A Teen Talks About ‘Black Lives Matter’
Editor’s note: This month, PT Columnist Jeff Pinyot steps aside in favor of his son, Jonathan. The high school senior found himself embroiled in a conversation that has been making headlines across America. He is applying for admission to a number of colleges and universities; this essay was written to accompany his applications. JVH
Since the birth of our nation, a kaleidoscope of races has been attempting to get along and live as one. Unfortunate choices made by heartless men decades ago have made it nearly impossible to overcome the ethnic divisions in America.
It seems that, because of an increase in the combination of opposing political and social issues occurring throughout our country, racial tensions appear to be on the rise, sadly, higher than they have been in decades.
God has given us the free will to choose how we treat others and what perspective we choose to view those different from us.
This past year, I found myself entrenched in my first multicultural conflict.
While I attend a private Christian school that is heavily white, I’ve always enjoyed friendships with African-Americans. And because I play football, competing with them on a regular basis, I have always felt a brotherhood with all athletes regardless of race or creed.
It started in the school library, where three African-American girls near me were talking about the Black Lives Matter movement. As I listened intently to what they were saying, they continued to talk about what they could do to be a part of the movement.
After listening to their conversation for about five minutes, I finally said something to them. I said, “Don’t you guys think that all lives matter, not only black lives?”
They immediately became very defensive and told me that I was a racist for saying that. After that interaction, I felt several different and strong emotions. I was confused as to why they called me a racist for what I had said. I mean, it was not a racist remark, nor was it intended to be so.
I felt terrible that I had so strongly offended them, and I was frustrated that they could not see my point of view.
Sure enough, the next day, before I had a chance to process the event and even apologize to them, if need be, I found myself sitting in the Principal’s Office. I knew I wasn’t in trouble because I hadn’t done anything wrong, and the first thing the principal said to me was, “Don’t worry, Jonathan, I know you’re not a racist.”
I started thinking that I probably should have just kept my mouth shut the day before, but that isn’t my nature. I’ve never been one to shy away from conflict or a good debate or discussion. (It turns out that the three girls had gone to talk to the principal immediately following our confrontation the day before.)
Then the principal gave me the chance to explain what had occurred in the library with the girls, and I told him what I recalled. When I had finished, he assured me that my story was exactly what the three girls had told him. I was a bit surprised. I thought that the girls would certainly twist the story to get me into trouble, but that was not the case.
People’s beliefs are heavily dictated by the lives they have been given to live.
Had I been born an African-American, I suppose I would have reacted the same way my “new friends” had justifiably acted.
The principal then asked me if it was alright if he called the girls to the office. I hesitantly agreed. The principal said that he recognized me as a leader in the school and felt that it was crucial for the health of the school for us to delve into this and to come to a mutual understanding between us.
He didn’t just want us to apologize and forget about it; he wanted us to have an open dialogue and to understand our differences.
Despite being outnumbered 3-1, I felt like this was going to be a good and necessary thing. Through the wisdom of our principal, we continued to meet with him on a regular basis throughout the balance of the year.
Other students all knew about what had happened. Some had witnessed the original confrontation. It was certainly something that was discussed among the students regularly, and many wondered what would come of it.
As an aside, our school had begun to “take vouchers” a few years ago, and the ratio of whites to African-Americans changed dramatically. Tension was building in the school, and something had to happen to begin a dialogue between the two racial groups. We have always had pockets of ethnic and wealth diversity, but not at this level.
As I reflect on my being called by God to represent one side of the tension, I was honored and willing to be used in any way possible to heal our school and to help set it on a course in the right direction, the way our nation should have decades ago.
Fast-forward. The culmination of this experience came when one of the three girls I had insulted in the library months previously was campaigning to be our class president. She came to me and asked for my help in running for office.
During her speech to our classmates, she mentioned me by name and talked about the experience that we went through. This gave me great feelings of satisfaction. She received my vote and ended up winning the election.
To this day, I am great friends with all three of the girls, and I am glad that God blessed me with that experience.
Through it, I learned that to understand perspectives other than your own, you need to be willing to listen, to put yourself in their situation, to have empathy, and to understand that people are inherently good and don’t want conflict.
They just want to be loved and valued.
People’s beliefs are heavily dictated by the lives they have been given to live. Had I been born an African-American, I suppose I would have reacted the same way my “new friends” had justifiably acted.
Jonathan can be reached through his father, Jeff Pinyot — President of ECO Parking Lights/ECO Lighting Solutions/Falcon Vision Concierge Lighting — at