Before I was married, I was renting a house in Salem, Virginia, next to a white couple who had a young son. The boy used to come into my yard to play with my dog, Ralph, and I often talked to his parents across the top of our shared fence.
My then-fiancée, Amy, who is African-American, visited me one day, and the three of us chased Ralph around the yard. The boy’s parents stared at us for several minutes before abruptly calling their son inside.
The next day, my neighbors put up a “For Sale by Owner” sign. They also forbid their son to come into my yard to play with Ralph. The little boy was heartbroken and let his parents know about it—loudly.
“I wanna play with Ralph!” he shouted. “I wanna play with John and Amy!”
“No,” his mother said.
“Why?” the little boy cried.
I never heard a response, but I did hear the little boy cry “Why?” for several days. Evidently, he didn’t hear an answer either.
A week later, my neighbors took down the sign and allowed their son to play with Ralph.
Though they would never speak to my fiancée, they didn’t sell their house and let their son hang out with us whenever we were playing with the dog.
At the store
At a Kmart in Roanoke, Virginia, Amy was shopping for toys.
A little white girl ran up to Amy and rubbed her little hand on Amy’s arm. The little girl smiled, turned to her mother, who was further down the aisle, and shouted, “Mama, it don’t come off!”
Amy smiled at the little girl.
The little girl’s mother ran down the aisle, scowling, and yanked her daughter away.
Amy smiled and waved at the little girl.
The little girl waved back, her face one huge grin.
At Crystal Spring Park in Roanoke, my son Josh was zipping around on the monkey bars when a little white girl came over to me with the widest eyes.
“Can I play with him?” She pointed at Josh.
“Sure,” I said. “But only if it's okay with your mother."
She wrinkled up her lips and glanced at her mother, who sat on a nearby bench talking on a cell phone. "She won't care. What's his name?"
"His name is Joshua," I said, "but you can call him Josh. He’s my son.”
The little girl frowned. “That’s not possible,” he said. “He’s brown.”
“So is his mama,” I said with a smile.
“His mama’s brown?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said. “And she is very beautiful.”
The little girl looked from me to Josh, starting twice toward the monkey bars before shaking her head and frowning. “Oh.” She looked back at me. “Can I still play with him?”
The two of them played all day.
The phone never left her mother's ear.
I believe the children in this country could end racism in one day. All they need are some dogs, a healthy sense of curiosity, and a playground.