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Thread by @JamieMcIntosh: "Unreal. Like so many, I’ve been in coffee shops — including Starbucks — waiting to meet people before I order. To use the facilities. Once i […]"

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Unreal. Like so many, I’ve been in coffee shops — including Starbucks — waiting to meet people before I order. To use the facilities. Once in a while not allowed to use the restroom as a non-paying customer, but never arrested.
It reminds me of a time I was in Philadelphia as a teen. One summer evening, five or six of us were walking to get cheesestakes after a church service. We were horsing around as we walked — playing, joking, grabbing each other’s ball caps sorta thing. A bit boisterous & loud...
I remember crossing a street from the North Philly neighbourhood we were in, to a fairly upscale, leafy street with pretty nice houses. Barely a few steps into the street, my friends warned me to quiet down, as they got suddenly quiet, reserved and alert. Even their pace slowed.
I kinda laughed & kept goofing, laughing off their concerns. One of them quite solemnly urged me to settle. “You don’t understand man. We’re not supposed to be in this neighbourhood.”
“Whatta ya mean?!”
“We’re black. Someone sees us here being loud, they’ll call the cops.”
“Call the cops?! For doing what!”
“For being black.”
“C’mon. For real?”
“He’s serious man. You don’t understand,” another friend chipped in. “It’s different for us.”
These were good kids. Fun loving. Hilarious. Good-natured. Church going. Hard working. Serving their community.
We had hung out together over the week. Setting up chairs & sound equipment, for an outdoor service. Walking through parks inviting other kids to a fun environment to keep away from gangs, drugs & guns.
Some of us even spent a night or two outside to protect the sound gear.
Talking late into the night. Laughing about our different haircuts & barbers — pretty sure I was rocking a mullet (oh yeah) & they called theirs fades.
Talking about girls, football, rap & metal — and my funny Canadian accent, eh?
I said ‘pop’, they swore it was ‘soda’...
I think they even called it all ‘coke’ — like, “let me have a root beer coke.”
But for our differences, they were crazy teenagers with fears & acne, figuring life out...just like me.
We talked about our plans for the future. The lives we’d lived so far. And some crazy dreams.
And as I think back, they were real good to me. Treating me not like a stranger, but just another friend. Even if I looked way out of place.
They tried to show me the ropes, and help me fit in.
No wonder I stood out, visiting North Philly, from the Great White North.
But I’d crossed international boundaries & state lines. Bussed a thousand miles.
Here, we were a few blocks from their homes — but in a whole nother world.
I could likely blend in. They could get arrested or maybe even shot.
For doing nothing. But being teens. While black.
Maybe that wasn’t the reality. But it was their reality. It was their rational fear. They knew the streets they were on. Or at least the streets they weren’t ‘supposed to be on’.
And it confused me. I just couldn’t believe it was real. These were kids. Just. Like. Me.
They deserved to be able to walk freely. To laugh freely. To joke loudly. To wander aimlessly. To stroll down the street, clowning around, to get some Philly CheeseSteaks.
They deserved to belong. It was their city, not mine.
Their path to a favourite joint. But it was laden...
It was laden with fear. It was like an invisible force field, slowing them down. Lowering their voices & faces. Alerting their eyes. Shushing their laughter. Weighing and tensing their bodies. Taughtening their muscles.
Teaching me a lesson:
Skin colour mattered there.
In those moments. On those streets. Skin colour mattered. And it was all that mattered.

The more careful it made them, the more I grew madder.

We finally got through those leafy streets. Hit up some bright boulevard.

My friends lit back up. Faces ignited. Smiles alighted.
Jokes started flowing freely again — mostly at my expense. They told me how to order. Showed me what was what.

Had us some damn fine cheesesteaks.

They showed me brotherly love.

We found a different way home. I didn’t want to walk that way again. I wanted my friends.
I know it isn’t about the streets of Philly. It’s about streets in every city. Yeah, including back home in Canada.
The way we treat each other. The way we regard the ‘other’.
Refugee. Black. White. Syrian. Gay. First Nations. Wealthy. Homeless. Jewish. Catholic. Sinner. Saint.
And I’m not saying I’ve got it all together. Not even close.
But we’ve gotta be in this together. To figure it out. To share this space. With truth, laughter, & lots of grace.

These streets. These coffee shops. These problems. These hopes. Each other.

We all belong to us.
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