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  • Treat Everyone to a Drink of Water in a Glass, Not a Disposable Paper Cup

    One summer, when I was about 9 or 10, I found a brand-new friend while walking through an alley in my neighborhood, on the way to the grocery store. His name was Donald and he was black. Back then, I didn’t know there was a color divide, and I didn’t care — all I knew was that I had a new buddy who loved to do the things I did, and that made me happy.

    We had a grand time that summer. We would meet in the alleyway to play games and read books and talk about the stories we read, and we took turns reading aloud to each other. One afternoon, as the August heat soared, I asked Donald to come to my house to get something cool to drink and sit in the shade of my front porch. Carrying our beloved books, we walked to my house, hiding from the sun under the huge maple trees that lined our pathway, which was cooler than the alley. We held hands and laughed and danced along the way. He asked me to be his girlfriend, and I said, “Yes!”

    I had a choice: give him a drink in
    that cup or he didn’t get one.

    As soon as we settled on my brick front porch and started to read aloud, the screen door opened and my Mom looked at us sitting there and asked me to come inside for a moment. I asked if Donald could come in too, and she said, no he had to stay on the porch. That seemed odd, since all my other friends were allowed in our home, but I obeyed and went inside. She asked me if I knew that Donald was black, and I said I did. She told me that blacks and whites were a little different and that he wasn’t allowed in our house. I didn’t quite understand how we were different, or why that would stop her from letting him, so I questioned her.

    “Why not?” I asked. And of course, her answer was what most parents say when you ask a question they don’t really want to answer: “Because I said so.”

    I didn’t really know what she was trying to tell me, but I understood from her tone of voice that it wasn’t a good thing. When I asked for two glasses of water to take outside, I was given one in a disposable paper cup — Donald’s drink. In my heart I knew that this didn’t feel right, but I had a choice: give him a drink in that cup or he didn’t get one. It was only water, but knowing his cup would be thrown out after he drank from it made me sad.

    After the drink, we went back to reading our books and having a good time. The awkward moment passed, but something was different. And that was the last time I saw Donald. I looked for him in the alley many times, but he was never there. Later, I often wondered if he went home that day, shared what happened at my house, and was forbidden to hang out with me for fear of some repercussion.

    Maybe you and I lead the way,
    two young kids not caring about anything
    other than being happy.

    I may never know why I never saw you again, Donald, but if you are out there somewhere, please know that I still miss you, my friend. It was a good summer that we shared, and one that I will always cherish. I am still reading and sharing books today, and I think often about playing hide-and-seek under the large, shady trees on those hot August days.

    And I have always wanted to tell you that my Mom never meant any harm; it was just the way she was brought up. I know that sounds like a hollow statement, but here’s the good news: Over the years, she changed. My Mom started inviting everyone inside when they needed somewhere to go or feel safe. She watched me grow up and hang out with all kinds of people. And she grew more comfortable with the idea that a world of color and diversity is a much better world.

    Maybe you and I lead the way for her, two young kids not caring about anything other than being happy. And although Mom passed many years ago, I feel certain that, if you had come to our door again, you would have been treated to a drink of water in a glass and not some disposable paper cup. Cheers, my friend!

    Judith E. (“Judy”) Antisdel is Founder and President of AT Direct in Baltimore, Md. She has earned professional designations ranging from US Postal Service Non Profit Specialist to US Postal Service Mail Manager. She is a frequent guest speaker at symposia and workshops offered by the federal government and various non-profit organizations. Connect with Judy on LinkedIn and find more info at her website.

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