ENGL Essay I 1st Draft– Title Goes here
by Dylan Lambeth
A crowd had started to gather to watch the show. The venue had been nearly empty for the opening band’s set. They’d played well, but the summer heat and rusted scrap metal littering the empty lot had discouraged most passers by from staying to watch. But now that my friend Chris had started playing, nobody seemed to mind. People living nearby came out from the comfort of their air-conditioned homes to see him, and people walking by stopped to listen. Kids sat on their parents shoulders to see the band. Chris could have held the attention of an entire stadium if he’d ever had the chance. His unique style of jazz crossed with metal drew the crowds, but what kept them watching, and often cheering, was his performance. When he played a guitar solo, he looked like Jimi Hendrix reincarnated. Where most people would play a play a pleasant solo while swaying back and forth a bit, he would play something twice as intricate and nuanced, often behind his back or with his teeth. I always thought it wouldn’t be long until he was touring the nation, selling out stadiums wherever he went. Sadly, life had other plans for Chris.
I grew up very differently than Chris. I was white, from an upper-middle class family, whereas Chris was black, raised by a single mother who struggled to make ends meet. I never needed to worry much about police or money, so I didn’t really appreciate how different my situation was from Chris’s. I grew up in a bubble of liberal optimism, and as a result didn’t know that racism and poverty were still very real problems in America. To me, Chris was just my friend, who happened to live in a cramped apartment. I didn’t think about how different Chris offering me a snack at his house was than my doing the same at my house. I never considered that underage drinking or smoking pot, things that could at worst land me on probation for a few months, could cost him so much more. I never thought about a lot of things growing up, because I’d been led to believe that the world was fair, and that anyone could follow their passion to success. Watching Chris and his family, though, I started to see the cracks in the utopia I’d been told I lived in.
Chris and I were on our way to band practice, with Chris’s older sister driving. A bass guitar in its case was sitting across our laps in the back seat, since the trunk was already full of drums and amps. It was a short drive, maybe ten minutes. We’d barely started driving when red and blue lights came on behind us. Chris and I looked at each other, then at his sister. Neither of us was really sure why we’d been stopped. Chris’s sister just let out a tired sigh as she pulled over and started to dig through the glove box. She seemed to have done this a few times before. After what felt like hours, the officer got out of his car and slowly walked to the driver’s window. I couldn’t make out what the officer was saying from the back seat, but Chris’s sister couldn’t have said more than ten words.
“Won’t happen again, sir.”
After the cop handed her the ticket and we drove off, I asked what the ticket was for. “I was speeding,” she said, not quite sounding convinced. I wasn’t convinced either, since I’d glanced at the speedometer when we’d been pulled over. Later, Chris told me that the ticket had been for “DWB”, driving while black. At the time, I thought it was a joke, just a pessimistic way to complain. If I hadn’t seen it happen again and again since, I might still believe that.
After we graduated, the band broke up, and most of our members decided to go to music school, Chris included. He was accepted to Alabama State with a generous financial aid package. I couldn’t wait to see what he did with his incredible talent. But then, only a few weeks after he started, his financial aid fell through. Apparently there was some minor problem with the paperwork, and just like that, Chris had to pack up and move back into his mother’s apartment. I was confused by his reaction to the whole thing. He seemed resigned to it, almost passive to the whole situation. I wanted to know why he didn’t fight harder, and find a way to follow his passion, no matter what it cost him. Looking back, I think I know why. He and I had been living our lives by entirely different rules. I’d been raised to dream big, follow my passion, and aim as high as I could (because I was already sitting higher up than many people could hope to climb), but he’d been raised to deal with reality, and to work hard to make the best of whatever situation life put him in. Now, four years later, he’s married, serving in the Navy to provide for his wife and son. Chances are he’ll live a comfortable, fulfilling life, and give his son a better start than he had. Still, I can’t help but wonder where he’d be now; how many platinum records or sold-out stadiums he could have had if he’d only been given a chance to pursue his passion.
Privilege can be strange. It can open many doors that remain locked forever for many, but it can also blind you to the reality of many people’s lives. Everyone starts on a different rung on the ladder of life, and it’s easy to forget that. Some people enter the world with fame and fortune already waiting for them, while others are greeted by poverty or worse. How many of those people could have become great artists, scientists, or engineers if they’d been born into a world that let them?