I was born and raised in Virginia where the population is not much different than here in Kent County.
Although I was raised by my single mother, my father has always been in my life. Then when my mother got married I had two dads. Life was great.
After visiting Chestertown several times, traveling back and forth every weekend I decided that this is where I wanted to plant my feet. I just fell in love with this place. The people were friendly, everyone spoke and waved when you saw them just like back home. I called it my home away from home and my city in the country.
I remember different parades like Butlertown Day at Mt. Olive Church, Betterton Day at the Beach, the Tea Party and even the Easton parade. They were always fun-filled days. I loved the way all the different communities — White and Black — seemed to come together as one to make the events successful.
Even though I was a newcomer to the area and an outsider I still felt very comfortable moving my family here.
My thoughts and feelings are most definitely not the same.
When my kids got older and involved in school activities and sports I began to experience racism in this county. My kids are 8 years apart so I experienced both Garnet and Worton elementary schools and both went to Chestertown Middle and graduated from Kent County High.
My first experience with racism was in Worton. Most of the white teachers at that time were pretty awesome but then there were a few bad apples who we all knew treated Black children unfairly.
I knew I had to bring it to their attention.
Very little changed until a white parent agreed to go with me and share the racism that she saw. I was hurt that my concerns were only taken seriously when they were backed up by a white parent.
I had to continue to confront the racism they experienced throughout their education.
My son, who is my youngest child, was very athletic and played every sport he could from age 5 until he graduated in 2017.
As a younger boy his absolute favorite sport was baseball. But suddenly when he was around 11 or 12 years old he stopped playing rec baseball.
He came to me after practice one day and said “Mom, why is there only one or two blacks on the team and most importantly why are we never on the field together? Why are we (the Blacks) always outfield? Do they (the Whites) think we are not good enough to play infield?”
Now this came from my son, who is 12 years old.
I noticed it a few years back but I would never sway my son from doing what he loved. That totally broke my heart, especially when I knew the love my son had for baseball.
I didn’t like the thoughts that were going through my mind. But I was not the only Black parent who was learning about the coach’s prejudice. I taught my kids to be respectful to everyone, but now it was clear he was not being treated that way.
The hurt on his face and the sound of his voice was devastating to me.
These things changed how I felt about the town I once loved and where I chose to raise my family. But what needs to happen is that these things need to change.
Recognize that we are qualified for the same positions as White people, see that we have the exact same experience and credentials.
Stop making us feel like we always have to prove ourselves. Stop thinking we all are getting welfare because there are even more Whites in the system than Blacks.
See us and remember it’s okay to speak with us; we won’t bite.
But most of all, remember that no family wants to put their pride and dignity to the side just to live here, in this place we all love.
We deserve respect.
Carlene Wilson is a member of the Social Action Committee for Racial Justice Steering Committee and a leader of the Feed the Elderly Initiative.