I was lucky to grow up in Oak Harbor here in the Pacific Northwest. Because it’s a military town, having people around me of different races and cultural backgrounds was part of my everyday life. However, I remember an incident that changed my life and impacted my understanding and concern for the blatant implied privilege many of us have simply because of skin color.
Young Frankie and I became friends in first grade. He came from a black military family that was stationed here far from their hometown in Tennessee. The two of us spent a lot of time together both in school and after school, playing and just hanging out. When Frankie and I were in the fifth grade, we were chosen to be part of an exhibition that would take place during a community boxing match.
These matches were held every week at the local high school and apparently someone thought it would be special to have a couple of little kids jump in the ring for a few minutes. Well my buddy and I thought this would be great fun, so we started “training” together for several weeks and were looking forward to the big event.
The place was packed with people from the town and we both were getting a little nervous. As we entered the ring in our baggy shorts and tennis shoes, I glanced around the gym and for the first time in my young life, I noticed people were sitting in groups based on skin color. I wasn’t sure why that was happening but it troubled me.
Frankie and I met at center ring and touched gloves, and I’ll never forget the look in his eyes. It was as if he had been assigned the burden of the history of racism and inequality, and he had no choice but to respond with every ounce of his being. I was “fighting” for myself, but Frankie didn’t have that choice. Like it or not, he had been chosen for that moment to stand strong against all the inequality and imbalance of power that society had allowed up to that night, and unfortunately still allows today.
The crowd noise was deafening and I couldn’t tell you who won that night, but as sad as I felt about what I experienced, I clearly understood how different our lives were destined to be.
Frankie’s family moved away that year, and he and I never spoke about that evening again, but it was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. I have vowed to never forget my friend, nor the lessons he taught me with his courage that night.
Jim Bailey, an Oak Harbor resident, submitted this in recognition of Martin Luther King, Jr., Day.