I'm currently reading a book called Oh, Ranger! It is a collection of stories and essays written by National Park Rangers. I was moved by an essay written by Shelton Johnson, an African-American National Park Service ranger. While looking through photographs at Yosemite's research library he found a photograph of 25 African-Amerian soldiers who had protected the land from ranchers who were grazing their animals on park land. Their names are not recorded but these soldiers protected Yosemite until they were relieved by another regiment who noted their excellent service. Often African-American men would choose to serve in the military because it was one of the few jobs that provided a pension available to them. That said, they still failed to receive proper respect. Ranger Johanson wrote them a letter thanking them for their service and for allowing himself to be caught up in their story. I found the ending particularly poignant:
"Thank you for clearing the trail that I followed 100 years later. You cannot imagine how your passage has made my journey infinitely easier, as I hope mine will be for those who follow."
My heart hurts when I read stories about violence against others because of how they look. These stories go back for hundreds of years and involve all sorts of people. They are sad, dark, and full of hate. Do you hate these stories too? Perhaps, like those soldiers who protected Yosemite, we can do some things to make the journey of those who follow us a bit easier.
If you ran yesterday and posted about in on social media, good for you. Now keep running. Keep moving. Call someone in an elected office. Create a petition. Volunteer to help others. Look each person you meet in the eyes and see them as a life created for a purpose.
One of my favorite preschool memories is Jay asking Maddie what color her new baby was going to be, brown or white. Maddie, whose mom was very pregnant, was the only fair-skinned child out of my 10 students. She looked around the room and said, “I don’t know, probably brown.” They honestly didn’t know why our skin looks the way it does. It appeared to be about statistics to them and asking about it was as casual as asking a friend to pass the playdough.
Aging robs us of the innocence of youth but it doesn’t have to rob us of our curiosity. Below I’ve provided a list of books that have helped me get into the lives and experiences of those whose heritage I do not share. True these are fiction, but the experiences of the characters are very real. I, like Ranger Johnson, thank those who have come before me. I come from a line of curious and compassionate people. My wish is that my life will pave the way for future generations to share God’s love with the world as I try, yet often fail, to do.
Copper Sun by Sharon Draper
Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1968 by Christopher Paul Curtis
Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper
Finding Someplace by Denise Lewis Patrick
Chains by Laurie Hase Anderson
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacquline Woodson
Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
Underground by Jean Ferris
"A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one."