When I was a kid, I loved crayons.
In my desk at school were multiple plastic containers full of every hue Crayola had to offer.
My collection grew over time. As my friends left their crayons on the floor, I’d snatch them up.
I was the bastion of crayons in my elementary classrooms. If the paper wrapper somehow fell off or was ripped, that crayon had to go. Only the best made it in my collection.
I had the classic colors, but plenty of unique shades released throughout the mid-90s including “Tickle Me Pink,” one of Crayola’s most-loved tints, “Leather Jacket” and “New Car” (two crayons that actually smelled like their descriptions), and an inky black crayon with embedded glitter.
I loved my crayons and was proud of my hoard. Weirdly enough, I didn’t even like coloring — and I’m partially colorblind.
I’ve never been able to draw well, and even my penmanship is atrocious. Yet, classmates tended to sit at my desk cluster when certain art projects sprung up.
Despite my veritable surplus of crayons, I remember my classmates always struggling to draw humans accurately. We quickly grew tired of drawing humans with orange faces – there didn’t seem to be a crayon that worked.
I remember working with my friends to find the perfect color, and even solicited the help of my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Prime.
“Mrs. Prime, what color should we make our people?” we’d ask. She never had a great answer.
We settled on “peach.”
Young and ignorant
I never had a black teacher.
At my elementary school in Newton, Iowa, I remember several students who didn’t look like me. But, for the most part, we were all various shades of white.
That was normal.
Fast-forward to high school, and that theme continued. Baxter, Iowa, where I attended middle and high school, had a population of around 1,000. It’s a farming community, and about the furthest thing from what one might consider diverse.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with that. It was just reality.
Then I moved to Dubuque for college, and I was exposed to my first dose of racial diversity. How refreshing that was!
For the first 18 years of my life, my exposure to a world outside my bubble was seen through the television screen.
Before college, my perspective on the perils suffered by people of color was tainted by rose-colored glasses. It was easy to ignore — or quite frankly, be disinterested in — these issues.
Once at Loras, though, I became friends with people of different races. At the encouragement of my wife, Jeni, I became involved in several initiatives that, again, got me out of a bubble.
As a young person with plenty of opinions, I loved to flap my mouth. In college, I learned to listen.
Gaining perspective isn’t hard
Following college, my protection from society’s general ebb and flow continued as Jeni and I settled down in Maquoketa — her hometown. Now we are in our late 20s and the temptation to become complacent is palpable.
For most, life is pretty darn easy in rural Eastern Iowa. It’s quiet, safe, and neighbors wave at each other.
The same cannot be said for other areas across the country.
In America’s streets, from coast to coast, people of all colors are at odds with a society that still treats minorities as inferior. Americans are speaking out against police brutality, wage discrepancies and unsupported stereotypes fed by people who are similar to what I was in high school — clueless.
This is real. People are willing to risk contracting the coronavirus to fight for what they believe. They are not sheltered.
Many of us are sheltered. But that’s not an excuse anymore. Educate yourself. Read reliable sources for news, and learn.
If ignorance is bliss, cloud nine has no more vacancy.
What can be done?
From 1903 to 1962, Crayola’s peach-colored crayon was called “flesh.”
In 1962, Crayola voluntarily changed the name to what it is today.
Crayola’s decision was partially made for legal reasons, but in general the crayon’s name was changed as a reaction to the political climate and civil rights movement of the 1960s.
It was a seemingly simple change, but an important one that showed passionate voices can cause movement for the better.
Since then, Crayola has further evolved, and now offers a 24-pack of crayons called “Colors of the World.” Now, in classrooms across the world — including Newton and Baxter, Iowa — children can draw friends of any color they choose.
The same is happening now. A systematic restructuring of societal norms is gaining momentum.
We all choose to express our opinions differently. Some donate money to a cause. Some use their free time to peacefully protest for what they believe. Some run for public office.
Personally, I will take everything I’ve learned over my 29 years and use it to teach my son empathy the best I can. I want him to grow up knowing the world is much larger than what’s in front of his eyes.
As he grows, I know my wife and I will do our best to help him understand love has many shades.
After all, he has a crayon collection to build.