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The Black Catholic

Around the time of the Cub Scout incident in Blenheim Park, a boy by the name of Raymond began to attend my grade school. As I remember him, Raymond was a tall, stout kid whose bubbly personality endeared him to teachers and students alike. He carried an afro pick in his back pocket.

When he appeared on the parking lot we called a playground, no one would play with Raymond. But many days, we played kickball games under the watchful eyes of teachers and nuns. At first, he was picked next to last when we divided into teams. The only person chosen after him was me—a fat kid with almost no athletic ability. Soon, Raymond proved himself a magnificent player. He could kick, catch, and run along with the best of the players. After the first few games that fall, he was often picked first among the students in my grade who stood around in a group at the center of the playground. Raymond was an asset for the kids who wanted to win the oddly competitive games, which would be talked about until the end of the school day.

When teachers chose the captains of the teams, the people who would choose the teams before play, they never asked Raymond to head up a team. Even I got my turn at captain. But Raymond, not once, got his chance to choose up a team.

Often, on days when the kickball games ended early—usually because students lost interest in the match, which the teachers presided over like soldiers on duty—the crowd devolved into cliques. Raymond found a home with the other boys who could play well. He gained a certain kind of esteem among the athletes at our insular school. Since I had no clique, I was often left to my own devices. Sometimes, I would try to hang around with the kids who I wanted to like me, who I prized being recognized by but who would ultimately disappoint me with their jeers and derision. Sometimes, however, when I was at a corner of the playground by myself playing with ants or telling myself stories, Raymond would approach me and asked if I wanted to play catch.

To me, accepting his offer was no trick. A kid was interested in playing with me. He was popular and a good athlete. I appreciated the attention. He made no jokes about me and never chided me about being rotund and oddly out of the ordinary. We threw the kickball, bouncing it back and forth for the duration of the recess period. Raymond was fun, non-judgmental, and someone I wanted as a friend.

During these interludes, I found out some things about Raymond. I had never seen a Black Catholic—I didn’t know, until Raymond came to our school, that there were Black Catholics. He said he, his parents, and brother, who was in the next lower grade, decided to attend our church after moving out of a Black neighborhood on the Eastside of Kansas City. He wanted to be an engineer like his father. I asked him about his skin color. Did he get sunburns? Did his hair grow that way naturally or was it a style of all Black people? What I didn’t know about the races, I realized for the first time in my short life, was much more than I could imagine.

To me, Raymond was a boy who happened to be Black. The rest was a matter of simple understanding between kids. We played. We made jokes (and Raymond was funny). We talked and enjoyed each other’s company. I came to ache for the days when the kickball games failed, or the teachers would choose to let everyone play on their own.

But when Raymond and I played, we always tossed around the ball behind the convent, out of the gaze of the other children and the teachers. From time to time, I would overhear some of the other kids talking when I passed by them on the way back into the school after recess.

“He plays with the Black boy.”

“Raymond and him got a thing going on.”

“Ray’s as black as they come.”

“I’d hate to live where that Black guy’s got to.”

Some of the other boys came up to me one day after a kickball game had sputtered.

“What do you do with Raymond back there?” said one kid who the teachers most often chose to be captain.

“Yeah, what’s going on between you two?” said another hanger-on of the popular-boy clique.

“We’re just playing,” I said, becoming uncomfortable. “Just playing and talking.”

“You know he’s Black, right?” said the captain kid.

“Yeah, I know.”

“That doesn’t bother you?” The boys, about five of them gathered in a semi-circle in front of me. I looked around for Raymond and saw him talking to one of the teachers.


“Because he’s Black.”

“Well, he’s your friend too,” I said, feeling put on the spot.

“No,” he said. “He’s a kid who wins games. You don’t win any games.”

Another kid piped up. “You lose games,” he said. “You are a loser.”

At this the rest of the boys began to chuckle it up. One made to cuff me and I recoiled, which made the boys laugh again.

“Stay away from the Black kid,” the captain boy said. “He’s ours.”

But I didn’t stay away from Raymond. We continued to play on occasion behind the convent. Our conversations revealed to me that he knew something more than the world I lived in. He loved music and baseball. He was a good student who did well in school.

When school broke for summer, I said goodbye to Raymond. I spent the whole vacation looking forward to seeing him again. He didn’t return to our school that fall. I never saw him again.

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