I wasn’t sure exactly why I was crying as I walked through Dulles airport last Friday. I had just passed a magazine rack where stories and pictures of Obama were everywhere, and it took me back 33 years…all the way back to my freshman year at Purdue University.
My roommate and I were moving into Shreve Hall and were jazzed about college as we searched for room 733. The sound of music in the hallway was getting louder and louder, and as we passed room 731 the ghetto rock nearly knocked us over. I looked at my buddy and shouted, “It’s going to be a looong year!” (we were more the James Taylor/Rod Stuart types)
We learned that the ghetto rockers next door were two black guys from Gary Roosevelt, an all black (nobody said “African American” back then) high school in Gary, Indiana. I’m not sure how it happened, but in a few short weeks we were hanging out with these dudes continuously. We were soon tight enough for Barrington to show up asking for school help…a humbling thing for any 18 year old.
Nearly every night for eight weeks I was teaching him math and rewriting his papers. Barrington was one of the brightest Roosevelt had to offer, yet he couldn’t do fractions, percents, or write a coherent paragraph. Barrington was scared and struggling badly. I’ll never forget the afternoon that we couldn’t get through a math problem. Defeated, he hung his head. I thought he was about to cry as he quietly said, “I’m done…I can’t do this Ed.”
I’m about to tear up again thinking about his vulnerability and shame. I knew he was bright and spontaneously I replied, “You’re not dumb Barrington, you’re just uneducated.” It got quiet and I saw the question in his eyes…you really mean that Ed? Please tell me you mean that. I did, and I told him so.
It was a moment that will bond us together forever. The two years that we were dorm neighbors are some of the richest of my life. Barrington not only graduated with a business degree, but is one of a very few division presidents at Alcoa Aluminum today (a company with over 100,000 employees) and now travels the country in corporate jets.
As I walked away from that newsstand last week, I relived Barrington’s struggle, fear, shame, and triumph. I’m still so loyal and know the significance of last week for him and others. And I hurt for the millions that are still ill-equipped and imprisoned by that same fear and shame that broke Barrington that day. I also thought of how blessed I have been and about my responsibility to others because of it.
Where to Go from Here…
Even though I didn’t vote for Obama, I felt that there was something good in what happened. Maybe it’s my blind loyalty to Barrington, still resonating after all these years. Somehow though it seems time for all of us to seize this moment to reach beyond ourselves and free those that are held captive, as Barrington was. Yet, with all this conviction, I’m so fearful about where Obama could take us. I felt this same tug of war in your comments on the last post. There is something to be said for both emotions.
Can “perfect love” cast out our fear and could it be time for the church to take the lead in building trust together? Does this story resonate with any of you? How do you think we should move forward now as Christians?