‘Community’ means no one’s an outsider

A playground experience gone wrong.
By: 
Apr. 21, 2016

On a recent evening at the outdoor court at the George Washington Carver Community Center, on Drain Street in Bunnell, a healthy gathering of neighborhood boys and girls in their school polo shirts played basketball. 

I was pushing my daughters on the swings next to the court, and it was pleasant and relaxing — until a couple of the young boys started to push each other and swing their fists. Soon, they spilled over into the sand parking lot. The smaller boy fell to the ground, and the larger one pinned him.

I took a step in their direction, planning to scare them off and defuse the situation, but I stopped once I saw everyone else’s reactions.

About 20 other kids started running for a better view of the action, gleefully cheering for the entertainment to continue at the smaller boy’s expense.

It wasn’t a totally unfamiliar scene to me; I was a kid once, too. And I understand that the norms of an agitated crowd often differ greatly from the norms of each individual in that crowd. But it was a rotten scene all the same.

So why wasn’t I already there in the parking lot, breaking it up? Why did I stop and hesitate instead of immediately rushing to pick up the younger boy and dust him off and give all the kids a sermon about treating people the way they wanted to be treated?

It’s hard to say exactly, but I think I hesitated because I was the only white person in sight. The kids did nothing to make me feel like an outsider — they ignored me completely — but I still felt like one, on some level because I was the minority and didn’t live in this neighborhood. 

As an outsider, was it my place to intervene?

“It’s OK,” a young man said to me, sensing my concern. He was leaning comfortably against the thigh-high, wooden playground fence, watching the action. “He’ll be all right.”

The implication of this spectator, who could have been as old as 18 or 20 and therefore one of the oldest on the scene, was that this fight was somehow good for the young boy, a rite of passage necessary to toughen him up. 

That sentiment shocked and saddened me. Yes, the world is a tough place, but that doesn’t mean we need to sit back and become accomplices to a little kid getting some toughness pounded into him.

Outsider or no, I decided it was certainly my place to intervene because I was also the only adult in sight. I rushed past the young man on the fence and shouted at the kids to break it up, which they did — who knows for how long. I don’t know what happened to the little boy or what his name is. I wish I did so I could tell him to keep his chin up and that the bravest thing to do is often to walk away.

This is not a story about a white guy coming in to save the day. For all I know, the kids at the playground laughed at me all the way home.

This is a story about bullies — black or white. 

This is a story about kids who are left to their own devices — black or white.

This is a story about helping each other out — black or white.

This is a story about our community, like it or not.