We are going through difficult times today, that is complicated by the restlessness of the pandemic. We can either sit back and wonder or make an effort to understand others’ feelings. I recently enjoyed a Saturday morning on the back porch of a college friend who communicated with me stories I want to share. It was in this simple engagement that I learned the why behind many of the civil protests we are witnessing today.
Imagine your early childhood years in school, sitting with classmates in a comfortable environment, or “in the world” as you know it. One day, your whole life turns upside down, where you are required to relocate to an entirely new school in and area you aren’t familiar with at all. Your new school is across town, in a wealthy neighborhood with children who don’t look like you. You didn’t move but were bused with fellow students to and from the school every day. This is the new normal you will realize throughout the rest of your schooling.
At first, the adjustment was hard as no one asked for the change, moving large groups from one school to another was a directive from community and school leaders who felt integration would end race-based segregation. Children are resilient and able to adapt. They learned about each other’s interests, talents, and personalities becoming friends. In a short time, the lines of difference seemed to fade with students inviting the new arrivals over to play and participate in extracurricular activities.
Now imagine going with these new friends after school to a country club, it is an entirely new experience for you, and with eyes wide open, you are introduced to a new lifestyle never realized before. Just are you are beginning to enjoy yourself, you are told you can’t swim in the pool or eat the same food as your new classmates. In shock, and wondering why you default to the realization that you are in an unwelcoming environment. It isn’t the fault of the friends as they too are dismayed, but the adults who are participating in actions unfamiliar to the children.
If these circumstances catch you off guard, aren’t something you have ever felt, or even suggest a history you haven’t been close to; understand there is more.
Now imagine your family wanting to buy a home in a neighborhood you love to learn you can’t. Your family’s ability to purchase isn’t based on the creditworthiness, income ratios, or job history, but a deed restriction. The limitation is based on the fact the deed to the property limits occupancy by race. Your family isn’t the socially acceptable race and, therefore, unable to purchase the home of your dreams!
I guess that you are in shock as I was as I sat with my friend, who lived through these experiences personally. My friend is Shawn Newell. He is a man of integrity and tremendous wisdom. The insight he gained from his life experiences is one we need today.
Shawn stands as an example of compassion carrying a message of hope. His childhood taught him the value of breaking down barriers. He sees through differences and welcomes diversity. Fortunately, Shawn went onto play football at the University of Utah, then onto play professionally for the Chicago Bears. With his larger than life stature, you may think he would use his physical presence; no. You won’t find him carrying a bull horn, or on the front lines of protests. He fights the battle with relationships one on one or by serving in positions of influence, which include the Utah State Board of Regents, EDCU, and NAACP.
Often messages like Shawns, when shared personally, come across differently then if shared by those who aren’t seen as having an agenda. I solicit those of us who can, to join arms and advocate for understanding, and continued improvement toward equality. I sit on a national committee where our ambitions are to support fair housing. Homeownership is a wealth creator for families that extends generationally. I commit my resources to help where I can. Please, join me in allowing opportunities for all, no matter their station in life.
Bless you, Shawn, your story touched my heart!
Interesting to hear this story from another perspective. I was one of the children who was bussed across town to a school where Shawn and his friends were attending before these exchanges began. I wasn’t from a “wealthy” family but we always had enough to eat, clothing to wear, and plenty of love. Though our circumstances were meager, I wanted for nothing. I was fortunate to have a mother and father who loved me and dedicated their lives to making the world a beautiful place for their children.
My parents helped me to realize what a unique, rich opportunity I was being afforded in pioneering “the crossing” of the imaginary lines that had long ago been drawn. I remember entering my new school with a few of my neighborhood friends who were part of the same “Integration” program I had been selected for. I remember meeting my new classmates…my new friends. I count myself very fortunate for having been a part of this “program,” learning no matter how I may differ in looks, circumstances, or traditions we are all part of a great big, wonderful world. Mine was a very positive experience which I treasure. I grew up not seeing differences, but rather embracing opportunities to learn new ways and make a world of new friends.
There is plenty of exclusion and negativity in the world around us if we look. Let us rather change our filters and see our world as a place of opportunity and inclusion. Shawn, you will never be excluded on my watch, nor that of my family! Edward Everett Hale said, “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”