BY R.L. Witter
As the weather turns colder and the crisp wind nips at my nose, I can recall thousands of summer breezes from my youth. The 30-minute ferry ride to Fire Island just off of Long Island, NY seemed like an eternity, but once there, it would be months of sand castles, wagon rides, bicycle races with my brothers, and days spent with my cousin, J.J.; and his parents: Uncle Johnny and Aunt Ann.
Our parents would relax on the deck reminiscing about their heyday before we came along and cramped their style. Eventually, we’d be excused to enjoy our summertime adventures. There were tiny crabs to be found beneath the sand, waves to be jumped, dollars to be made pulling tourists’ luggage with our wagons so brownies from Rachel’s Bakery could be shared. From shortly after breakfast until sundown, we didn’t have a care in the world beyond avoiding the poison ivy at the end of the pavement.
Darkness now looms over my memories. After more than 50 years of homeownership and presumed fellowship, Uncle Johnny and Aunt Ann were recently greeted by racist graffiti at their Fire Island home. A profane word and a racial slur were written in front of their house. More than likely, the act was committed not by a day-tripper, but someone there regularly enough to know a Black family lives there. The act was captured by a neighbor’s security camera, but the perpetrators have yet to be identified from the images. Weeks later, the Black Lives Matter flag they hung in defiance was desecrated.
My heart hurts. The sweetness of Aunt Ann’s voice and Uncle Johnny’s booming laugh are the definition of joyful noise. Who could take issue with their presence? Who could they have offended or angered with their generosity, grace, and benevolence? They’ve spent their lives in education and civil rights, and they give some of the best advice and hugs I have ever received. What’s worse, their oldest grandson was with them when they discovered the vile brickbat. How will that color his youthful memories of their summer haven?
For the first time in more than 50 years, the electricity has been left on at the summer house. It powers a security system that records video 24-hours each day. Some have taken the attitude “these things happen.” I can’t minimize this situation—not only because it happened to my aunt and uncle, but because it is yet another reminder that there’s always a shelf life on the peace, happiness, and prosperity of Black people in America. We can only enjoy things for so long before racism rears its ugly head and reminds us not to get too comfortable.
As I pray for my family members and reminisce on those lovely summer breezes, I also pray for winds of change to blow through the hearts and minds of the people of Fire Island and across the world. I pray that wind blows the hatred, evil, and intolerance away so that peace and love can prosper.