Late 1949, dad buys the Holland bakery. We move into a modest home on East Highland Avenue. We escape Los Angeles for a wonderland of orange, palm and pepper trees.
I’m 5 years old and exit the backyard to an alley that bisects the block. I’m greeted by new playmates. I don’t notice their hair is black, their skin is tanner than mine. The Munoz and Cabral kids. We terrorize the neighborhood.
I’m in fourth grade at Kingsbury, and they have put a TV on the stage of the cafeteria. World Series. I fall for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Great names — Peewee, Junior, Duke. Then comes the novelty of black players. I loved Roy Campanella. A joyful man.
I attend eighth and ninth grade at the new Cope Junior High (go Eagles). Leslie Owens is student body president both years. Leslie is our only black student. Leslie is smart, likable, a natural leader. He was an outstanding president.
It’s on to Redlands High (go Terriers) — maybe 10 black kids. They are active in student government, scholarship society, music, drama, sports and all. I never thought of race. It seemed blacks, Latinos and whites all walked in the same footsteps, preparing for the next step in life.
Going from Redlands to Cal Berkeley (go Bears) was like leaving Earth for another planet, with students from all over the country, all over the world. I make my first Asian friends. It’s 1961, and there are movements — “Free Speech,” “Get out of Vietnam,” “Burn the Bra” (wow). I’m tripping over hippies. My black teammates are wonderful men, far more serious students than me.
My wife Monica was born in New Orleans. She has a “C” for “Colored” on her birth certificate. She describes herself as Cajun. My in-laws are all shades of brown. Their homes are just like my family homes. Pictures of family on the mantel, bacon and eggs for breakfast. Diversity is exaggerated. We are the same.
But as racism troubles our nation, troubles the world. I have noticed some good things:
• We are the only country in the world with a large, black middle class.
• After the first Gulf War, Colin Powell emerged as a national hero. Highest political approval rating ever. Both parties wanted him to be their presidential candidate. He said no.
• So it should not have been a surprise when Obama became president. In-laws and black friends predicted his assassination. Instead he enjoyed two terms. We saw the charming daughters grow up. Michele is adored by millions.
• I have noticed how there are black mayors in so many major cities — Chicago, Houston, Memphis, Atlanta, San Francisco, Detroit, St Louis, Denver, Philly and more. Black police chiefs are so numerous too. When Biden wins the presidency, Kamala Harris will soon take the presidential reins out of Joe’s hands.
• One must attend a naturalization ceremony. New American citizens from Central and South America, countless countries in Africa, from all over Asia, Mexico. They are dancing, singing, some are crying, others laughing. Some wear turbans, some wear hijabs. Waving little American flags.
Their dream has come true. Many have escaped violence, oppression and woeful poverty. They rave about the love they have received here, about the freedom, the safety, the opportunity that is now theirs.
Even as I share how attending the MLK Museum will tear your heart apart, the horrors of racism, we remain the most diverse country in the world. People are terribly flawed. So it follows nations will be flawed.
Dan Wolthers, who once played for Jerry Tarkanian at Redlands High School, was captain of the Cal Bears in 1965 and was drafted by the Golden State Warriors, worked in medical sales for 37 years. He now lives in Sacramento.