By BENJAMIN PRATT
None of us knew Michael Brown at that point. He was just another 18 year old, getting ready to pull on a green graduation robe, zip up the front and add a red stole. He already was talking with friends about the start of a training program on August 11. With his diploma in hand, Michael would soon be learning how to repair heating and air conditioning systems.
He was on his way like millions of other young men and women.
On July 20, my wife and I were in Orlando, Florida. We strolled into the entrance portico at the Holiday Inn Universal, thinking about our own family. Two benches faced each other across a 12-foot-wide, slightly sloping concrete sidewalk.
A middle-aged father was meticulously loading, cleaning and sorting his white SUV with Georgia plates as his wife and another younger woman sat talking on the bench closest to their car. They seemed in no hurry to depart from their vacation.
My wife and I sat down on the facing bench.
Suddenly, the automatic door to the hotel opened and four children rushed out. The youngest girl, about 4, was crying and rushed toward the two women on the bench, cradling herself in the older woman’s arms. A young boy, perhaps 6, was holding his mouth and whimpering as if he had been hit and might be bleeding.
Two older boys, perhaps 12 and 13, stood attentively as the two younger children were comforted. They had opinions they wanted to voice! The father joined the circle; an interrogation began. The focus narrowed, the voices and tears quieted, and finally attention zeroed in on the two taller boys.
The verdict was announced: first, they evaded telling the truth, and second, they were responsible for the tears.
After a few minutes of total silence, the mother began to speak. She spoke directly to the two older boys—a come-to-Jesus plea. With each word the boys became more straight-backed, more rigid but with heads bowing more and more as each word was uttered. She named their infractions: lying, attempting to mislead and not represent their actions accurately.
Then she emphasized carefully their absolute need to be honest, to work hard and have faith in God. Her words developed a cadence as she reinforced each point. Then she paused. They didn’t move a muscle. She was sure she had their attention.
“How many times do I have to tell you? You started this life with two strikes against you! You are black and you are male. If you want to make it in this world—if you want to stay alive in this world—you will need to live with integrity, be honest and be faithful to God every minute of every day.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” they responded.
She continued pleading. Her words were a prayer. She was proclaiming her truth until tears came in her eyes.
As I stood to leave, she looked at me and said, “I apologize that you had to hear that family turmoil.”
I responded, “Don’t apologize. You were speaking a painful truth—a truth I’m sorry to admit is still a part of our society. We all wish it weren’t so, don’t we?”
“Thank you,” she said.
I walked away thinking: What a powerful plea! And, how tragic it was to recognize that painful truth!
We were 1,000 miles from Ferguson that morning. No one had heard of Michael Brown.
Twenty days later, the whole world knew his name.
Looking at the photographs of the peaceful protests in cities across the U.S., I’m haunted by the faces I see: Mothers. Marching.