When you look at the face of Ferguson, Missouri, it would be easy to become morose and figure that the racial divide all should see is a Sisyphean task beyond resolution. That view would be reinforced by the non-indictment of New York police officer Daniel Pantaleo, who killed Eric Garner in Staten Island. The offense, unlike the Brown killing, was caught on video. It would be easy to think that white and black, rich and poor will never, in the words of Rodney King -- get along.
That view would be wrong.
We are an ever-evolving experiment. I think we are smart enough to look at other cultures -- particularly in the Middle East -- that have held grudges for a millennia to see the pointlessness of following that course.
Some predict we will end up in a civil war. White on one side, black and other minorities on the other. That could happen. It’s not out of the question. However, I believe the majority of us, no matter what shade or color, cherish this experiment called America. We have invested our blood in its success. But how will we avoid falling into the abyss?
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I think we will be rescued by what joins us together more than what’s attempting to tear us apart. The path that will lead us from the edge of the cliff will be cleared by athletes -- those same gladiators who met on the fields of play from Georgia and Georgia Tech to the Egg Bowl with Mississippi State and Ole Miss and all the other rivalries played last week.
Why athletes? For all the crap they get into -- selling autographs, shouting obscenities, thefts, sexual abuse, drinking and suicide -- the majority of college and pro athletes are doing what we would expect them to do. They give back to people in other ways that transcend the courts and fields they play on. Check out some of the features in this newspaper and ESPN to see and read examples of athletes doing the right thing and accepting the “role model” title.
Athletics breed communication -- most times subliminal. In Macon there are several safe zones where all races and classes of people feel free to mix and mingle. One of them is Mercer University’s football stadium. It is one of the places where we exhibit a common bond. It doesn’t matter whether you’re white, black, alumni or not, rich, poor or in between. All are welcome.
I would say this was one of the unintended consequences of Mercer resurrecting its long-dead football program. However, I don’t think it was an unintended consequence, but a hoped-for outcome.
Before the ministerial community starts throwing holy rocks at my office window for not including all the right reverend doctors, pastors and bishops, let me explain. For many in the ministerial community their work is more of a job than a mission. Like the scribes and pharisees of old, they have become more comfortable following their congregations than leading them.
This is not a new thing. Vernon Johns tried to lead his Dexter Avenue Baptist Church congregation in the fight against segregation in 1948. He was basically run out of town, but his successor, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. -- by accident or fortune -- became the face of the civil rights movement. Without Johns there would not have been a King. Evolution.
Where are the modern-day Rev. Robert Graetzes of the world? Where are the challenges to the congregations to do the right thing? Where are the messages of reconciliation and hope? Where is the outreach to communities filled with the “least of these”?
Athletes, however, perform before fans of all stripes. Those fans have something in common. They don’t like or dislike a player because of race. Rather, they are just concerned about winning. But it’s more than winning.
The relationships made from midget football, Little League and all team sports fly in the face of worn-out stereotypes. How can a person who looks like Johnny be a bad guy? I played with Johnny and he was all right.
We are on the cusp rather than the cliff of the past 50 years of progress. We are about to enter a new day, one of enlightenment.
I see it all around me. I see it on Mercer’s campus where black, white, brown, yellow and every shade in between can be seen walking around campus -- together -- just as they will walk the streets when they enter the job market and their bosses are named Singh, Cheng or Johnson. Hold on. That new day is coming. It is always darkest before the storm.
Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraph’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at 478-744-4342 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tweet @crichard1020.