Every February, I read and hear stories related the Black History Month, and it brings back a lot of memories. A few weeks ago, I shared some of my favorite stories in the column, but today I want to bring up one that’s a little more personal.
Years and years ago, more than I care to remember, I was attending junior high on Fort Huachuca, Ariz. At the time I was an avid reader largely due to the fact my parents took away our television, so reading was a primary form of entertainment.
So, one day in school in early February, my teacher announced a group on base was hosting a reading contest for Black History Month. Basically, the rules were pretty simple — read as many books as you could about African-American people or written by African-American authors. Every book you read, you had to write a short synopsis of the book explaining what it was about.
When I heard about a reading contest, I jumped at it. For the month, I read and read and read. As an avid sports fan, I read books about sports stars and I read books written by black authors, often about sports. Our school library set aside a section of books that qualified, so they were easy to find.
And I loved it. To this day, one of my favorite things in life is finding a great book and reading it cover to cover. If it’s good enough, I often have a hard time putting it down to sleep at night.
By the end of the month, I had finished more than 20 books and had turned in my reports on each one. And never one time during the month did it cross my mind, that as a very white child, I should consider not participating.
After the month ended, I kinda forgot about the contest until I came home one day and my mom told me we were invited to an awards ceremony. The night of the ceremony, I got dressed up in my Sunday best, while my mom put on her dress uniform.
And we walked into the church where the awards were going to be given out, and only then did I pause. In a church full of people, my mom and I were the only white people there.
But to be honest, we could not have been more welcome. Part of it was the military culture that doesn’t see skin color and part of it was my mom, a lieutenant colonel, was likely the highest-ranking person there.
But more than anything, I still believe, is the organizers didn’t care. They were just happy to see anyone participate. And for about an hour or so, they handed out awards to dozens of students. But my name was never called.
Finally, at the end of the ceremony, they go to the grand prize for the student who had read the most books. And then they called my name.
Despite being the only white child participating, there was a thunderous applause as they announced how many books I had read.
I think I won $500 that night, but even more important I learned a valuable lesson. I learned that race and skin color can be a big thing but it doesn’t have to be. We can all recognize the value of impact of talented people regardless of race, regardless of sexual orientation, regardless of gender.
I can read amazing books by black authors because I enjoy reading amazing books. You can listen to music by anyone because you enjoy their music. There is no test to determine what you can and can’t enjoy nor should there be.
So this month, and any month, find a book written by a black author — find 20 if you’d like — and enjoy them for that they are, great works of art.
David Rupkalvis is the publisher of the Del Rio News-Herald.