Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 53 seconds
I have the unique distinction of being born on August 28th, my grandpa Ben’s 60th birthday, and the date that the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his I have a Dream Speech. It was in 1963 and I was only 5 years old but I vaguely recall seeing it on a black & white (how ironic) TV. The passion and conviction of the speech and that moment in time are forever locked in my memory. On the 48th anniversary of that speech and my 53rd birthday, I pause to reflect.
The turbulence of the time was a part of life. In 1969 I lived through the people’s park riots. Living a mile away from the action was tense, to say the least. I recall playing at the park when surveyors were there to plan out the uprooting of the people. I also recall having some people vandalize our home, My mom called the police and multiple cars arrived moments later with 4 riot police in each one fanning out to chase the perpetrators down. I remember being bussed and forcefully integrated into the Berkeley school system. Segregation existed based upon social-economic boundaries at the time. I recall being diverted around the riots and smelling the tear gas as I sat frightened on the bus ride home.
When I first moved to Boise after living in the Bay Area for twenty years, I remember how cut off from the world I felt. There was no racial diversity or cultural diversity for that matter. The only dab of color was transplanted youth from the BSU athletic department.
What a trip
Early on during my first ever winter in the snow, I recall planning a trip all the way out to Eagle Idaho for dinner to visit a family of one of my employees. It was in early October 1981. I was seriously warned to be careful on my way out there. I heard “Watch out for the black guys!” imagining that it was a rough place having just moved from Oakland California, I said what are they going to do? jump out and grab me? No, you misunderstand, they said, “Black Ice”. As a city boy, who knew there was such a thing? After a good hard laugh, I made it without harassment. I recall a bombing at the Synagogue in Boise, and the Hayden Lake neo-nazi stuff going on up north. All the while my family back home in Berkeley was freaking out about me living here.
What is the scene like now?
Today in Boise I sense things are chilling out. We have the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial. We see all kinds of diversity and I celebrate it. I just spent time helping a Russian immigrant remodel a food cart in an effort to establish the entrepreneurial spirit she has inside her. I see Somali immigrants planting vegetables at the synagogue. I chat with Bosnian immigrants working at the hospitals. Muslims have a place of worship in my neighborhood.
Is this what Dr. King had in mind, is my community less racist? Is the world getting smaller? As far as dreaming goes, I see progress, The school system is teaching tolerance, We have very few hate crimes. I see an integrated police force that does not practice brutality, I observe unbiased local reporting and an alternative weekly newspaper. Although the political climate has barely changed, I see people gathering weekly at a market in the middle of town to share and mingle. I see several dozen ethnic restaurants and special events, for example, celebrating Jazz and soul food to gay pride marches.
I guess the take-home message is that all of these things didn’t just happen overnight. Fortunately, the evolution of Boise has been peaceful for the most part in my 30 years here. Immigrants didn’t just show up, they were invited. The foot soldiers of change and dreamers are living amidst me. I applaud them for making my adopted hometown more vibrant, robust, and diverse.
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