see if you’re going to be at the counterprotest tomorrow.”
He replied, “Those fools who have been protesting outside our school all week are taking it downtown to the police station. They want Officer Anderson fired for what he did to that black guy.”
“Yeah,” laughed Jeremy. “We’re going to protest the protesters. We’re going to show them that we support our police here in Somerset.” He looked expectantly at me. “You in?”
“I don’t know,” I said as I rose from the bed and paced around the room. “Maybe something should happen to Anderson.”
“What do you mean?” Jeremy asked angrily. “You ain’t supporting that black guy, are you?”
I responded, “I saw what happened, remember? What he did isn’t right.”
“Fuck you!” spat Stephen as he rose and approached me. “You ain’t taking the side of those niggers, are you?”
I walked over and opened my bedroom door. “I think you guys should leave.”
“We ain’t going nowhere until you tell us you’ll be at the counterprotest supporting Anderson,” insisted Jeremy.
I crossed my arms and replied emphatically, “I’m not doing it.”
I didn’t see the fist that Stephen punched into my kidneys until it was too late. I reeled back and saw stars. “Mother Fucker!” he shouted angrily. “What are you doing, sucking one of their black dicks?”
I threw myself at Stephen and started hitting him. Jeremy grabbed my arms and Stephen punched me again. Suddenly, my father burst through the door.
“What in the hell is going on in here?” He ran over and grabbed Stephen’s hand. Both boys stepped back and looked angrily at me.
“He’s a nigger lover!” shouted Jeremy as he pointed at me.
My father shouted, “Get the fuck out of my house!” Stephen and Jeremy headed for the door.
Stephen turned and looked threatened, “This ain’t over, Parker!” They turned and stormed down the stairs. Seconds later, we heard the front door slam shut.
My father rushed over to me. “Are you alright, Parker?” He gently looked at my side where Stephen had hit me.”
“I think so,” I replied as I felt my side.
“You might have some bruises,” he said worriedly. “Do you think we should call the police?”
“No, Dad,” I said as I sat at my computer desk. “It won’t do any good. They won’t do anything.”
“What was this all about?”
“They wanted me to join the counterprotest downtown tomorrow,” I informed him.
“Counterprotest?” I had already told him about Darius’ friends protesting to have Anderson fired. I told him how members of our community were going to have a counterprotest in support of Anderson.
“It sounds like it could get ugly,” responded my father. First, the incident in the gym, then Anderson beating the shit out of Darius. Now this.”
“What should I do, Dad?”
“I would tell you to stay away,” he replied. “But I think you’ve already made up your mind what you’re going to do. Haven’t you?”
“Are you mad?”
“No, Son,” he replied. “I’m proud of you. At least I know that your mother and I raised a man with principles.”
“Thanks, Dad,” I said as I approached and gave him a big hug.
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