It was a beautiful fall day in middle Michigan; a day I would usually breathe in deeply as I enjoyed the changing colors of seasons. But that day my heart was alone. It had been seven days since I moved to college from my zone of comfort in Detroit.
As I exited my dorm, I so longed for someone who spoke the same language as me. Everyday in Detroit, I was in close contact with my black friends. Whenever I went to the store, I saw black people and even though I would go home to a white household and white neighborhood I only played the minority part-time.
Once I moved on campus, I was a minority full time for the first time in my life and I was shaken. I craved the company of those who saw life as I saw it. I yearned for the private jokes and non-verbal contact I had with friends who carried an extra amount of melanin in their skin. The stress of being one of a few instead of one of many wore on me like a weighted vest. Seven days in this white environment , 24 hours a day, had taken from my step the joy I clung to in Detroit.
I chose to continue my education at a small private college of about 1100 students. Of the 1100, one percent was black and the campus was a mirror image of my black high school. The first week at college was for freshman only so I found only 2-3 students who looked like me. I clung to them as if they held my oxygen. But those few that I found were not like those at home. They had been in more diverse environments during high school so they knew how to assimilate better than I did.
Back home we translated these types of blacks as ‘wanna-be whites” and had no patience for them. I didn’t fit in with the few blacks that were there and I was ravenous for someone who looked like me and could relate to me.
As the upper upperclassmen returned to campus on the seventh day of my trip to never-ever land, I saw in the distance an unfamiliar black student. My heart leaped as I longed for someone black like me. I increased my steps in the hopes that we would be from the same cloth. He saw me and increased his steps. He too seemed to crave someone who spoke his tongue.
He was from Brooklyn,New York. He was ½ Jamaican and ½ English with dark walnut skin. His high school experience was like mine cocooned in an environment of mostly black students. He also walked the campus feeling the weight of the stress associated with being one of a few and we were like minded. Finally, I met someone who I could exhale around. Someone who understood how it felt to move between the extremes and feel so lost and starved for someone else who saw the world as he did.
Over the next few years we carried each other through the friendly but unspoken hostile campus that didn’t shun us but didn’t welcome us either. It was a world where words and actions were investigated and intentions were suspect even from those who presented as friendly.
After college he returned to Brooklyn and we kept track of each other for the first 15 years and I have lost track of him over the past 6 years. I am thankful for his presence during that time in my life. He was a life preserver that kept me afloat in questionable waters. The comfort of having a like-minded friend that understood the unspoken was priceless.