“Hey Sister,” said a voice behind me, husky with age.
I looked back to see an older man, skin the color of chocolate and a kind face adorned with a silver beard. He wore brown dress slacks and a matching sweater, and a black head rested upon the silver on his head. I had seen him previously, talking to a student. The student had said “I’m sorry, I don’t have anything on me.” Soon after, he had reached out to another student, and asked him something, only to be brushed off. I was wary of him, not sure what he would say. Instead of asking me for something, he asked what my major was.
“Spanish,” I said curtly. I was walking ahead of him, barely sparing him a glance as I spoke.
“Where are you from?” he asked, seemingly genuinely interested.
“Around here,” I replied. I don’t know why I lied.
I guess he caught on to my attitude, and said with something that sounded like regret, “Well, go get ‘em.” He paused. “And while you’re at it, get the professor too.”
“I will,” I said smiling, and continued my journey to Mandel. I am ashamed of myself. How could I act so cold? Now that I look back on the interaction, he didn’t look threatening, he merely looked sad. How could I act so unchristian? We are supposed to be kind to all strangers. God, if this was a test, I don’t think I passed. I should have at least said “God bless you.”
I know what its like to be that sad, when a kind word from anyone could lift your spirits. He asked the white students around me for something material, but from me, tall and brown and natural-haired, maybe through some sense of shared history, he just asked for conversation and I’m so disappointed in myself that I didn’t give it. Why didn’t I give it? For some reason, thinking about it makes me feel like crying, and I don’t know why. Even through his own sadness, he gave me encouragement and he made me smile.
His words made me remember what my friends had joked about when I first got to UChicago. As a black girl at a primarily white institution, I’m not working just for myself; I carry my people on my shoulders. Many times, people here will see you, and make assumptions on the race based on your actions and behavior; you have to be a good representation of your culture. I had forgotten that.
Thank you, kind sir, for helping me to refocus myself. To remind myself the real reason why I’m here, and to show me what I’ve become. Thank you, for giving me those words and that smile, for making my day when I was so rude, and the reminder that I need to be kind. I don’t know if we’ll ever meet again, but if we do, and I hope we do, just know that I’d greet you, with that chocolate skin and silver hair, the sad eyes and the kind smile, with a wide grin, an outstretched hand, a listening ear, and some encouraging words of my own.
And I promise you: I’ll go get ’em, and while I’m at it, I’ll get the professors too.