Happy Anniversary, Emancipation Proclamation

I have to admit if I didn't follow cool pages like TheRoot.com on Facebook, the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation might have completely escaped my notice.

Glad I caught it and shared it on my own Facebook wall before heading out into the frozen tundra otherwise known as Chicago winter with my goofy black lab for his first walk of the New Year. That little nugget of information gave me the opportunity share the following teaching moment with two potential future leaders.

Mickey and I were heading home from our morning walk when I noticed two young men I didn't know standing on the corner, looking at a cell phone screen. One of them was toking up. They were both dressed much too lightly for the weather--windbreaker-weight jackets and no gloves or hats.

Happy New Year, I called out from across the street.

Startled, they looked up. The roach in the one young man's hand mysteriously vanished. Happy New Year, he said tentatively.

Hey, do you know where 7XXX N Paulina is, the other one asked. The address they were looking for was across the street from where they were standing and two doors down. The address numbers were hidden under the canopies all the businesses on that street were supposed to begin sporting as part of the alderman's streetscaping project.

Where you from, I asked, before telling them they were less than 50 feet from their desired destination.

Out west, the taller one replied. They were both visibly shivering under the 17-degree New Year's Day sun, so I didn't want to keep them. I pointed them to the address they were looking for. They said thanks and began to walk away.

Hey! I stopped them in their tracks. Did you know today is the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation?

No, the shorter one said. What's that?

I studied them for another moment. They were both handsome young men. The taller one had shoulder length dreadlocks and eyes that sparkled with intelligence and great promise. (Really. I'm not being sarcastic.) His wannabe buddy struck me as the cut-up of the two--just not taking life too seriously.

The day the slaves were freed, I reminded them. Today is the 150th anniversary of the freeing of the slaves.

Now it was their turn to pause for a moment. No, I didn't know that, the tall one, responded. Still shivering, they turned to make their way to A Just Harvest offices, one of the many local non-profits seeking to provide food, education and opportunities to people in my community.

Keep the dream alive! I called after them. Fuckin' A right! They laughed at my expletive. They both thanked me and wished me a Happy New Year.

And pull your pants up, I said with a grin to the shorter one's receding back.

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