November 08, 2008
ZeroBoy Gives Election Meaning
With his permission, below is a story that comedian Zero Boy shared about this year's election. Some of you may have seen him perform at PopTech, in New York or other industry conferences. His touching story below:
"When President Elect Obama spoke it hit me. We have made history here in this country. Yes we can. A positive message in rough times. A little personal history. My dad left his job and security to work at The Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts in Roxbury Mass. He took the job as PR man for an Afro American school in the formerly Jewish Neighborhood he grew up in. My brothers and I were the only white kids in an all black school that was now a ghetto. I still have images of the blight that existed outside the school. I lived in Brookline. An elite liberal town with one of the top public schools in the United States.
Every day after school my mother drove us to The Elma Lewis School through the wrecked streets of 60's Boston. We started going when I was five years old every day until I was 12. Elma Lewis was an impressive woman. She commanded the respect of everyone, and as child we all feared her wrath. I never saw it, but that was her way. She was one of my heroes. At that school I studied ballet, piano, violin, African dance, drama, sewing, and learned drums from Baba Olatunji. I made numerous friends and was treated with respect and love. I sat with over five hundred people for six hours for a discussion of the word Nigger, and what it meant to that community.
One of the more inspiring colloquy's I have ever heard. I was lucky and privileged to have been there. This was in 1969. I witnessed bussing in Boston and it was not easy. However, in the whole time I was there I never felt threatened and had only one instance of being called a Honkey. The girl who said it on the stairs, was overwhelmed by other kids as they defended me and tore her a new one. There was a lot of tension during those years.
I had an insiders view at a young age. I would go back to my town and realized that not everyone I went to school in Brookline was on the same page. Some of the kids from Elma Lewis were bussed into my town and were my classmates as part of the Metco program. My friends in Brookline were black, asian, white and nerds.
During this time, my father sat us down and told me and my brothers his reasoning for what he was doing. The gist was, that although the man who pumped gas made money, that person was probably not doing what they wanted to do in life. The person who did what they wanted to do might be happier, but that they may not have money. We felt it. There was the gas crisis. I remember the electricity going off for a couple of days.
"What the hell are you going to do?" My grandfather Al, the gas station owner, berated my dad. Still my dad was the white guy who did the PR for the school and he was happy. My mom supported him, and she too was doing her part in her campaigning for democrats in black ghetto's, canvassing door to door.
The people were amazed at her apparent lack of fear. 'What was she thinking?' the black folks of the school wondered. If you are passionate about something I guess you dont see the danger. I was the only white kid in the choir called The children of Black Persuasion.
It was a great time for me. I dont know how my family managed to stay in Brookline with the financial difficulties that arose from that. My father left The Elma Lewis School to pursue other things in the mid-seventies and for almost ten years he had a hard time getting hired.
One day a friend of his told him why. "Larry you pissed a lot of people off with the work you did for that school." He was blackballed, no pun intended. As my friend. who grew up in New York Damion told me years ago. "We call Boston, Up South."
When President Elect Obama spoke this week, I thought of Larry and JoAnna and the millions of other people who sacrificed when they did not have too. I in some way understand what black people must feel. I know how much it makes me feel that in some way my dad and mom were small nails in the coffin of death of racism. They, like many others decided that they had to do something about this, and so they did. It was no easy road.
In a society that values money these kind of things seemed suicidal and stupid. This week, that attitude was shattered. It did not end. There are still many people who would disagree and take the safe road. I am a product of that kind of thinking and wish I had more money. My friend Damaris told me her dad who is 85, thought he would never see this day. He is black, her mother is white. He was happy to have seen it. Damion told me that he had been brought up in this country to believe you can be what ever you want. His parents and grandparents never felt that way. They are black. Last night he was shown that it was not an empty promise.
Here's a few paragraphs my dad sent me from a eulogy that he wrote about John Ross. The choir director and one of my mentors.
'When the Children of Black Persuasion were formed my 9 year-old son Joel along with my other two sons were a students at the Elma Lewis School. It was one way for me to see my children. Joel is as light skinned as I am. Another white guy. On his own Joel auditioned and won a spot in the Children of Black Persuasion.
In fact, Joel was the only very noticeable different, blue-eyed, blond hair spot in the Children of Black Persuasion. After a public performance a few of the darker skinned children approached John to complain about Joel singing Young Gifted and Black because he wasn't black. They also had a problem with a white kid being a member of the
Children of Black Persuasion.
John Ross pulled the entire adult and children choruses together except for Joel. He explained to the choruses you are singing about yourself, your brothers and your sisters. You don?t have to be black to sing the song. Joel is singing about you. Joel is recognizing and celebrating your gifts. He is recognizing you as brothers and sisters. By the fact that Joel is student of the Elma Lewis School he is of black persuasion and part of the black culture.
That issue never came up again.'
Thats the America, the World I want to live in. If you voted for him or not, you have to recognize that it meant something. John McCain did. I hope that someday we can all look at racism as a historical blunder. I am not naive.
Its just what I want. Thanks Larry, thanks JoAnn. Thanks to those who do the right thing.
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