Readers write: Childhood lesson on racial justice

Letter to the editor for the December 20, 2021 weekly magazine. A reader shares his earliest memory of racism and how it inspired his career.


Wake-up call on race

Thanks for your timely Oct. 18 article “A risk that worked: Talking about race head-on with neighbors.” This comment will arrive a bit delayed, due to the slow delivery of the weekly magazine to my home in Western Europe. But it may prove useful to you anyway.

My first face-to-face wake-up call on race occurred at age 6 or 7 in my hometown of Lansing, Michigan. My family lived on North Logan Street in an unpretentious middle-class white district. Five blocks away the street became South Logan and ran through a Black neighborhood to the Oldsmobile factory. But I grew up deprived of friends from that district who attended the Abraham Lincoln elementary school. I learned only years later that this barrier of school segregation resulted from redlining real-estate pacts to prevent racial mixing.

A small park a half block from our home offered a few boyhood friends and me a large clump of bushy trees to climb along the sidewalk. One fair summer day my classmate Bobby and I had taken to scaling the trees when a pedestrian passed on the sidewalk below us and must have stopped, curious at the noise of us clamoring in the branches above. “Who’s that?” I recall asking Bobby. “Oh,” he replied, “it’s only a [racial slur].”

The passerby – a Black teenager – immediately found his way through the underbrush and urged us to come down so he could “tell us a secret.” Who could resist such a friendly invitation. Both my friend and I quickly joined him to hear what he had to tell us. The youth placed a hand on both our heads and unceremoniously bashed them together. As we stared at him in pained bewilderment, he departed from the thicket and our lives.

Wailing in tears, Bobby and I ran to my nearby home where my mother was pruning foliage in the front yard. “What was wrong?” she asked. Bobby told her about our misadventure, leaving no details out in describing our comeuppance. My mother, a substitute school teacher, listened carefully, placed her hands on her hips, and delivered her verdict.

“It serves you right,” she told us, and then explained why the older boy was right in bashing our heads together. That first lesson in racial justice left an indelible impression on me. It led to me reading our Monitor subscription every day, inspired by its coverage of racism not only in the South but in places like Chicago and Detroit. In time it led to me studying journalism in our backyard university, Michigan State, before moving to Boston to work as a copy boy in the Monitor newsroom.

Eventually I became a staff writer myself, covering the New England social welfare beat. I spent three years in the Army during the Vietnam War but returned to Boston as an editor of the Zee-pages, or photo pages,  before being reassigned to New York to cover the War on Poverty and then relocating to Washington, D.C., with my wife and children to cover Congress for the rest of the 1960s. It included writing about the final passage of the Fair Housing Act as well as a 1969 nationwide investigative reporting series titled “Race and Jobs.”

So, as you say, talking about race “at the street level” can go a long way toward bringing about urgently needed change. The bruise to my head as a schoolboy “feels good” today. I’m glad to see that you’re as committed to that healing goal as I am. 

By the way, back in my hometown, North and South Logan streets have now been renamed the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. I feel especially proud to know that. Keep up the good work!

Lyn Shepard
Bern, Switzerland

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Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

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