How I came to take a stand against racism

Editor's note: This column is part of a series featuring Lakeshore residents sharing their stories about why they feel compelled to be involved in the Black Lives Matter movement. 

I was recently asked why — considering my demographic — I am participating in the Black Lives Matter movement.

I am a white, working-class man who will be 61 years old this fall. I grew up in a small town in northern lower Michigan that was, as far as I can remember, almost completely white.

I had limited exposure to people of color; I guess you could say I was indifferent to their experiences.

Dave Edmonds at George's Peaceful Unity Demonstration on June 7.One thing I remember most about growing up in that town is that I was bullied because of a large patch of discolored skin on my face. I remember being called names, excluded and even being hit on several occasions. As soon as I could grow facial hair, I did.

When I joined the U.S. Navy shortly after high school, I had to remove my facial hair during boot camp. The lower ranks aren’t normally allowed to have facial hair but, after boot camp, I was permitted to grow mine back because of my condition.

‘To each his own’

I’ve spent most of my adult life believing in “to each his own,” but this also meant that while I was aware of racial issues and instances of inequality, I felt that because I didn’t cause them, l didn't feel that I should get involved. I went to work, kept my head down, and minded my own business.

But more phrases began to catch my attention as I watched the national news reports. "He fit the description" of a suspect. He was mistaken for someone else. He asked too many questions about why he was stopped. She had been asleep next to the man trying to defend his home. His cellphone looked like a gun.

Nearly all of these people were black.

While it was concerning, what finally made me see this problem for what it is were the videos. The images had more of an impact than the words. They finally made it real to me.

Since then, I’ve looked at racism differently.

More than anything, the videos took me back to my childhood — and being bullied because of how I looked. Seeing the videos broke my heart.

I’ve had just a taste of what happened to them, but it struck a nerve.

I was able to change my appearance and end the abuse. They couldn’t do that. Growing a beard couldn’t have stopped what happened to them.

How could I help?

I wanted to help support the Black Lives Matter movement, but wasn't sure how to get started. My research led me to organizations that deal with racial inequality. On Sunday, I went to a peaceful protest in memory of George Floyd.

The march was life-changing, putting me on an emotional roller coaster. While I feel terrible about my former silence and ignorance about racial inequality, I’m excited as I look forward to being part of the changes that are coming.

A sign I saw during the march pretty much sums up my feelings. It read: “I am part of the problem! I want to do better.”
Dave Edmonds is a Holland resident.
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