Deleted Scene 3 – Randal’s Story

Removed from Strategy 1 as a Callout Box
Partially Combined with Deleted Scene #3 and Placed in Strategy 1 as a Callout Box

Our townhouse in East Windsor kept my mother connected to her city roots. When she and Dad were looking for houses, they gravitated to the townhouse instead of one of the many free-standing homes in the area because Mom didn’t want to be isolated. She liked the idea of neighbors being close by.

The style of that house – where Mom still lives today – may be one of the only parallels one could draw when comparing Philadelphia and East Windsor. We went from a big, diverse city to a small, largely Jewish suburban township.

We weren’t the only Blacks in the area. The Canadian family that sold the house to my parents made a point of telling some of our black neighbors-to-be that we were moving into the neighborhood and they were there, soon after we moved in, welcoming us to the neighborhood and letting my parents know they weren’t alone.

My mom and dad along with other parents in the area formed “Our Kids,” which we talked about early in the chapter. The group brought together black kids of all ages to take part in activities and cultural events and gave me and my brother, Dan, a black peer group and the beginnings of a black identity. I came from a spiritual family, attended a black church and my parents kept us linked to our relatives by making frequent visits to Philadelphia.

Our family was particularly close to another family – the Abbotts. The Abbotts were from the U.S. Virgin Islands. Their son Wayne would later become a significant role mode and influence on me and JR at Rutgers. (We’ll talk more about Wayne later).

But the neighborhood and our schools were mostly white and so much of our social circle was made up of white kids. When I was in junior high it was pretty common for me be invited to and to an attend Bat Mitzvahs – a celebration to mark the “coming of age” of Jewish boys and girls.

I was fairly insulated from racial issues. When I was a Cub Scout I entered a box car derby. Box cars are unpowered and depend on gravity to move. Part of the contest – and the fun – is building your car yourself. Well, the first time I entered I won! The next year when I entered the scout leaders told my mother that I had to enter with a different car and on the day of the race I had to bring both cars – the one that I used the first year and the new one. As if we couldn’t be trusted to play by the rules.

To be fair – we don’t know for sure if the request to bring the car was racially motivated, but it certainly raised my parents’ eyebrows. I was too young to know the difference. All I remember is that I raced the second time and didn’t win.

I was so shielded, in fact, that I didn’t realize that one of my early attempts at getting a girlfriend was thwarted because of my race. In 8th grade, on the heels of being rejected by a Black girl named Brooks who thought I was too nerdy, I began spending a lot of time with a white cheerleader named Morgan. I was on the basketball team and we’d spend time together after games. We talked on the phone at night for hours, and slow danced at and had make-out sessions in the bathroom at parties.

We weren’t “officially” boyfriend and girlfriend, but everyone knew we were together. Maybe I should have had a clue from the unofficial nature of our relationship what would eventually come to pass. I asked Morgan to the 8th grade dance and she went home to ask her mom. She returned the next day and told me she couldn’t go with me. I was completely unaware of the underlying issues that were at hand.

The reason Morgan gave me was that her mother wanted her to go with Scott, a friend of mine who liked her, too. Her mom’s rationale was that she had known Scott longer than she knew me. Morgan didn’t like Scott and we both knew that she didn’t want to go with him. Morgan ended up going to the dance by herself and so did I.

My romantic life had its ups and downs, but for the most part, following in Dan’s footsteps, I became a high achiever. I was on the honors track – my mother made sure of it – and was frequently the only black student in my classes. Like my father, I was naturally good at science and math.

At times, being the only black student in so many of my classes – I was the lone African American in every class except gym – made me feel self-conscious. When topics like the Civil Rights Movement came up I felt like the spotlight was on me. I felt like I had to speak for all black people and felt pressure to represent black people in a positive light.

One thing that linked me to other Black students was athletics. I discovered I had athletic ability early playing all kinds of sports including softball, basketball, soccer and track and field. When I went to high school in Hightstown* – which neighbored East Windsor – I encountered more Black students, but I didn’t get to spend much time with them because I was in honors-level classes.

My athleticism helped bridge the gap. The turning point was during a basketball game when I dunked the ball – at the time a fairly rare occurrence for any player. The maneuver minted me a minor celebrity. I got pats on the back from black students, who up to that point hadn’t spent much, if any, time with me socially.

Although I didn’t have a lot of black friends at high school I was popular. I was voted homecoming and prom king, ‘best personality’ and spoke at my high school graduation. I left high school on a high note – with lots of friends and a scholarship to attend Rutgers. It would probably have been a shock to my high school friends to find out just how lonely my first days on campus really were.

*Hightstown High School was about 10 percent black and 3 percent Latino.

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