Something was about to happen
White people following a black man through a parking lot. This couldn't end well.
The white couple was following the young black man through the parking lot. He seemed aware of them, and was speeding up.
I could tell this would not end well.
My wife Lana and I had finished a rare date lunch and were sitting in the park for ten minutes of sunshine. She was saying something important, but I kept noticing those three people behaving strangely.
A young man, black, early twenties, was weaving his way in and out of parked cars. He seemed to be walking with purpose but then would veer backwards. Wherever he was heading, he wasn’t getting there.
The older white pair seemed to be in their early forties. She was dressed casually and was watching the young man intently. Her partner was muscle-bound, wore a tank-top, sunglasses, and a baseball cap. Tough-looking.
The young man glanced over his shoulder at them and sped up. It was obvious that he saw them now.
“Something’s about to happen,” I told my wife. “Those people keep following that guy.”
Then the woman pulled out her cellphone. She held it up and began filming the young man and walking faster. Her tank-top wearing partner sped up too. They were now about twenty feet behind him and closing in fast. Before they’d just been rude—watching and following—but now it was invasive.
I felt myself tense up. It was obvious where this was heading. Anyone who watches the news might imagine what happens next. White people accosting a black man for no good reason. It never goes well for anyone.
They were about ninety feet away—I figured I could get over there in ten seconds if things got physical or heated. Maybe I could diffuse the showdown. We weren’t the only ones noticing the situation. There were a handful of others in the park, both black and white, who’d stopped what they were doing to watch. I saw a couple of cellphones out, one black lady was already filming. There was even a photographer off to the side. This would be latest ugly confrontation to end up on YouTube and TV.
The young man then veered out of the parking lot, down some steps, and into the open grassy space. He was jogging quickly toward a college-aged white woman, whose back was to him.
The older couple had stopped chasing, but they were still filming, and watching with laser intensity.
The young man tapped the young woman’s shoulder. She turned, shocked. He lowered himself to one knee and held out a small white box. He spoke. She covered her mouth, squealed, nodded, and they embraced. The photographer was now circling them, and capturing everything. Then she aimed her camera at the older couple who were now sprinting over.
The mother hugged her daughter, and they cupped one another’s faces, laughing and crying, and looking at the ring. The older guy with the tank top arrived. He grabbed the young man and pulled him in for a bear hug. They stood there laughing, gesturing, and talking at once—a happy dad with his future son-in-law, who had pulled off the perfect surprise proposal.
The watching crowd broke into a spontaneous cheer.
See,” I said to my wife. “I told you something was about to happen.”
This was really quite an ordinary event (people getting engaged), but it stuck with me. Here are a couple observations and a good reminder for myself.
First, how fortunate we were to see the proposal happen! Marriage is a blessing. I hope theirs is joy-filled, loving, and fruitful.
Second, this was a love story, but most of us watching couldn’t see it. It was about a young man declaring love to a young woman, and bringing her parents along for the celebration. It was a story of family—of good changes and joy and expansion. But those of us watching assumed it was all about race, assumed the worst, and nearly missed the unfolding beauty.
Third, the intentional practice of curiosity is needed more than ever. To be curious is to be open, teachable, and hold space for nuance and revelation. In this case, my own curiosity had been supplanted by a hyper-racialized lens. Instead of watching to discover, I was watching for confirmation of a familiar headline.
And that’s the small reminder I took away: to stay curious. To be wary of snap judgment, scripted uniformity, and easy templates. Instead to embrace the joy of possibility, seek truth over rightness, and always expect to be surprised.