People often overlook the power of influence. We don’t realize just how far our actions go and how deep the impact on others. One night, about 10 years ago, I realized the power of my influence, here is the story…
During the Thanksgiving holiday my high school class met for our five-year reunion (yes, I know, a five-year reunion is little weird but it’s tradition at our school). As I was standing around, one of my classmates (a Caucasian male) walked up from behind me and put his arm around my neck. “Romaine”, he said, “ I wouldn’t say this to you if I weren’t drunk”. Needless to say my interest was immediately piqued. He proceeded to tell me that his father was a racist and that he was raised to believe very negative things about African Americans (he mentioned a few but I think I blocked them out as I can’t remember them today). He then thanked me for being myself and told me that knowing and watching me in high school allowed him to see that his father’s opinion of African Americans was wrong. He told me that he was a police officer assigned to a predominantly Black district and that being able to interact with me in high school has helped him do his job better. He said it helped because he doesn’t see the Black people he deals with as his father had taught him but as people, people like me.
I was at a loss for words but managed to squeeze out a question, “Which district?” It turned out he was assigned to the district where I grew up and where my mother still lives to this day. He gave me his phone number, told me to call him directly if my mother ever had any problems and promised he would do everything he could to help. A few weeks later he kept that promise as a conflict between my mother and her neighbor required police assistance. He came immediately to handle the situation and patrolled my mother’s street for weeks to ensure there was no further problems.
Let me say that I did nothing special to influence this guy. We were in the same homeroom all four years of school and shared a few classes, that was it. I had no idea he was being taught such things at home and that, internally, he was struggling with those ideas.
I think about this night every time I see something about conflict between the police and the Black community. Then I get emotionally overwhelmed as I consider the possibility that, by just being a positive person, I may have saved a life because there is one less cop profiling citizens because of their race. One less cop using his authority to fulfill distorted ideas about a group of people. One less bigot wearing a blue uniform.
The Power of Influence...Think Legacy.