Growing up in Buffalo, going to Public School #56, and then Lafayette High, I was never overtly made aware of skin color. From kindergarten in 1968 to my graduation in 1981, people of color were always in my class – African American, Hispanic, Asian and more. Sure, there were instances where a kid would use a word they shouldn’t use to describe another kid. And, yeah, those words hurt. And, yeah, there were fights. And, yeah, there were problems. But, as a child, I didn’t understand any of this. I had my friends that were black – Leonard and Rodney and Troy – and they were just that! They had to take the NFTA to school, which I thought was pretty awesome since I had to walk. They didn’t live in my neighborhood. They didn’t shop at my stores. And, more than once, I saw others look at them …differently. But I brought them home for lunch or played with them after school and all was good.
It wasn’t until I got older that I discovered more of my white friends developing a…or should I say forging a distance from their black friends. And, you know what? This wasn’t instinctual behavior, this was taught. This was taught by the generations prior. This was taught by the parents and the older brothers and sisters and the older neighbors who had lived in a different time. I have to admit, myself, that I heard my own family use racial epithets on more than one occasion. That’s because that was what was. Now let’s talk about what is, or more aptly, what is becoming.
Yeah, I’m a schnook. I bought into the American Dream from an early age, and still do. I get sentimental when I hear the National Anthem. I get chills when I see John Mellencamp sing about “Little Pink Houses” or when Ray Charles belts out “America”. That’s just my schnookyness coming out. But I have benefited to no end from the idea of anyone can be anything they want to be that was ingrained in me back at P.S. #56. That…radical concept was always at the back of my mind, even when, or should I say, especially when, someone would tell me that I couldn’t be something or do something. This is America! And I could! And, to a certain extent, I have.
Now, as this historic day unfolds, I think back to the seed of an idea that was planted when I was a very small boy. And all the other small boys and girls that were imbued with the same idea – that this is America, the land of opportunity, and, if you believed in yourself and worked hard, you could be anything! Even become president of the United States. Many a man and woman have died to protect that dream, many a sacrifice made to pass that dream on. Now, here in this moment, that dream is a little bit closer to the perfect promise that lies at its heart. And if I have to be a sentimental schnook to buy into it, so be it – it is an honor. After such a dark period of cynicism and shattered hope, I need that dream restored and renewed – like it has been oh so many times before.
Martin Luther King had a dream and it cost him his life. Barack Obama is living that dream, and it’s bringing new life to this much wounded and divided place I call home! And, you know what, that dream is available to all – this schnook included.
– Jeff Wilber, Los Angeles, 1/19/09
From queenseyes: Jeff Wilber (our newest contributor) currently lives in Los Angeles, but don’t let that fool you. After threatening to move back to Buffalo for a couple of years now, Jeff has finally set a goal to do so in August of ’09. Jeff’s been gone since 1991 – while living in Buffalo, he worked in Buffalo theater from 86-90 and worked in TV and film from 98-2000. He’s been a professional TV writer ever since. He married his wife, Theresa DiMuro-Wilber, in the lobby of Shea’s April, 6, 1990 and checked out soon after. Now he’s on his way back home and I couldn’t be happier. Upon his return, he’ll continue doing what he’s been doing, hopefully. “Given the technology
available,” Jeff told me. “I can work from wherever and come back to L.A. when need be.
The universe willing, that is.” Luckily, the age of the Internet has made it possible for people like Jeff to work in a virtual capacity. That means that he’ll be able to write for the TV industry and still call Buffalo “home”.