Start with a conversation!

My family was getting ready to go on our yearly vacation to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, one of our most favorite places. If you’ve never been there, I’d highly recommend it! Prior to the trip it was necessary to mow the lawn as to avoid knee high grass upon our return. As I was mowing the lawn, I saw one of my neighbor’s who lives down the block. A.J., one of my students was standing outside on the sidewalk with a gentleman I’d never seen before. A.J. and I would always chat about fitness, and I love his passion for trying to improve his wellness. Taking a break from the lawn, I decided to strike up a conversation. It’s one I won’t long forget!

My family was getting ready to go on our yearly vacation to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, one of our most favorite places. If you’ve never been there, I’d highly recommend it!  Before the trip, it was necessary to mow the lawn to avoid waist-high grass upon our return. As I was mowing the lawn, I saw one of my neighbor’s who lives down the block. A.J., one of my students was standing outside on the sidewalk with a gentleman I’d never seen before. A.J. and I would always chat about fitness, and I love his passion for trying to improve his wellness. Taking a break from the lawn, I decided to strike up a conversation. It’s one I won’t long forget!

A.J. and I was chatting about fitness and how he was proud of the gains he’s witnessed since Covid-19. I could tell he made progress and mentioned how happy I was of his improvement. He smiled and thanked me for the compliment. At that point, he introduced me to his Uncle, whose name was Everett. Over the next hour or so, Everett and I chatted about life, making the world a better place, and just the importance of a conversation. A summary of our chat is below. I hope you like it!

Everett told me that he had three older kids; two sons, and a daughter. You know a person is proud of their children when they pull out their wallet and show you pictures. He spoke so highly of his children and the progress they’ve made with their jobs and the relationships they’ve built. Even when he described some of the problems that they’d had in the past, it always finished with a smile and genuine spice of happiness. As he was chatting away, I realized that talking has never been a weakness of mine, but Everett put me to shame in the best possible way.

After we discussed our jobs and other pleasantries, the conversation came around to the challenges many of us face when dealing with people from other races and nationalities. Everett spoke at length about his time in the Air Force and Navy. He described how being one of the few African American men in his unit brought challenges that many of us will never deal with. In his words, “I recall clearly one of the white soldiers telling me, I don’t like black people!” Everett told him, “we don’t need to like each other, but we are in the same company, so let’s just find a way to get along.” In another instance, he described how some of his cohorts were these rather large gentlemen who stated clearly that they didn’t like him. Luckily for him and those large gentlemen, Everett was an outstanding artist who loved to draw. That love of
Art served him well as his brief explanation helped me to understand.  He mentioned that he used to paint on the duffle bags that all soldiers were required to carry.  A few of the men who weren’t initially fond of him, became enamored with his creativity.  He ended up working on many of their bags and even went deep sea fishing. (Not exactly his cup of tea as he told them before jumping on-board!) 

Following our chat about his time in the military, we jumped to our current crisis.  As I’m writing this, the clarity of our words and how we spoke to each other hasn’t been matched in any conversation about race I’ve had in past years.  What struck me as so meaningful isn’t that we agreed on everything, but rather our willingness to listen, question and ultimately see another perspective that maybe we hadn’t looked at before. We both talked about the one thing that helped us to see differents viewpoints and more importantly the value in a respectful and positive conversation.   It was our deep desire to listen! Instead of interrupting each other and making sure that only our voices were heard, we took the time to look at each other, smile, nod and make it clear that we cared.  

No matter what our views might be, having a positive, honest conversation with others is paramount for any meaningful change to happen.  While the progress we are making with many issues in society is real, for those changes to continue we all must be willing to give others a voice.  I’m thankful for the time that Everett and I had together.  Even though it was short, I now consider him a friend.

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Craig Shapiro

I've been teaching, coaching and involved with kids for 30+ years. Helping students is an amazing profession. Making a positive difference in the lives of children is incredible. I also have a wonderful family that are always supportive.

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