Thinking back

A couple decades ago I was regaled with the story of Smiley, who grew up in a small town in old Waterloo County.

Of course, that was not his real name. He was a Protestant who happened to be a good friend of one of the organizers of a Catholic youth baseball team. When queries came in about drafting this young fellow, his religious upbringing came up, all but excluding him from joining the team. This was a source of puzzlement for the young lads because Smiley was their friend.

The team organizer, who was a good ball player in his own right, suggested that with Smiley, the team could win against all the teams across Ontario. The local priest bought into it and let the young lad join despite not being Catholic – and sure enough the team won the finals that year.

Years later, closing in on five decades after my old buddy spoke truth to power as they would say today, the country has grown up in many ways. Yes, there are vestiges of these old notions, but for the most part Canadians are less fixated on that specific divide.

As the population swells and immigrants land from every part of the globe, Canadians will be challenged with learning about and understanding new customs and religions. Acceptance will ensue, but all of this takes time. It also takes leadership.

Across the planet, but more specifically in the United States, large cities are in the midst of riots and marches, protesting the killing of George Floyd. His death at the hands of an officer resulted in murder charges being laid after video was broadcast basically showing it as such.

Unable to breathe, Floyd perished on Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis. While the courts grapple with those charges, citizens are confronted with finally tackling the problem of racism.

Like many people, I consider myself easygoing and a friend to all. I haven’t attended rallies or fomented rage against an identifiable group. I don’t laugh at hateful jokes and wouldn’t involve myself in groups or actions that would marginalize others.

Unlike our prime minister, I have never dressed in blackface nor have I found it the least bit amusing. While it is well and good to take stock of the countless activities I have not done, this does not in and of itself clear a conscience.

Doing nothing and minding one’s business is just going along to get along. Some might argue that approach has brought us to this current juncture. Certainly, a young woman of colour who was interviewed recently saw it that way, angry that the same things keep happening over and over. Then she said something that made a lot of sense. Through angry tears she just wanted to hear that black lives “do” matter. They do and I wish things were different.

Before I started this column a fellow publisher wondered aloud if this topic was even relevant, considering things are good here in sleepy small town, rural Ontario. Big city problems, or so he thought.

It is my belief though, that voices carry, so let’s start right here right now and accept that justice and fair treatment isn’t something for a select few and not others. Treating others differently because of their skin colour or religion is not acceptable and never was. We need to insist on better.

Thinking back on that story of Smiley, we may have come a long way, but the journey isn’t over for many people just looking for a chance to play ball like you and me.