All for One

Melting Pot Meets Mosaic


I have been living on the Key Peninsula since Oct. 25, 2007. I moved here to increase the diversity and to be as close as I can to the water. I also thought that because I made it out of the trap that some of us Black men grow up in, that people out here would respect me and say, “Hey, he made it.” But that was not true.

I was on the KP Community Council for at least 10 years. During that time, I met a lot of people. Some I had challenges with and some I learned from, which contributed to my success. Each knows who they are. The KPCC gave me an avenue to venture out and engage with people from other committees and parts of our community. Some are still here, and some are not, but they are still in my heart. I know those spirits have given me a pass to live here and continue to do my work independently.

But I sure miss Ruth Bramhall calling me every month to let me know not to forget our meetings are on the second Wednesday, “because your presence is needed.” I still remember every time I went anywhere in the community and seeing Hugh McMillian, who always said, “Hey, when are you going to join the Lions Club?” He always had an application and a pen in his pocket, so you couldn’t make an excuse.

As I read books about the Key Peninsula, I found there wasn’t much diversity around here. Looking at the historic photos of School No. 32 on Filucy Bay a century ago made me think of what life might have been like then for someone like me, what life for my ancestors would have looked like here. Some merchants or mill owners did go to the Purdy Spit and traded items with the Native people in the area, but for the most part they lived somewhere else because they didn’t belong anymore.

Kind of still feels that way, when I see and hear the things I do around here, or when people who don’t know me treat me a certain way. But instead of trying to work with people that have nothing to do with who I am and what I’m destined to be, I just work with the communities by myself.

When kids call each other derogatory names, we need to realize it comes from their environment. People are not born racist; it stems from their ecological perspective — their environment. Times are changing and our society is going to be more and more diverse and more and more challenged. We used to call it a melting pot, but now it’s more of a mosaic, or a tapestry. Whether we like it or not, we are going to have to learn to accommodate each other.

It is up to us parents to help our kids. One example is to make sure they are in a school where they are going to thrive. How would my son be able to thrive if he sees no one in class that looks like him? How will he be able to retain his Caribbean-speaking heritage if he is not surrounded by children that are also diverse or who are learning to look at life from an international perspective, and not on a micro level?

It is my job to prevent him from experiencing fourth-grade failure syndrome. It is my job to have pictures of people who look like him on my walls, and toys that he can identify with so that he won’t suffer from schizoid play. That means preventing his imitative play from accidentally laying any type of foundation for feelings of inferiority, self-hatred or rejection of himself. He needs more time with someone like Black Panther than Superman, or Disney’s new Black mermaid that has somehow upset so many people.

I finally realized some people don’t want change when I saw that shadow from an allegoric perspective. Accepting something different means they have to become different. Because ignorance starts in the home, it could take a generation or two to change course in one’s ecological perspective.

When I see a child in trouble in my practice, or anywhere, I talk to them about it in terms they can understand. Maybe their parents are being mean because of their own unmitigated trauma, or their transference of feelings on them. Maybe the child needs to ask hard questions, needs to be seen and heard for who they are. That is something I’ve felt, and something I can do. Ruth and Hugh may not be around to remind me anymore, but I remain focused on the role my ancestors paved for me.

Rion Tisino is a longtime social worker. He lives in Longbranch.