By Anne Murphy

One night a few years ago, I made a new friend in the lobby of Mariucci Arena at the University of Minnesota. It wasn’t a remarkable meeting for the location, but it was an important occasion for me.

I’m a white woman. My friend is a black man. Or at least he was. I don’t know if he’s still alive. We haven’t seen each other since. Our friendship remains one of the moment—a brief shining moment, to call up the phrase given to John F. Kennedy’s presidency, when the dark clouds of racial discrimination weighed heavily on our country and dreams of optimism overcoming that oppression were being invoked by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Every so often, I think about my friend from Mariucci, and never more poignantly than two weeks ago after George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis and I heard CNN’s Don Lemon suggest that as one small measure of good, every white person find a new black friend and every black person find a new white friend—a friend with whom we can find comfort in shared values.

He was talking, I was sure, from experience: Not all white women would feel comfortable in my position just then. I said I wasn’t afraid, and I hoped that he could sense that I wasn’t one of those women, and that I saw him as polite and kind and dignified.

Those are the values I found in my new friend from Mariucci. I was there with two daughters for a Gopher hockey game. It was a last-minute decision. By the time we arrived, the first period was almost over. There were few empty seats left together, and my daughters took two of them. I decided to stay in the lobby and read a book I had brought with me. I took a seat at an empty table there.

Not long after, an elderly man walked up to the table. He was a black man. He asked if I would mind if he sat next to me. He was working security at the game and he couldn’t sit for long, he explained, but his knees were bothering him and he thought he could do a better job if he wasn’t hurting.


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Then he added, “You don’t have to be afraid of me.”

I knew he wasn’t referring to his stature. He was talking, I was sure, from experience: Not all white women would feel comfortable in my position just then. I said I wasn’t afraid, and I hoped that he could sense that I wasn’t one of those women, and that I saw him as polite and kind and dignified.

I said, “Please, sir, sit down.”

We exchanged names and information about ourselves—our spouses, grown children, why I happened to be sitting at that table, why he happened to be working security. He said it was a retirement job, to make sure that he and his wife had enough money in their old age. He told me he sometimes worked at other sports venues, which brought up the ticket prices that were projected at the yet-to-be-completed Vikings stadium. Wouldn’t some of the money being spent on building the stadium have been better directed toward education? he asked. Yes, I agreed. On the need for books and new technology in the schools, especially for underprivileged students, we also agreed.

Conscious of his time, my friend said it was a pleasure to meet me and returned to his post near an entryway to the arena. It wasn’t long, however, before a commotion erupted in our end of the lobby. A young white man was being alarmingly vocal about not being allowed to enter the arena without a ticket. His ticket, he said, had been lost. He said he had connections and should be allowed in. As other security personnel tried to calm the young man, my friend walked back to our table and said he thought I should move. He was doing his job, and doing a good job, I thought, watching out for a friend.

This is a story of a friendship that came out of nowhere and everywhere and has remained with me ever since. So much so that I hope Joel Smith reads this column or someone who knows him does. If he is still here, I want Joel to know that I remember meeting him and if I met him today we’d have more thoughts to share. One of them being the importance of making a friend who may not be like you in some ways, but who you will like and will stay with you.


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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Michaela Ahern, Highland Park

    This editorial is a very weak attempt to show how heartwarming it was when white women made a “friend” with a person of color. First of all this person did not become her friend, he was simply doing his job and they had a pleasant interaction once he told her she didn’t need to be afraid. The fact he had to say this is so depressing. Are we supposed to applaud ourselves when we act like decent human beings to others? Bridging the racial divide means breaking down structural barriers to equality like allowing affordable housing to be built throughout the city instead of being concentrated along University. It means funding public schools, creating models of community policing. Black lives matter beyond letting white women feel good about themselves for having the “courage” to be a decent person and then sharing your goodness with your neighbors.

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