I never took swimming lessons as a child.
In fact, as a kid with bad asthma growing up, I generally detested being in water higher than three feet.
All of that changed at 11 years old when I traveled from Chicago’s South Side to a Michigan water park sitting on a lake.
The lake had a beach with a pier. The pier was utilized by the park as a “ride” where patrons took turns grabbing hold of a thick robe and swinging themselves out to the midst of this lake, letting go, and plunging into the depths below.
Obviously I could not perform the actions of an 80s Mountain Dew commercial, so I refrained.
I, like many others, opted to play along the lake’s shore and wade in the shallow waters.
Every now and then I would have courage, put my face into the water, and wildly kick my way through attempting to swim.
It seemed innocent enough at the time.
On one attempt I ventured too far, and I wound up in waters 25-30 feet deep. I bobbed up and down in the waters like a broken plunger in full on panic mode, flailing my arms and fighting mostly still waters.
Each fight took me deeper with each bob, and I swallowed and inhaled gushes of the murky green water.
It did not taste “country cool,” as Mountain Dew was dubbed in the 80s.
“Help!” I gargled, alone and afraid.
No one came.
Exhausted and expended of my preadolescent strength, I experienced a profound spiritual moment for a young person.
I concluded I was going to die.
It felt as if no one was on earth in that moment.
In fact, I did not even feel like I was in water, or in my body.
At that moment, time seemed to melt into oblivion.
The sun’s rays shined through the pieces of choppy water I once fought and reflected in countless directions.
“God take me. I guess I was meant to die young,”I spoke through my spirit submissively.
I then let go.
I stopped flailing. I did nothing but seemingly sink to the bottom.
Everything became still. Calm.
All of sudden in a flash I saw my life before me.
And my it was much longer than 11 years.
Tastes. Smells. Joy. Pain. Love. Loss. Triumph. Falure.
I realized then I wanted ALL of it.
In the moment of my paradoxical epiphany, I heard a faraway voice whisper: “LIVE.”
An inner knowing and jarring power wrestled my 100 pound frame to began anew.
With that, I swam.
Like a fish.
It took mere seconds to get to shore.
Upon reaching the beach’s lip I looked up to the pier to discover all the white faces going about their fun waiting in line to swing out to the lake.
Someone had to notice me drowning and screaming for help.
As I began to step out to the awaiting wet sand wiping my eyes, I caught the attention of a white male, mid 20s, average height, athletic build, with brownish blonde hair.
He was the lifeguard.
He appeared to have dual duties of not only being a lifeguard, but being one of a group of park employees ushering people to the aforementioned rope and pushing them into the lake .
“Hey! Why didn’t you jump in to save me?! I was drowning!” I pleaded.
“Oh, I thought you were playing!” he said dismissively.
My heart sank.
At that moment I looked at him with the disgust of 400 years.
His face became uncomfortable for a brief moment as our souls seemed to touch, him looking down at me from the pier and I up at him from the beach below.
“That’s fucked up,” I stated exasperatedly.
I walked up to the level where the beach met the pier and stared at him as I walked off, shaking my head.
He then turned around indifferently and went about his activities, helping push people on the rope into the water.
I immediately wanted to leave the park.
Since that incident I’ve learned every swim stroke and I can swim like an Olympian.
I tell that story because of the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election and its depressing uncertainty.
I’m also reminded of the varying paths over the course of human history that have lead us to the United States of America as a melting pot, and the water park feels like a metaphor for it.
Like the water park millions are drowning in bigotry, xenophobia, sexism, and homophobia and are scared to death of what will happen next.
And while many drown, there are people who just go about their lives, playing, laughing and feeling unaffected by that same system of the park they benefit from.
Even those who notice, their response to pleas for acknowledgement is a visceral reaction that people are just making it up.
A race card. A woman card. An LGTBQ+ card.
What those people are really saying is, they don’t think our lives are worth enough to inquire about.
And we’re supposed to just sit there and take it. Move along.
That’s something to look right in the face and say, “that’s fucked up.”
We must not let our voices go silent now. They are needed more than ever.
We must organize, strategize, and build coalitions across race, class, religion, education, and region to build a more tolerable place where all lives are equally accepted, valued, and engaged.
And we must get to work now.
And yes, like many, I feel like leaving the park immediately.
However, we cannot afford to leave America in a fit of tantrum and go to Canada, Europe, or anywhere else.
Our Union demands we stay and work to perfect it.
So hell no, I ain’t goin’ nowhere.
I belong here.
We ALL belong here.
In fact, let’s run out on the pier and swing too.
We all deserve the right to taste true country cool.
Exavier B. Pope I, Esq. is an award-winning attorney, on-air legal analyst, media personality, Fortune 500 speaker, content creator, writer, tastemaker, thought leader, and yogi. Mr. Pope is the host of #SuitUP Podcast for his production company 528 Media Group, and host of the Radical Inspiration Podcast. Mr. Pope has over 200+ appearances on air, including international television on BBC and Al Jazeera English; national television on Fox News Channel, HLN, NBC Nightly News, Al Jazeera America, WGN Morning News, Fox Business Channel, and Huff Post Live; Top 3 Local Media Markets on Fox, CBS, and NBC; international radio on BBC Radio; national radio on ESPN Radio, Clear Channel Radio, NBC Sports Radio, CBS Sports Radio; written and contributed digitally to The Hollywood Reporter, CNBC, Huffington Post, Jet, and Black Enterprise; and has appeared in other media outlets nationally and internationally. Mr. Pope is represented by top media and literary agency RLR Associates.
© 2016, Exavier B. Pope I, Esq., 528 Media Group.
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