Editor’s note: Stan Shingles, Thomas Brown and Rickie Johnson, who were interviewed for this article, are African Americans and college friends of BCR Sports Editor Kevin Hieronymus
Stan Shingles, 61, Interim VP and Chief Diversity officer at Central Michigan University, was just 8 years old when the riots broke out in his hometown Chicago following the assassination of Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968. He didn’t understand what was going on.
“I looked outside of our house on the west side of Chicago and the grocery and department stores are on fire. I was 8 years old. The first question you asked your mother, ‘What’s going on?, and she said, ‘Martin Luther King was just assassinated,’” he said. “You don’t know what that means, because I was just so young. I just knew the place I bought my candy and the place I got my first Chuck Taylor All-Stars were on fire.
“That’s all that matter to me as an 8 year old. But its also the first time you start to understand injustices. Then you now start this 50-plus year-journey through those times that has had a lot of different kinds of dynamics.”
While staying primarily in his own neighborhood in Chicago growing up, Shingles was sheltered from much racism, unless he went to the south to visit family. Years later, Shingles experienced racism first hand when the his message board at his dorm was covered with racial slurs after his first weekend freshmen year at Illinois State University.
Thomas Brown, 60, who is in the printing business in Plainfield, spent his developing years in the 1960s growing up in Mississippi. His grandmother sent him to the store one day, along with his brother, to get groceries, and met a man, who let him know they weren’t welcome inside.
“My grandmother sent me and my brother, me being the older at 9 or 10 year old, and she gave us a list to go to town and pick up some stuff. When I got ready to walk into the store … God I’ll never forget this guy. A big old tall white guy stopped me, and he’s like, ‘Where you going boy?’ I said, ‘I’m going in to get some groceries, sir.’ (He said) ‘Don’t you know you can’t come in here?’ I’m like, ‘No sir, why?’ (He said) ‘You just can’t come in here. That’s all I can tell you.’”
Brown said the man asked for his list and got the groceries for him and brought them back outside. Brown paid his bill and went home. His grandmother asked if he got the groceries and he replied, “Yeah, but the guy wouldn’t let me go into the store, and I don’t understand that.”
“That’s when she sat down and proceeded to say, ‘There are some things you can not do, because of your skin color.’ I remember questioning her, ‘Why? I don’t understand why?’ Believe me, that story is still stuck in my head til this day.”
Raised in Mississippi until he moved to Chicago at 13, Brown said he developed some stereotypes of his own living in the south.
“There was the KKK and guys in white sheets. For us, when the (street) lights came on, we run on home, because you hear about somebody getting grabbed and brought into the woods and beaten up and stuff like that. We always made it home and never went out until daylight,” he said.
He said attending ISU changed his life and views, making many white friends.
Rickie Johnson, 57, grew up with very humble means on the west side of Indianapolis. His mother thought sports would be good for him and his brother and got them involved early in Boys Club. When Johnson, who played Div. 1 basketball for Illinois State University from 1981-85, first got involved in organized sports he was one of only a few black kids on the teams.
“Football was my main sport. I got singled out by a coach for something I did. Fortunately, I was pretty good and I didn’t get the brunt of it,” he said. “I can remember one game, I thought I had been hit out of bounds late. Basically the whole (other) team jumped on me, and I was a fifth grader, and these kids beat the crap out of me. And nobody on my team helped me. The next day my coach said I started it.”
As a talented athlete who played professionally, Johnson admitted he’s probably been shielded to a lot of acts of racism.
“You may not be exposed to some of the things other minorities have to go through. I probably was shielded to some things all the way through my ISU days, because of my athletic background,” he said.
The three men questioned for this story said they have been racially profiled, each more than once.
“Yes, I have. I hate to say that,” Brown said.
He said he was driving a new Camaro he had just bought in 1989 to visit his mother in Chicago. He was just getting ready to park and the “next thing I know, there’s flashing lights just came out of nowhere.” He moved down the street, because he thought maybe the police car could not get past him, and it followed him.
“Now, if I would have jumped out of the car like I did in 1989, I would have been dead,” he said. “I said, ‘Why are you following me? He said, ‘Get your hands up and all this stuff.’”
Brown said the police told him the car he was driving was similar to another car they were looking for, but there was no other car in sight.
“You want to trust them, but you can’t trust ‘em,” he said. “Like I tell my kids now, I hate to say this, ‘Go to a place that’s lit up, then pull over so other people can see you. If you’re out there by yourself, you never know what can happen.”
Shingles has had several instances of being racially profiled.
“Oh yeah, absolutely,” he said.
The first time was when he was driving a car years ago in Bloomington-Normal, where he attended ISU. Another car blew by him, and the next thing he knew, he was pulled over by the police. He didn’t really know it, when he got out of his car to question why he was pulled over, but put himself at risk with the officer unsnapping the holster of his gun and ordering him to put his hands on his car.
“You forget these things until something happens to trigger your memory,” he said, noting today’s similar instances.
He noted a similar instance when he was followed by an unclothed security man at a department/grocery store.
“I can remember turning to him and saying, ‘I have no reason to steal out of this store. I can buy anything in this store,’’’ he said.
Shingles said he used his own experiences as lessons for his son.
“I told my son when he started driving, ‘You keep your hands on the wheel, you never open your mouth to say anything, and we’re always going to make sure your license and registration and those things are up to date,’” he said.
Johnson, who returned to live in Bloomington-Normal after his basketball days to work for ISU, said he doesn’t know if it was profiling or not, but he’s been pulled over for no significant reasons.
“The thing about it, you don’t know it and it’s a delayed reaction,” he said. “I’ve been pulled out (my car), faced down in handcuffs, Main Street Bloomington. Laying down flat on my face, yeah. I’ve had my (car) seats totally pulled out (looking for something). It’s scary. I’ve never had a gun pointed at me or a gun at my head or a knee to the neck like some of the things you see now, but if you’re sitting on the curb handcuffed while they’re tearing up your car, it’s demoralizing, man.”
Part 2 Saturday: Where does America need to go from here?
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