What if we all just asked

The need to belong. We all long for it.

I was not sure I belonged, or could simply run that far, then he just asked. I have learned over the years, that we all run further when we run together.

It was a hot summer evening at a swim meet where our daughters were competing, my friend and neighbor Brian Brown asked if I would be interested in training with him and some other guys for the Richmond Half Marathon in the fall of 2014. At that time I just started running while Brian was taking on triathlons. He encouraged me, wanted me to run with them, and knew that for my first race ever I could get to that finish line. That time we ran together each week built self-confidence, and in turn, fueled more running than I ever dreamed of accomplishing. I even grew to enjoy it, and for that, I will always think back to that evening. Thank you Brian for asking, and reassuring me that I belonged.

The neighborhood 2014 RVA Half Marathon Training Crew after crossing the finish line

As part of my quest to bring us all together, I thought it would be good for all our souls to hear Brian’s story and the importance of belonging; it is not as easy as it sounds and it’s actually incredibly hard work. It is not the same as simply fitting in, showing up, signing up, or crossing the aisle.

“Belonging, is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us.” – Brene Brown

We are living in a time when true belonging is becoming rarer and more desperately needed, and I know Brian’s story and insights will reinforce that it takes a special act of courage to experience true belonging.

Minding the Dividing Line

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” – Mother Theresa

His grandfather spent his life a step above being a slave, as a sharecropper in the tobacco fields. For a reminder from the history books, a sharecropper is a person who lives and grows crops on land owned by someone else, paying the rent by giving the owner a share of the crops. After the U.S. Civil War (1861–65), many former slaves became sharecroppers. Because they were obliged to give up huge amounts of their crops, many led harsh lives of poverty.

Talking to Brian about his grandfather, parents, and upbringing, brought a source of strength as they instilled a strong work ethic and mindset in him. Born in Prince Georges County, Maryland (DC Suburb), Janice Brown, his Mom, was a phone operator (remember those?!) with the federal government, and Richard Brown, his Dad, a mechanic; they divorced when he was four and Brian was raised by his Mom. However, his Dad was always a constant presence in his life. In middle school, Brian and his Mom moved to Richmond, VA where he attended Mosby Middle School and Armstrong High School. The places where he lived were just above the projects, some had no running water.

I had one of these too Brian

A younger Brian, and how his Mom and Dad picture him

Though he felt his family protected him from racism, he certainly experienced it.

Where? At the dividing line.

During his high school years, Brian and his classmates at Armstrong High School knew where it was, all they had to do was travel up Route 360. Armstrong sits at the intersection of Interstate 64 and Route 360, which runs from Richmond to the Northeast through the Northern Neck of Virginia. Go past the Hanover County line, it was known as shotguns and pickup trucks. When venturing past it, he would get asked “What are you doing up here?” A simple road game for high school football was an uncomfortable event, as the ‘caste system’ between whites and blacks was real. He not only experienced it in high school, but it was also evident during his college years with all the subcultures at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). Brian did not go past that dividing line (geographic or racial) unless he had to, and what it gave him was a feeling of not being equal, that he did not belong.

Brian with his Mom and Dad, Janice and Richard Brown

Hard Moments and Courageous Love

“When you have endure the worse situations, you build the courage and confidence to cope with any other situations.” — Lailah Gifty Akita

It was a chance meeting at the VCU Student Commons, and soon after Brian found where he belonged, and it had nothing to do with geography. Loving and caring are an anchor that stabilizes uncertainty during those hard times. And that is with his wife Regina, and daughter Brianna. They met as students at VCU, and their strong friendship just kept growing. I have had the privilege to be in the same neighborhood with them as we watched each other’s families change and grow.

Regina is of mixed race, her mother white and her father black. Her parents were married in the 60’s when interracial dating was generally frowned upon. Initially, their relationship was not accepted by their parents but Regina being born brought the families closer together. Sadly, Regina’s father died in a car accident shortly before her 3rd birthday. Regina and her mom moved to Virginia to live close to her father’s sister and because it was a good midpoint between her mom’s family in New Jersey and her dad’s family in South Carolina. They faced several incidences of racism. When they moved to a predominantly black neighborhood in downtown Newport News, her mother received messages to let her know that she was not welcome. They stayed anyway, joined her uncle’s all black church and became immersed in the community despite the challenges that came with being biracial.

A proud Dad, with his wife Regina and daughter Brianna at her High School Graduation

For his daughter Brianna, now a Freshman at Virginia Tech, she knew she was protected by her parents. They conveyed to her that life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% of how you deal with it. She was active in school, a star on the varsity volleyball team, and has wonderful friendships. Brian and I can relate as Dads of daughters, and how we are so protective of them, we know there they add another dimension to our soul; softens and adds tenderness and at the same time makes it more valiant and protective.

Brianna enjoying the scooter just as her Dad did

Snapshots in time: Game, Set, Match…Dad and Brianna sharing a moment at one of her Volleyball Matches, he captures a moment before she goes out the door, and at the Father/Daughter Dance

When he shared that Brianna and a good friend of hers, who was a white male, were spending a lot of time together, and that the other Dad told him not to see her, I could feel the protective anger, yet sad confusion that overcame him and how he had to explain it to his daughter. When he should not have to! As I have more of these conversations I become more convinced how often it is the adults who have racial myopic issues.

The Past has yet to Pass

“Honor belongs to those who never forsake the truth even when things seem dark and grim, who try over and over again, who are never discouraged by insults, humiliation, and even defeat.” – Nelson Mandela

As a child, he knew of another dividing line not to cross, and that was not being able to go south of Richmond into Chester, Virginia as the KKK was quite active.

Though we all no doubt learn from the bad and good of our pasts, I still scratch my head as to why we won’t leave it there. Talking with Brian about race and race relations only reinforced it. Can you imagine living in a neighborhood at present and because of your skin color some friends of yours are asked how much you charge to cut grass? He has been called the ‘n’ word and heard it being used and often he is at the end of angry reactions when riding his bicycle. He was pulled over by a police officer in his car for what he deemed was ‘swerving’ (twice), and when riding his bike he constantly has to think about the route he takes. Pickup trucks will at times come intentionally close, and he will need to pull over and stop.

“If you want to run fast go alone, if you want to run far bring a friend” – Brian with some fast friends

All I am left to think after trying to comprehend this is: seriously?

Yet, it does not unnerve Brian, the times I have been with him and witnessing his involvement with his family and in our community, he will not allow others’ actions to have power over him.

We talked about Black Lives Matter and the impact it has had over the last few years. Brian shared that though he agrees wholeheartedly with the message, the methods leave much to desire. Riots generally result in a ‘group people and divide’ strategy which only makes situations, events, and communication worse. He feels the movement has been infiltrated with mobs and lacks the leadership needed to communicate a coherent and effective message that will be heard and appeals to all, as was done during the Civil Rights era.

Crossing the Dividing Line

“Character, not circumstances, makes the man.” – Booker T. Washington

Brian and his family now live in an area that he would be wary to cross during his high school years, in Hanover County, Virginia. He shared that there are still parts where he would not live and does not feel welcome, however it has improved over time. Now, we can walk (or run) to each other’s homes. As we talked, I was reminded how important it is for each of us to value each interaction we have and that we have to be conscious of them. How we communicate matters. Brian is always eager to give you his shirt off his back and make you feel that you belong. And I think the reason is that his circumstances led him to believe he did not belong, and rather than shut people out, he flipped the script with humility and confidence, and let them in.

In addition to the Richmond Half Marathon in 2014, one of the experiences we both shared as Dads was through a program at the YMCA called Indian Princesses (Y-Princesses) where Dads and Daughters have incredible weekend camping trips within our tribes. I know for my daughters, both fondly remember those times and I can remember vividly my youngest daughter, Zoe, telling me she wanted to do Indian Princesses forever. Trust me, we go back there in our treasure of memories often.

Some of the Shawnee Tribe on a Longhouse Weekend with Indian Princesses Program

For Brian, he shared it was the best experience as a Dad which also allowed for a more integrated experience with others unlike himself. It opened up a new world for him and his daughter Brianna, including just the mere fact they were camping. And he was one of the only two black people there; he did not mind in the least. It also prompted Brianna and Regina’s involvement with Camp Hope, which is a faith-based organization that serves vulnerable and underprivileged children who would otherwise never have an opportunity to experience summer camp, to see outside their circumstances and remind them they are loved like crazy and were created for a good purpose.

As for our community in Hanover County, Virginia, it has been the best for Brian, Regina, and Brianna. He sees neighbors and the friends they have made truly engage and care for one another. There is an instinctive intention about getting to know each other, which is healthy. And after all the years of not feeling equal, he now certainly does and his view of white people has changed, as he is more empowered, accepted, and self-confident.

It Ain’t So Hard to Do if You Know How

“I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.” – Maya Angelou

So why did you start riding bikes so much, Brian? It was because he was asked. One of his friends at work, Scott Lodder, (who was white) rode to work each day. He asked Brian to ride with him and they committed to each other to do so.

He asked as Brian did with me. To let me know that I belong.

Find that common ground, and go spend time there. We all can do it. When we talked about what brings people together, for him it is being active and sports. It serves as the great equalizer and confidence builder. His daughter played volleyball and swam throughout her school years with lifetime friendships in which to look forward. We both know the running community brings people from all backgrounds together and experienced firsthand the heart-pounding thrill that it encompasses.

Brian with some of his work colleagues, spending time on common ground

So, why can’t it be this way all the time?

I think it is important for all of us to recognize that these issues don’t go away on their own. Just as the past has yet to pass, it is never dead and it takes a lot to deal with, cope, and work through. For us all to be on the same side for racial equality, we don’t do that by self-segregating, rather by forging an interdependence with one another as we all have to engage or progress will stall and/or not be made at all.

I read an insightful interview on this subject with Misty Copeland, who became the first black ballerina named as a principal dancer for American Ballet Theatre in 2015.

She said that her awakening to racism came she was about five, accompanying her parents on a business trip to the historic Chamberlin hotel in Old Point Comfort, Virginia. While they were attending a function, she was put in the care of a black babysitter who, when she took her downstairs to the restaurant for dinner, wasn’t allowed inside. She showed the waiter what she could have off the menu, then retreated to a discreet corner of the lobby where she could keep an eye on her. She shares that she will never forget sitting alone in that huge, fancy dining room not understanding why her babysitter was kept out. She never saw this before and was so upset.

She stayed awake so she could ask her mom about it.

She brilliantly said to her: “All human beings are equal in God’s eyes,” she said, “and things are changing in this country.”

Her Mom couldn’t have imagined that an Irish Catholic (John F. Kennedy) like herself would be elected president in a couple of years, let alone an African-American (Barack Obama) 48 years after that.

Her message is that things have changed—a lot—but not always for everyone and not always enough. We still struggle.

Yet, let us keep in mind, and what too often gets lost, is that human beings are far more alike than they are different. A mother in the Kalahari weeps for a sick child the same way a mother weeps in Finland. A Chinese father’s pride in his son is no different than an Italian father’s pride in his. Underneath the cosmetic differences, our hearts are the same. It is culture more than race that divides us, and cultures can be understood and differences celebrated. There is really only one race, the one we all belong to equally. So let’s keep talking, and sharing. It’s gotten us this far, which is a long way from that dining room in Old Point Comfort.

Or experiences growing up in Richmond, Virginia.

It is amazing what can happen when you simply ask, who knows, you may get along. My experiences growing up in Asia and since have taught me that we have more in common than not. Having these heart-driven conversations and sharing these stories I hope lifts us all to a higher plane to remind that we all #bleedasone.

Being a kid of the ’80s (of course I listened to The Doobie Brothers), I wanted to leave us all with this. Music certainly inspires and connects all of us, and nothing like singing from the same sheet of music, no matter where we are as we cross more invisible dividing lines.

(Credit: Playing For Change is a movement created to inspire and connect the world through music, born from the shared belief that music has the power to break down boundaries and overcome distances between people. The primary focus is to record and film musicians performing in their natural environments and combine their talents and cultural power in innovative videos we call Songs Around The World.)

Thank you Brian for sharing your story with us, and reminding us that we all can belong and be who we are, and to find that common ground, just ask.

Taking some time to share and learn, we ditched the scooters and walked

All of us, we can be takin’ it to the streets.

Always by Your Side

Elliott’s first race, the Monument Avenue 10K in 2002

Say that again, what happened? I wanted to laugh but my lungs were needed for breathing.

It was one of the early in the training cycle long runs on a hot Saturday morning in Richmond, Virginia in the summer of 2015. There are many summer days in RVA that can be best described as having a hot wet towel over your head while running on a treadmill in the sauna. During this 8, 10, or 12 miler (my memory faded on the distance that day with the steam that was coming off my head) one of my training team coaches I had recently met, Elliott, ran up next to me and had a good story for me to help pass the miles, and keep my mind off the struggle.

He spent months training for a marathon that was taking place in Utah and on the plane ride out there and within 24 hours of the start, a baby in the seat in front of him sneezed in his direction. Dang! You know what happens next, he starts the race the next day and about halfway through is all stuffed up and can’t breathe, it was the only marathon that he could not physically finish. Months of training down the drain, or thrown out with a Kleenex. The headline could read: “A runner’s dream blown away by the sneeze of a baby!” or “Ahhhchooooo! No 26.2 for you.”

Not the only out of the ordinary experience either, while running the Chicago Marathon in 2007, all of a sudden helicopters appeared overhead and authorities were on loudspeakers telling everyone to get off the course, and the marathon is off. Why? It was the hottest October 7th Chicago had ever seen, medical tents along the course were overwhelmed and people were being taken by ambulance due to dehydration. All that training, however grateful he could run another day.

What did he do after those experiences? Just kept going and getting stronger as he always does. And there are more Elliott stories that kept me going just like that.

I met Elliott Rose in the Summer of 2015 when I joined the Sports Backers Marathon Training Team in Richmond, Virginia. I did not know what I was getting into, other than I knew how I wanted it to end. It was something way out of my comfort zone, yet I knew it would be worth it. All 26.2 miles of it. What goes into preparing for a marathon is anywhere from 500-700 miles of training over 20 plus weeks of running. Getting to know Elliott, my other coaches, and my teammates that year is a time I will always treasure, and I learned to enjoy the journey and take a chance, and follow my heart.

Me and Elliott after one of my first long training runs in 2015, before I knew better and should get some lighter clothes

We have kept up with each other over the years and from our conversations over the many miles we have run as one, I knew having a heartfelt conversation with Elliott and hearing his story would provide understanding and perspective that serves to bring us together.

It was on a dirt road in McKenney, Virginia

One main road goes through this town, Route 1, which also served as the racial dividing line.

For Elliott and his siblings, namely Wayne, Roderick, Victor, Ronald, Marcus, Katrina, Alesia, and Jackie, life in rural McKenney transformed during their childhood years and integration. The end of a dirt road through the woods led to the home of their parents, Edward and Sallie Rose, which was originally Elliott’s maternal great grandparents home.

Elliott with all his siblings

Since many of us have trouble keeping track of nine pairs of socks, to help with the math above, there were nine of them, one house, with six boys and three girls. When it came time for Halloween, they went to one house to trick or treat. Guess they were all not up too late with sugar running through their veins! Their wood heated home had electricity however no sockets and no plumbing; they would use the outhouse. However they would bring a bucket inside during the winter to reduce the chilling effect of a winter night’s walk to the outhouse.

Elliott is very close with his siblings and his family also experienced the sorrow of losing his brother Marcus to a bad pneumonia when he was seven months old (Elliott was 12); he does remember his brother well. Elliott also recently lost one of his brothers, Victor, in December 2018, who died suddenly (far left in picture above).

He reflected on his times with Victor, who was a few years younger. Smart guy, he was on the Dean’s List at Virginia State University. His love of cars manifested itself with a career as a mechanic for Goodyear. He and Elliott shared a love of jazz music and would often go to concerts together and spent countless hours spinning vinyl in their little apartment on the northside of Richmond in the early 1980’s, tube socks included. I can see it with my eyes closed. His coworkers spoke sincerely and highly of him at his funeral and reinforced to Elliott that he impacted more lives than his family knew.

Elliott loved all his siblings and admits he wasn’t always the best big brother, he knew he tended to be selfish and a little hot tempered. Over the years, he has realized that having them by his side, he would have it no other way.

Mom and Dad, leading with love and by example

His Mom and Dad worked hard, and taught them there are no substitutes for determination and doing well in school to get a good education. In fact, his Dad invested in a set of Encyclopedias and Elliott read. them. all. I am intimidated just by looking at them in their binders covering the full lengths of several bookshelves, and he opened every one of them and read them cover to cover. He soaked it all in, the knowledge and wisdom from others, that would serve him well in the years ahead.

“Every father should remember that one day his son will follow his example, not his advice.” – Charles Kettering

During his childhood, his Dad built their house in McKenney on his own from reused materials from an Army barracks (Camp Pickett) and they moved to that home when he was eleven. With one bathroom now, I asked him if his parents used a signup sheet outside the door for all to use. His Mom is still living there, with treasured memories of them all together. Sadly, his Dad, Edward Rose passed away in October 2018.

His parents, Sallie and Edward Rose in front of the house his Dad built

Sallie Rose, Elliott’s mom not only gave birth to nine children, she is always there for each and every one of them. A great cook (Elliott has told me that part of the reason he runs so much is so he can enjoy his Mom’s cooking), very outgoing, loves people, and a strong woman of faith who loves God. When Elliott there has been a crisis in his life, his Mom is there, not necessarily with the solution rather reassurance that ‘it’s gonna be alright’ that eased the pain. When her husband died, she lost the love of her life however she loves her children so much, and with that and her faith in God, she keeps her going.

Elliott had a great father, and when I asked about him I could tell how much it meant to him to be blessed with the parents from which he entered the world. He was a self made man, and built that home from scratch with repurposed materials from an Army barracks; he mixed concrete to make the sidewalks, hung drywall, did plumbing and made cabinets. Never deterred from rolling up his sleeves, he also worked on cars and was the town barber. To make sure his family was kept warm in the winter months, he would cut trees so for the wood to heat the house. To be the example, he would have all of his sons with him to help and they would haul the wood back to the car or truck to bring it home. He was a no nonsense disciplinarian but it was always done from the standpoint of love to give his children boundaries. Not much of a talker, action does the talking, and he taught Elliott what having a solid work ethic looks like and was the ultimate role model. Elliott loves how he treated his mother with respect, knowing his Mom is emotional and would sometimes get upset with him however he never recalled his Dad raising his voice to her. His Dad was always well groomed and Elliott knows that rubbed off on him; he also developed his deep love of sports from his Dad. One of his earliest memories was him buying a baseball glove and ball and them playing catch, he loved baseball.

I like to say we all have fathers, and then we have a Dad. You certainly had a great Dad, Elliott.

School Segregation to Integration, First Job, Most Impactful Moment, Being a Dad, and Heartbreak

Their school was integrated when Elliott was in the 7th grade, before that life in McKenney was separated as that dividing line down Route 1 going through the middle of town. When we talked about his first experience with white people, it was working in the tobacco fields when he was eight years old. They would work from 7am – 7pm and would be fed lunch. The family that owned the farm had grandkids and they said to them they were not to play with the black kids working on the farm.

As a kid I grew up in a multiethnic country in Asia, I don’t get this. During the age of innocence, why can’t we just let kids be themselves? Usually when we do adults learn something and it brings us together.

Meanwhile at school, there was tension during that first year of integration and then it eased with each passing year. Elliott’s love for sports led him to basketball (his first love) as he was into that (and girls) as a high school student. His Dad did not encourage relationships with white people, and was taught not to trust white people. That said, his Dad did experience true racism himself growing up, though he softened over the years. His Mom and grandmother were softer about him being around whites during his childhood.

Elliott was becoming of age to learn by experience, and his first job was at K-Mart. Somehow I can see him running down the aisles then getting on the bullhorn to announce the next blue light special, now we call them flash sales. What a trendsetter, K-Mart. His boss who was white became his best friend and they kept in touch long after the blue lights had been turned off. So, his wall of mistrust in regards to white people was being torn down.

After obtaining an Associates Degree, Elliott spent twenty nine years in public service with the City of Richmond, and presently works for the Commonwealth of Virginia part-time.

His most impactful moment was when he became a Christian when he was 34. He dove right in and lives out his faith each and every day.

I love sharing and learning with other Dads, and Elliott is a father to a son and daughter. Though he and their mother were engaged, things did not work out and they parted a year after his birth; they also experienced a miscarriage a year before his son was born. His son, Brian, and him have evolved from father/son to father/son/friend as adults. Through all the tumultuous years of litigation, he and Brian were always close and decided to live with Elliott full time when he was 15. He loves him with all his heart and is very proud of the man he has become.

With his son, Brian

Elliott also experienced pain and anguish of parenthood, as he also had a daughter that passed when she was 4 months from SIDS. He fondly remembers her and Kaylynn would have been 27 this year (pictured below).

What would MLK think?

As we shared about our faith, we talked about how skin color is just that, skin deep and cosmetic. It pains us both to talk about all the pain, hurt, and anguish that have come to mankind over something so genetically unimportant and contradictory to the lesson of loving our neighbors; and that we all are worthy regardless of skin color.

As we talked about race and how it has impacted him in America, he conveyed that if he had been a victim or racism, it was not overt and he does not know it. There was a time where he was noticeably the only black person at a running get together with other friends, he noticed it however as time has gone on he does not think about it. Though he has dated interracially and has been on the receiving end of some stares, Elliott shared he has felt more racism from black people towards him. From his first boss at K-Mart to the people who got him into running, he has had great experiences with people of all backgrounds being by his side and helping him.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. – Martin Luther King

From the ability of the two of us to have a heart driven and honest conversation borne from respect and love for each other as human beings, he feels that America is not the racist nation that many people make it out to be. It seems that those that do, are the loudest and are perpetually driven by anger and outrage. We have both experienced that this condition is not healthy for anyone, and if anyone reading this needs a prompt on why, read these insights on how addiction to outrage can ruin your life.

As we talked about what Martin Luther King stood for, transported to today, where he wanted to see a nation where people were not judged by the color of their skin, rather by the content of their character, Elliott conveyed that he likely would not recognize the message he got across and that resonated with our country. He also has a grandparent who he is inclined to believe was white, his paternal grandfather, who is a part of who he is and thus it pains him to see how politicians and many in the media like to keep things divisive and stirred up when they could be focused on what brings us together. However, he shared if that became the case, and people had each other’s backs and ran by their side no matter what, many of them would not have a cause and therefore don’t want a solution.

“It doesn’t matter how smart you are unless you stop and think.” – Thomas Sowell

The evidence for Elliott was right before him, and his family modeled to him the importance of hard work, determination, and education and what it takes to make an impact in your life. Two of his sisters are now with the CIA, a brother is a police officer, and another brother a graphic designer. He knows there is much right about America, and acknowledges there is work to do as well, as there always will be.

From running in City Basketball Leagues to Running the City

It starts with all of us, someone asks. Being a varsity basketball player in high school, Elliott kept that going and played in the city leagues around Richmond. A friend of his who worked with him at the City of Richmond (we still think of you as the unofficial mayor, Elliott) asked him to run the Monument Avenue 10K one year, to that point he would just run on the treadmill to keep in shape for basketball. He agreed a year later and started training by seeing if he could run for 30 minutes.

I know he could dribble the ball the entire 26.2 miles!

After that first race, he fell in love with running. He then transitioned to marathons because his good friend, Mark Buckland, asked him. Twenty years later, he is still going strong and encouraging others by being a coach with Sports Backers Marathon Training Team. I know first hand I would not have dreamed I could run 26.2 miles had I not had Elliott, my other coaches, my #wolfpack, and teammates running by my side. We had each others’ backs during training and through the finish line.

Looking Inward and Actions Outward

“I will permit no man to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him.” – Booker T. Washington

Since we all bleed as one, I asked Elliott what he would encourage us all to do to bring us together, and it comes down to looking at our own hearts, taking stock with humble reflection, and acting outwards. He is tired of everything having a racial connotation to it, when there should not be one, we are all people.

He feels that black people need to stop blaming racism, using it as a crutch, and address your family issues by being there. For whites, to stop pacifying and having guilt. Day to day we do this, and it is apparent in his relations with people from all walks of life. However social media and the news is where the divisiveness is evident. For example, where else can a story such as Oprah Winfrey or LeBron James happen other than America? We need to look at things deeper than the color of our skin, and not be preoccupied with everything being about race.

For all of us, can you think of a time or two when we went outside for a solution when you should have gone inward? Your circumstances may be challenging to say the least, however it became apparent through our conversation that blaming them is not the solution. Nor is neglecting them.

Real change is an inside job, and the heart of the matter is, and always will be, the matter of the heart.

“Create in me a new heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).

Let’s Run by Each Other’s Side

Imagine a world where we all had each others’ backs, no matter what. Disagreements are fine and respected, with the realization that it does not take anything away from the value you are as a person. Where who we voted for would not divide families and friends, but rather be an example of our love for freedom to do so. Where we learn from each other through authentic conversations where we listen and see through each other’s eyes. That the streets we run, gather, or live, don’t have any meaning other than we are neighbors. A world where we know that skin color is only skin deep and we do bleed as one.

Running long distances with Elliott and others has taught me something I have shared previously, namely:

What I have learned as I have run longer and longer distances transcends running. There is the importance of encouragement and having others around you; lightening the load and letting go, throwing off what is holding you down; perseverance as a good mind and heart are a formidable combination; keeping your eyes on what’s ahead of you, just as important as finishing the run in my mind; faith of how amazing it can be when we step into the unknown, with full confidence that God will not let you go; and trusting others who have gone before you in more difficult circumstances that inspire you to keep going and not lose heart.

As a Marathon Training Team coach, Elliott runs several times a week with others and during long training runs would speed up or slow down to run by all our team members’ sides.

This is where to find him most mornings, and he loves it

This exemplifies him perfectly, and I am grateful for friends like him, who will always run by your side no matter your pace or place in life.

How about we all do that for each other, and for ourselves.

Thanks for being by my side buddy, let’s keep doing it!

How the Colors We See can Blind Ourselves

Solving complex issues and thinking fast comes in handy, especially when you are in potentially life threatening situations. For my friend Anthony Jackson, it’s second nature to him. He thrives at it, and uses this ability to serve us all, while wearing a bulletproof vest to work.

This time he did not need it, as the only threat was the unsolved phrase in front of him. The Wheel of Fortune bus came to Richmond in 2018, and Anthony was randomly selected to come on stage. No sweat, solved the puzzle with ease. Then invited for the next audition, 15 puzzles to solve in 5 minutes; was able to get through 8 of them. Then a letter inviting him to Los Angeles to be on Wheel of Fortune solving word puzzles with Pat Sajak and Vanna White; I’m sure he never thought his degree and career in Criminal Justice would lead to this.

Anthony on set at Wheel of Fortune, solving puzzles is not just for police work

Being Big Buddy Buddies in and out of our Comfort Zone

Anthony and I met at a camping weekend for Comfort Zone Camp, a bereavement camp for kids who have lost a parent, guardian, or sibling. Started by someone who lost both her parents, Lynne Hughes turned her pain into purpose where her grief became a purpose for children grieving. We serve as big buddies for these weekend camps where kids from all walks of life who lost a parent or a sibling in heartbreaking ways, and yearn for someone to understand, listen, and relate, can be reassured that scars do heal and they can grow from it all. Many camps we have spent together with our little buddies during those transformational weekends, and there is a ‘why’ behind it all.

‘Those who have a why to live can bear with almost any how.’ (Victor Frankl)

For a Grandmother and two Uncles, how a Mother’s wish became a purpose

Anthony was raised in Williamsburg, Virginia with his parents Charles and Hope Jackson, and older sister Yolanda. He did not have a racial construct in mind while young, though he started noticing race for the first time in middle school. At Jamestown High School, the school being 75-80% white at the time, most of his friends were white or Asian and he felt welcomed and played in the school band, and would freely associate with anyone. He also played fife with the Colonial Williamsburg Fife & Drum Corps from 5th grade through high school. The organization was majority white, however he never felt excluded or different and was fully accepted. This is where most of his lifelong friends came from, and where a group of friends developed that have been in each other’s weddings, and they still travel together.

Off to the University of Virginia for college, though he became more aware of racism, his college friends just knew him as Anthony and he felt that he was never looked at differently.

As I learned more talking with Anthony, he shared why he serves others at Comfort Zone Camp, and perhaps in a broader way in Criminal Justice. It is for family that are treasured memories shared by his Mom, and the love for her and them.

With his parents, Charles and Hope Jackson

Anthony’s mom, Hope Jackson, was one of eight children and she lost her mother at the age of 12 due to a brain issue. Then on her 18th birthday, her little brother (Anthony, 13 years) died; he was undergoing a medical emergency and they called 911. Hope held her little brother until the ambulance arrived and then he went unconscious. She went with him to the hospital in the ambulance and he never regained consciousness, taking his last breath in her arms. Ten years later, when she was 28, she lost another brother, Troy. In a span of 16 years, a Mom and two brothers gone.

Unexplainable and unforeseen grief became fuel for Anthony’s ‘why’ to honor his uncles, Hope has told her son that Comfort Zone Camp would’ve been good for her and her brothers after the losses. She was the oldest of eight kids and the only girl; her youngest brother was just a year old when her mom died. She went to college a month after Anthony’s death and grieved on her own away from home. She took on a motherly role with her brothers and focused on that after their mom’s death, which a lot of kids do in similar situations. Anthony is named after his late Uncle Anthony.

With his sister Yolanda and wife Karen

Hope (and Charles), I just want to say you have raised an authentic difference maker of a son and he is paying it forward for you, his namesake Uncle Anthony and Uncle Troy, I am sure many of his little buddies at Camp over the years are grateful having crossed paths with him.

‘We build too many walls, and not enough bridges.’ (Isaac Newton)

Seeing the Blue before Black, and not anything else

Anthony has been in law enforcement almost 14 years, starting in March 2007 as a patrolman. He has been in an investigative unit more than half his career, split up over the years (2010-14, 2016-18 and 2020). He enjoys complex problem solving and serving his community, and received his Masters in Criminal Justice at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). I knew seeing through his eyes as a police officer, who is black as well, would help us all relate to each other better and have an appreciation and understanding for those that serve to protect.

It has happened to him, just being Anthony, driving in a neighborhood where it looked like he did not belong. He was stopped by a police officer and asked where was he going and why is he here. Because he is black. Anthony gets it, yet is so cool and calm, does not overreact. The issue is he should not have had to react at all.

As a patrolman he was assigned to predominately poor and minority areas, never affluent, and he found that they related well with him. Criminal Justice in his experience has more to do with economics than race, as it is more biased against the poor, which also tend to be minorities. That said, when one of his officer colleagues was told to come in a separate entrance at a home of a white citizen while doing some investigative work because he was black while the white officers could come through the front door is infuriating. They all stood up for each other and it was the front door or nothing.

If I were to have a #bleedasone hall of fame, that event is in it. Fist bumps to all of you.

Yet, as a police officer, Anthony’s experience is many tend to see the blue before the black.

‘I shall allow no man to belittle my soul by making me hate him.’ (Booker T. Washington)

Handling unrest and the right to express

It’s complicated, yet understandable. People were outraged and what happened to George Floyd, and it travelled outside of Minneapolis. I spoke with Anthony on this subject, the strife and unrest coupled with being in law enforcement and being black.

Yes, Black Lives Matter however they should always matter and not just when talking about police brutality; he also noted that more black people die at the hands of other blacks. Anthony has also been told he should be ashamed of being a police officer, and rather than responding he calmly and confidently knows that we are all better served by having a diverse police force with people of high character.

Every law enforcement officer he knows, including himself, is upset. It was inexcusable what police officers did to George Floyd, including those who stood by and should have stepped in. When it comes down to it, we all should know what’s right and wrong and therefore have a duty to stop others from doing wrong.

What he has experienced in the wake of it all is other destructive reasons riding in on a trojan horse in the name of George Floyd. COVID aided in fueling the unrest however expressing anger in destructive way takes away from voicing anger in a controlled and productive manner.

Angry? Every right to be. Raw Emotions? Definitely. The question is how we can best express it all and where do we go from here; it has to involve constructive conversations that involve listening with intent to learn and respect, not just hear and dismiss.

In my mind the best and most recent example of how anger can be productively funneled and effective is when Jon Stewart went before the U.S. Congress to take issue on the lack of benefits for 9/11 first responders.

Behind the Badge and Being Himself

Anthony does go off -duty, and that is what many who see him with a badge don’t see. He is a husband, son, brother, volunteer, friend to many, saxophone player, marathon runner, and of course big buddy. He is more than the uniform, and what meets the eye. Too often we are all guilty of putting people in boxes and categorizing them, as that is easier than the relational work required in getting to know them.

He has gone on dates with white females and never been an issue; his first wife of 8 years was white. While her older sister was surprised when she first met him, her family (including her older sister) welcomed him with open arms; he was treated like a son/brother and were great towards him.

Anthony recently remarried this year and what a story, he and his wife Karen met in police academy in March 2007, just under fourteen (14) years ago. They were friends and though life took them down different roads, they came full circle and are together. They are a biracial couple yet love and friendship bleed as one also, Karen’s parents accepted him from day one.

Anthony and his wife Karen, note to self: find out where this is

There have been times when others tried to make them uncomfortable, and they handled it with grace.

A simple pleasure such as a meal out should be just that, without the side of a racial drama. They were spending some welcome time together at a local restaurant when a nearby table of eight started talking about someone being black (not Anthony) and everyone in the group did not realize that a black person (Anthony) was sitting nearby and within earshot. The wait staff came over to check on Anthony and Karen several times to make sure they were alright. The restaurant manager came to them and apologized as they were being subjected to others insecurities and racial tension.

As someone who has black family members that I love unconditionally, and being married to the love of my life who is part Cherokee Indian, this is both sad and infuriating to hear.

I’ll never do that, to just did, to something we all can do

It started when he was at the Police Academy, let’s see if I can run 3 miles in 30 minutes. When I asked Anthony about his marathon in 2019, knew it had a first chapter to the story. From 3 milers, to Monument Avenue 10Ks to Half Marathons, all getting stronger and faster with each. His first half marathon in 2012 and was over 2 hours (2:19:37), and then in 2015 he finished under 2 hours (1:57:07). Anthony always felt the marathon distance was asking too much, the training and how it is simply life consuming.

After getting separated in 2018, he decided that 2019 would be the year he could focus. He was running PRs in 5Ks and 10Ks and trained hard with Race Team RVA; Richmond would be the place for his first marathon. The summer months paid off and he crossed the finish line just over 4 hours. Got you 26.2, and he is good, no need for a marathon encore.

Mission 26.2 complete

As for something we all can do, how about being open and conversing with others unlike ourselves. Have those constructive yet uncomfortable conversations with an intent to listen to learn and respect, and it’s alright not to agree. We have more in common than we realize and in many cases give a chance to realize.

We can all use an Anthony in our life, one who protects others by serving others, and knows his why no matter the how. I know he has a heart for the brokenhearted and encouraging them serving alongside him at Comfort Zone Camp.

Thank you Anthony for reminding us that we can all make a difference with our differences, because we all #bleedasone.

We All Can Be MOre

When someone says ‘Give me 20′ or ’30’ for that matter, he gives it new meaning, routinely getting up anywhere between 2am and 4am, and gets it done. In miles. It is not uncommon for Solomon MOrris Whitfield to run a marathon type distance before going to work. He has heard it and trust me, he is not nuts. Just an ultra runner.

During our recent conversation, it came to me. ‘MO, you ran 2014 miles (before you do the math in your head, that is an average of 167 miles a month, and 5.5 miles per day) the year we met.’ At the time I had never run more than a handful of miles, consecutively. Not that the belief or desire to was there anyway. What we did know is that we connected, both of us were single dads at the time, born in the American Midwest, and I had started to train for my first half marathon in Richmond, Virginia. Our story is one of many others where an unfortunate tragedy brings people together.

At the intersection of tragedy and friendship, our paths crossed

MO and I connected through Meg’s Miles, a running group and compassionate community brought together by tragedy. Meg Menzies was an elite runner and was out on a training run for the Boston Marathon on January 13, 2014 when she was killed by a drunk driver. Her still pictures still move hearts. MO and I shared many miles together (on and off the road) and as we got to know each other, learned how much we had in common. We were single dads and now as husbands, we are always willing to be there for one another and share life lessons and matters of the heart conversations.

As the first conversation for this blog, I knew MO would be an inspiring story to share to help us all to carry each other as we look at ourselves to encourage us to Be MOre and, if you so desire, Run MOre too.

So you all know, when it comes to knowing MO, it’s the M.O. that you always capitalize the MO!

“Fearlessness means taking the first step, even when you don’t know where it will take you. It means being driven by a higher purpose, rather than by applause. It means knowing that you reveal your character when you stand apart, more than when you stand with the crowd.” (Chadwick Boseman)

First experience with Racism, closed curtains and closed minds

MO is one of three kids, born to Solomon and Brenda Whitfield in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He has a twin brother (Julius) and sister (Crystal) who is seven years older. His memories of Michigan are vague as the family moved to the Washington, DC area when he was six years old and settled in Springfield, Virginia.

MO (far right) with his twin brother Julius, sister Crystal, and parents Solomon and Brenda Whitfield

His parents encouraged friendships no matter who, where from, or neighborhood. MO went to Robert E. Lee High School, and being black and at a school named after a Confederate General, it did not bother him as one would expect. The school was quite diverse with many ethnicities and religions, and he was on the track team as a sprinter. His best friend was Indian, and having a mother who was multiracial (Black, White, and Cherokee Indian) MO understood who he was.

When I asked about his first experience with racism, he remembered it clearly; pain always prompts memories to the surface. He was 15 and was asked to the Sadie Hawkins dance, where girls do the asking. His date (Catheney) was Asian and when he picked her up, his date’s Mom said to her daughter ‘I need to talk to you when you get home.’ She was under the impression that she would be bringing home someone of her same ethnicity and advised her daughter that she should not be dating MO, and needs to shoot higher.

As you can imagine, MO was hurt and confused; made him feel that being black was negative though he is nice, got good grades, and is always. respectful to others.

By the way, Solomon and Brenda, you raised a wonderful son.

MO and Catheney continued dating anyway, however it came at a cost of emotional turmoil. They could not be in front of her parents, and he recalled that she would cry everyday at MO’s house as she did not see MO as black, she saw him as we all do that know him, as MO. For Senior Prom, they met at MO’s house for pictures as her parents refused to bring her; when he went to pick her up she was forced to wait outside and her parents had the curtains closed. When it came time for the after party, MO took her home to change, and after waiting 30 minutes, she did not come back out. Curtains closed, again. Her family viewed MO as inferior, and even writing this saddens, hurts, and makes me angry all at the same time.

Many of us have treasured memories of our high school graduations. For MO, it is bittersweet. He and Catheney were not allowed to speak or even acknowledge one another even though they dated most of their high school years. No hugs, or goodbyes. Her parents, with extended family there, did not want anyone to think she was with a black man. For MO’s parents, they would never put him in that position, and with his Mom having a multiracial background, race was not an issue when it came to who her son was around, ever.

“Hating skin color is contempt for God’s divine creative imagination. Honoring it is appreciation for conscious beautiful, love-inspired diversity.” (T.F. Hodge)

Justification Exhaustion, personal and professional

Off to James Madison University, and MO loved the four years spent there. He shared many of his friends made there were from the Middle East and he goes back to visit the campus with his family. I also have a son at JMU who loves it there as well.

As he came into adulthood and the working world, coupled with the introduction and now norm of social media, it is evident that racism still persists even though we all attempt to dismiss it easily. He is acutely aware that he always has to be on his best behavior because he is black, even when he has every reason to speak his mind, to put it politely.

For example, at work recently some of his colleagues were making fun of Juneteenth; again making him feel inferior. He shared with me that he has received racist Facebook messages, even some when he and his wife Leah started dating, which he ignores. The point, and something we all need to realize, is that it is incredibly exhausting to constantly feel the need to justify yourself and getting nowhere simply because of the skin color you were born with. It makes no sense whatsoever, yet MO understands this is something that is not inherent in anyone; it is taught and conditioned.

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” (Nelson Mandela)

Being a biracial family, brought together and apart

MO and I met while we were single dads, and leaned on each other as we navigated those miles. We are ‘3am friends’ for each other, knowing that whatever time of the day or night, we are there.

Me and MO after a run

We are both married now and my wife Angela and I were grateful to be able to be with MO and Leah at their wedding in May 2018. He shared that Leah’s parents (Mom and Step Dad) have been very nice to him and welcoming, though her Mom was concerned about what others would say. However her Dad disowned Leah after she married MO, and he does feel to a certain extent some guilt as being the reason she does not have a relationship with her Dad anymore. Again, it is hard to understand yet this is what MO has had to live with and I admire how he rises above it all.

MO and Leah on their wedding day

MO also has two kids, MJ and Tate (12 and 10 years old respectively) and they are biracial; Leah adores them. He has strengthened their confidence by teaching them that they don’t have to choose which race to identify with, namely his or their Mother’s and that we respect and treat all as equals, and as for them it is more than fine to identify with both.

When talking with Leah and MO, I learn and grow as a person by becoming more aware and understanding. It has also prompted me to do something, namely have uncomfortable yet heart driven conversations that bring us together.

MO, Leah, MJ, and Tate

Always being mindful of situations, and is he still moving

We had dinner with them earlier this summer, and Leah shared that with MO taking on the challenging of running virtually back and forth across Tennessee (1,243 miles over 4 months), he was up way before dawn kicking asphalt. She would often be up anyway checking his Garmin signal to make sure he is still moving, as a black man running at night may bring unwanted attention.

MO is always having to be mindful of where he is at, at all times, including his own neighborhood. Recently he saw that his neighbors recycling containers had not been taken up from the street and Leah suggested the neighborly thing and take them up for them. He would have welcomed it however he knows if someone sees him do it, they may call the police seeing a black man going up near a house with empty containers. Having to constantly think through these scenarios is something MO is used to, and should not have to be subjected to it. He also knows it has opened his wife’s eyes and it directly impacts her and them as a couple.

So, what it is about race from through MO’s eyes that could help us understand more and bring us together?

MO shared that it is apparent that people do not take the time to understand where each other are coming from with an intent to listen rather than reply. He noted it is easy to call someone a racist and not realize that we all are a product of our environments to a large degree and racism is something that has been taught and conditioned. It can be undone as well, as Nelson Mandela has exemplified. Also, apprehension or fear of the unknown is not racism however, that said, we should not wait until something such as racism directly impacts us to speak out against it.

It is becoming evident that it is more about picking sides rather than having honest conversations, formulating your own opinion, and recognizing that differences are a good thing. BLM (Black Lives Matter) is a message MO agrees with, however he sees that the movement causes division and friction where one has to pick sides. It should not have to be that way. A better position for change is one of inclusiveness, for example it should not be blue lives vs. black lives matter. One can be respectful of both.

I have one of MO’s ‘Run MO’ running shirts, and on the back is a statement that serves him well, and us all, “get comfortable being uncomfortable.” That is what long distance running involves, and is transcending.

What this also says to me is that we should seek discomfort out of our comfort zones as we come together to be in a place of inclusiveness for change.

It involves having heart driven conversations, not with the intent to change minds, rather to understand, share experiences, and improve ourselves. We all are dispositioned to be stuck in our ways, and conversations with an intent to listen sincerely are often lacking, as we are prone to shut down others (many times using emojis and memes) and their line of thinking that does not necessarily line up with our own.

How a Decision to Run a 1 Miler became a 100 miler

It was July 2011, and MO realized that his life was one of inconsistency. Here, there, and everywhere from college through his now adult life as a dad friend, and family member. He ran track in high school and enjoyed the challenge of it, and how it served as mind cleanse. He got up that July day and went for a one mile run, and he was out of gas at the end of it. That was just the beginning of him proving to himself that he could be consistent at something where he did not need to rely on others. It served as a foundation to other aspects of his life.

Now, he has done that one miler 100 times, an 100 miler just last year. Numerous marathons, half marathons, and ultras are the norm. He just completed 1,243 miles over 4 months (over 10 miles per day average). There is no mystery to what he is up to before breakfast. In fact, I know if I try to get in touch with him after 8pm or so, forget it. Everyday, he is up early and out the door.

What has that one decision to go for a run in July 2011 meant? He has learned that in order to be passionate, you have to be consistent; can’t make excuses for yourself; need to be willing to adjust to changes in life; accept criticisms and shortcomings; and just show up everyday. Through his decision to keep running his mindset has toughened, he deals with challenges, setback, and goals with focus and leads through action and example, not words. It is not about having to do it, and all about believing in himself (and ourselves) that we can do it. You choose the ‘it’ you’re presently in or going to do.

Being inspired by the everyday, and it’s contagious. Instead of following who and what people consider famous, why not follow our own hearts? That is what Danny O’Donoghue did when he went to support a marathon and witnessed people from all walks of life supporting cancer awareness and was inspired by them going for 26.2. The elite athletes get the recognition, yet what we need to realize is that we all can achieve amazing and worthwhile goals, embracing all our differences and experiences to get there.

We can all follow MO’s lead, by starting inside ourselves to discover and build strength, not according to other’s expectations, rather to prove it to ourselves. As for Danny O’Donoghue, he is lead singer for a band called The Script, and wrote this song and story from his experience at that marathon to remind us all to stop trying to be famous for the sake of it, be you, and do something great.

That is Hall of Fame speech material.

Reminds me of you and thanks for sharing your life with us MO, and reminding us that we all #bleedasone.

Let’s Carry Each Other

Eddie!!  I knew the voice.  

It was April 2016, Dad and I made a journey back to Singapore together. When we first arrived there in 1975, we were simply hoping for a new tomorrow. We were scarred, and set out to make the best of it as father and son apart from my mom and brother.  

That voice, she has known me a long time, since I was nine to be exact. They are family to us. When we moved to Singapore she took me in as her son as she did with her own, Mohan and Anand, and Anand had not been born yet. It had been a few years since we had seen each other and we are just as comfortable as a family should be; yeah, and we look nothing alike yet we are the same. To Leela I’m still that 9 year old kid, adult sized now, in her eyes. I love it too, as it never ceases to amaze how God works to bring together lives across borders, cultures, and backgrounds to become family. And we are. 

Together again in Singapore

Me and Dad with Leela, Mohan, and Anand (with his son) 

He is always there for me and my Mom.  Our adventures over the years have carved treasured memories in our minds and hearts.  We are as close as our blood runs deep, he and my Mom got married in 1984 and I am truly grateful for my step-dad, I prefer to call him my bonus-dad. Max and I enjoy being around each other, A LOT. He served as a career public school teacher; he is a great builder, teacher, engineer, astronomer, sailor, and craft beer enthusiast. I’ve have learned much from him, the value of patience, desire to always learn, hard work, and being resilient.  Max also makes sure my Mom puts the recyclables, no not in the trash, in the recycling. 

together with Mom and Max

With my wife Angela, my Mom and Bonus-Dad Max

My brother nicknamed him Captain Planet, a superhero no doubt. It is a pleasure to live in the same city as his sister, my Aunt Daphne; a joy to be around her and her family too.  

me and aunt daphne

A visit with Aunt Daphne

The point of all the above is that people may notice that we are not of the same ethnic background. However that is certainly not what defines our relationship, rather it is our love and respect we have for each other, the desire and joy to be together and always looking forward to the next time.

It sure is hard to turn on the news or read much without there being racial divisiveness of some kind.  I find myself asking why can’t good and encouraging news get reported more often?

As I thought about something I could do, I reflected on my own experiences, relationships, and thought how about a place where that stuff is shared? Namely, stories that uplifted us all, from different ethnicities, cultures and backgrounds.  Akin to what John Krasinski did with Some Good News for eight weeks this past spring during COVID quarantine, however for racial unity.    

Rather than statements, which can serve as conversation stoppers, how about roll up the sleeves kind of conversations? It requires willingness to consider the perspectives and experiences of others as more important, in many ways, than your own perspective; unity demands communication, effort, and growth. It involves listening to one another, respecting and honoring one another, and being committed to not shouting down, attempting to silence, or not really listening to each other.  

That is what I want Bleed As One to be about, a place where street names or neighborhoods don’t matter, what we do or where we are from does not matter, and to serve as way to carry each other.  

What I have learned is that truly understanding and relating to friends and family from other cultures, backgrounds, and countries helps me walk in others shoes, and see through others eyes. 

And that is what this is all about; though we are not the same, we are one blood, and have one life with each other. So, let’s carry each other.

Could not find a better way to convey it more powerfully than this:  

Thanks for joining me!

Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much. — Helen Keller

carrying each other

We bleed as one,