published Friday, March 14th, 2014

Cook: How one can save the other

Suzy and Curtis Baggett are white.

Charles Adamson is black.

And they love each other.

"He is like a son to me," said Curtis.

"Yes, I love them," said Charles. "If I didn't have parents, they'd be my parents."

We don't hear words like this much. We argue about Trayvon and Macklemore's Grammy and Ted Nugent calling our black president a subhuman mongrel.

But we don't talk much about interracial friendships, of the sweet by-and-by that comes from true black-and-white relationships. One reason why? They barely exist. As a barometer, picture any social setting in Chattanooga: restaurants, bars, golf courses, churches. It's white and white, black and black.

"Those social settings tend to be segregated," reported NPR.

It costs us economically (blacks do not have access to the ideas and business connections that emerge from these mostly white settings), socially (mono-culture is no culture at all) and morally (this land is your land, this land is my land).

Perhaps then the most revolutionary thing we can do is to befriend one another, truly and fully. It's the antithesis of prejudice. It's medicine against a narrow racial perspective that can harden like arteries in a heart.

"I'm 67," Curtis said. "I did not want to go to my grave being a narrow person."

As many things do in the South, their story began on a front porch.

Each unaware of the other, Adamson, 42, and the Baggetts attended a series of intentional conversations at Tresa and Franklin McCallie's home, where blacks and whites came together to talk about racial barriers and how to overcome them.

"I didn't have any black friends. I had acquaintances," said Curtis, who's retired from McCallie School. "I worked with a few black colleagues. But I never asked any of them to my house for dinner. We'd never sat down and talked about racial issues or what it means to be black or white. It was time to take another step."

"We are so used to being in our comfort zones where it's easy," said Suzy. "There is a lot we need to learn."

"We miss a lot of opportunities in life if I stay in my black corner and he's in his white corner," said Charles.

Suzy and Curtis met Charles for Sunday lunch, which turned into an afternoon spent talking on the front porch.

Soon, the Baggetts took Charles to his first Episcopalian church service; he took them to a gospel concert.

They cheered for Charles' daughter as she played softball. (Her name's Lauren; she's an outfielder and catcher, and she hugs Suzy and Curtis like her own flesh and blood.)

Suzy painted a pastel portrait of Charles and Lauren, which then became part of the Baggetts' Christmas card. Charles told them stories about what it feels like to walk into a store as the only black man and have the manager begin to follow you around. They had long talks about fatherhood.

They garden together. They joke about one of them being bald. (Not telling who). They eat Reubens and drink sweet tea together. They've prayed together. They've been honest about what it feels like to be discriminated against, and the shame of staying silent.

They're creating their own post-racial America, where the dream is less likely to be deferred, where love matters more than color.

That's why the Baggetts are now working to save Charles' life.

In the fall of 2011, Charles, 42, collapsed in his Ooltewah kitchen. Doctors diagnosed him with kidney disease, and told him he needed a transplant to live. They gave him eight years.

Charles joined the National Foundation for Transplants registry and started saving money (he's project manager for Adamson Development, his father's construction company) to pay the $25,000 needed to cover post-surgery medication.

Then the Baggetts got involved: driving him to dialysis at 5 in the morning, forming a fundraising team -- Curtis worked for 30 years in development at McCallie -- that's already raised $14,000.

They've had a gospel concert. This May, there's a softball tournament. Strangers have sent checks, others offered Charles their extra kidneys. (Visit the Facebook page "Support Charles Adamson" to see more).

This Tuesday, four restaurants -- Community Pie, Urban Stack, Milk & Honey, Taco Mamacita -- will donate 15 percent of all their lunch and dinner sales to the fund.

"You gave me hope," Charles said to the Baggetts.

"The blessing has been ours," Suzy said back.

"We have a kinship and relationship I never thought possible with someone of a different race," Curtis said.

Black has entered into white, and white has merged with black, forming something precious, something life-saving.

Just like a transplant.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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jjmez said...

That's not the issue. Most all can find some level to relate to someone of a different race, ethnicity, gender, religion. Even Strom Thurmond discovered his tolerance level of relating. Get my drift?

It's not about people we get to know, then can feel a level of comfort and tolerance being around. It's about that stranger who looks different we encounter then feel compelled to cross over to the other side of the street. There are people of different races and ethnic backgrounds who attend church together, dine out occasionally, work together. Yet those same people will call the police to report a suspicious person in the community who's lived in the community longer than they have. And the police have been known to respond accordingly; harass, jackup et. You have people relating to people of a different race in a controlled environment yet they don't even speak to their next door black neighbor they lived beside for decades. Spread false rumors about that neighbor with help of authority.

The same restaurant or bar that would come together and do a charity benefit for a person of color may also have a policy where they allow only a certain number of people of that same race inside their restuarant or bar on any given day. example: The black corporate manager of a well known restaurant/bar sent down from St. Louis to upgrade training etc. was turned away from another well know local bar when workers invited him out before heading back to St. Louis. Oh, the rebuff wasn't meant to be obvious, racial bias. They had a lame excuse, but everyone, even the white workers who invited him caught on. Seems this establishment has an unwritten code where they only allow a certain number of blacks in on any given night. That really left an impression of the real behind the scenes Chattanooga on that manager from St. Louis.

*Even producer, writer, actor Spike Lee's father, a musician, isn't immune. He was recently a victim of gentrification in his New York home he'd lived in since the 1960s when new neighbors to the community called police on him. So how do we remedy perception? Stereotyping? Racial profiling when everyone's outside their comfort mode?

March 14, 2014 at 9:45 a.m.
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