The photo is an original print and as best I can tell it was made in the mid to late 1960s. It was taken by a news photographer with a Jewish last name and features two young boys, one black and one white, running and jumping off a set of steps in front of a house. In the background you can make out the outline of an adult who is holding a garden hose and spraying the boys with water.
The boys are laughing and it is clear they are in it - whatever it is - together. They have short hair and are wearing the official 60s & 70s uniform of summer - shorts, striped shirts, and sneakers. They appear happy and carefree.
I was 6 years old in the summer of 1969. We lived in a small farming town on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. It was the kind of town where in summer we could run and play outside from after breakfast until supper time or until we were just too tired to play anymore. We rode bikes, built forts, flew kites and looked for adventure. It seemed most of the folks around town kept an eye on us and cared for our well being. I can easily picture myself running off that stoop with a buddy while a grown-up squirted us with a hose.
For us kids it was a great time of innocence, but the tremors of revolution that was shaking our country was impacting the adults. News of The Civil Rights Movement - The Vietnam War - Free Love & Hippies - Assassinations - The Jesus Movement - and more were washing through our little community with polarizing effects.
Some of the white kids were no longer allowed to play with the black kids. Some white business owners no longer treated black employees with respect. The fact that Their Kids get the same educational benefits as Our Kids was troublesome. It was hard not to notice people, especially the men, started acting in cloisters as though they had some sort of tribe to protect or defend.
In our home we were allowed to go play with anyone in the community and we did. My dad allowed any of the kids and teens to pick pears off the big tree in our backyard. When we rode our bikes out to the road where most of the black families lived some of our white friends stopped where the sidewalks ended and said they were not allowed to go back there.
For some of us our world expanded. For others it did not. I did not need to leave the country to visit a dirt floor home or see cracks in the walls where you could see outside. For every person who gave an odd glance at white kids playing in that neighborhood there were two more who were kind, and gracious, and welcoming. I so much always hoped the same experience was true when my buddies came to play on my street. I knew it was not always the case for any of us, but for the black kids it was worse.
And my dad protested when the church wanted to take down the basketball nets in the parking lot because folks were uncomfortable that black teenage boys gathered some afternoons and evenings for pick-up games. Some of those folks complained that it was wrong for black people to drink from the water fountain on the side of the church building. It was a battle my dad lost.
A year later our schools integrated. Some of the local white folks enrolled their children in private schools - often citing higher quality educational opportunities instead of calling it what it was. In the public schools there was a bit of tension and friction that first year or two, but we figured it out. I am reasonably sure if I had understood all of the nuances back then I would have noticed much of the stress came from the adults involved.
I can't help but notice that Jesus spent a lot of time with people not like him. He hung out with tax collectors, Samaritans, even prostitutes. This made others uncomfortable and they said things like it is more holy to stay with your own people. I think Christ must have enjoyed throwing a mix of folks together and watching what happened next.
White - Black - Indian. Christian - Buddhist - Muslim. Conservative - Liberal - Moderate. American - Arab - African. Heterosexual - Gay - Bi. Rich - Middle- Poor. People like you - People not like you - People you don't really know. You get it. Who are we going to go play with today? Who wants to make Jesus smile?
"People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? - Rodney King