In the late nineties a film crew from Hollywood descended on Springfield, Mo. For those keeping score, that’s my hometown.
Awestruck by all the commentaries and extra footage I had digested from my friend's laserdisc collection, I was sure I knew what to do and how to be on a set. So, with a small independent production company I became a part of a documentary crew set out to capture the behind the scenes of this project.
I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. That was my first of many opportunities to realize that when it comes to operating a camera I have zero skill.
To this day the most awkward job on the planet one can give to me is something involved with a camera.
It has become a running joke with my production friends. “Don’t give Stuart the camera. EVER!”
The movie made is called, “Park Day.” It is named after an event in Springfield where the African-American community would gather for a weekend at a local park and celebrate their collective culture.
That community was small. I have many times said, in blogs and in conversations, a young man named Dwight was THE African-American in my junior high. And other than one young lady named Luisa everyone was as pasty white as me.
I remember that first day of shooting with fondness as I tried to navigate what it meant to be surrounded by so many black people. Some were from California and some where from just the other side of my fair city.
What I learned on that set, over those few weeks was a beautiful gift that continues to blossom to this day.
I’ve learned a great deal since that time but I must confess I am still clueless to much of what it means to be any race other than my own.
One evening after the day’s shoot I went to dinner with one of the producers of the film. I was quite the cosmopolitan big shot as I walked into the restaurant with a woman of color and ate a meal.
We talked all evening about movies and I remember her describing “The Fifth Element” as eye candy. I was wooed with this descriptor and thought, “I have moved into the next echelon of film dialogue.”
If you have not yet noticed, I lived in a very small box.
If you’re still not convinced of my sheltered view of the world, hold on to your chapeau. The conversation went to race and I, very certain of myself, looked at my dinner date and said, “I actually don’t see color.”
Did you just feel that? That was the pit of your stomach traveling to a part of your insides where it should never go.
I look back on that interchange now with amusement. I look at my younger self and give a good ol’ southern, “Bless his little heart.”
Today I am blessed to have friends of many other races. I am thankful for their patience as I try to understand. I am honored that they give me their voices and perspectives and trust me to continue to grow in my appreciation of their differences as well as their similarities.
I am humbled by what a day like today, Martin Luther King Jr. Day means for me as a white man and what it stands for concerning racial equality.
So today I don’t give my crazy love to a person but to a group of people. People who are my friends. People who have trusted me with their hurts and have invited me into their celebrations. These are people who, each day, through their posts or phone calls or emails or texts make me a better person.
A person who can say with all sincerity that Black Lives Matter.
Thank you. You know who you are.