Over the past week or so I have been holding four seemingly unrelated events together in my mind because in a strange way they seem to capture the essence of racial politics in our country today: the ongoing conflict and grief in Ferguson, MO over the shooting of an unarmed African-American boy Michael Brown by a local white police officer; the shooting of a seventeen year old African American boy by another African American young man as the former was coming out of a concert for peace on Wednesday, August 13 in Philadelphia; the ongoing financial crisis facing the Philadelphia public schools due to the Pennsylvania State Legislature cold-hearted unwillingness to give the schools the funding they need; and finally the Taney Dragons Little League team from Philadelphia who are currently playing in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA.
Yet as my friend Gwen Ragsdale, curator of the Lest WeForget Slavery Holocaust Museum, an institution dedicated to telling the story of African slavery and its continuing effects on communities today, has always told the groups I have brought to the museum, “While the white man for centuries committed violence against us, now we are doing to ourselves.” That is why the shooting at the peace conference is so horrific. Not only is there tragic irony in the event, but it demonstrates yet again how poverty, racism and violence mixed together create a volatile mix that leads young black men killing each other in so many communities across the nation. The legacy of racial hatred seen in Ferguson has now been internalized such that statistically speaking I as a white man am safer in many black communities than black and Latino men who live there.
It is a pretty bleak picture, but that is why I need to bring into focus the Taney Dragons, a team from Philadelphia playing in Williamsport at the Little League World Series. The Dragons are a multi-racial, cross-city collection of kids who love baseball, play it well and in so doing have captured the heart of the city and to a degree a nation. When I watch the Dragons, I think therein lies our hope. The hope is in the fact that despite the violence on their streets and the stress in their school system, these kids have come together to play some high quality baseball. More than that, they embody what a truly equitable, democratic, multiracial, multicultural society should be. According to Little League rules, every player on a team must play and have at least one at bat in every game; and at least in the Dragons case, all seem to have contributed to the team’s success. While the media has focused on Mone Davis, a thirteen year old girl with a 70+ mph fastball, what has impressed me is how well these kids play together. And Mone herself, when she is asked a question, always refers back to the team, and not herself as an individual.