By no means do I consider myself a movie critic, but I recently attended a showing on the big screen of "Green Book" that left me profoundly entertained and enlightened in the same 90 minutes.
This racially-charged dramedy (combination drama and comedy) zeroes-in on a friendship that develops when a white tough guy from the Bronx is hired to drive for an African-American musician on a tour through the Deep South in 1962.
During those days, there was a pamphlet called "The Green Book." This was a guide that revealed to people of color where they would be welcome when traveling. The booklet also included a list of various bathrooms, restaurants and hotels where they’d be permitted.
A thumbnail sketch of the two main characters indicates Oleg was a black man blessed with talent and training to be a virtuoso at the piano. His driver, Tony Lip, was essentially a bouncer who was very good at two things: fighting and eating.
Their journey together tells a story that’s both impactful and captivating. It can also provide uncomfortable moments when we’re forced to remember how we felt and dealt with each other. At times, it seems, we still do.
All these years later
Watching that movie reminded me of living in the 1960s as a young boy. While I never witnessed a race riot, I definitely recall the different water fountains and bathrooms in some stores and public buildings.
As a teenager in North Charleston, I developed a unique and close relationship with a teammate on the high school basketball team. His name was Earnest Carter. His father had been killed in Vietnam. Earnest and his sisters lived with their mom in Liberty Hill.
Earnest would sometimes venture to the outdoor courts at Park Circle. On some Sunday afternoons, I’d find myself in pick-up games at similar courts on "the Hill.: Those days were a mixture of laughter, sweat and respect.
Earnest eventually was a successful coach and teacher who made his home in Atlanta. From time to time, we’d talk by phone when he visited his mother.
On one occasion, Earnest asked if we might meet during a visit. The two of us huddled-up for a meal together not too far from those same courts at different ends of Montague Avenue.
After we both exchanged niceties about how good the other one still looked, the conversation turned serious.
Earnest said he’d been wanting to tell me something all these years. He wanted to personally thank me for giving him a ride home from practice. His only other option would have been to walk or catch a bus.
“What are you talking about?,” I remember saying. “It was no big deal — it wasn’t even out of the way.”
“No,” he said. “It was much more than that. People in my neighborhood noticed. That was a kindness we didn’t always see, and I just wanted you to know what it meant to me and my family.”
Before we knew it, we both were getting choked up. It’s the middle of the afternoon and two grown men in the Red Lobster are hugging each other and crying.
Day of service
Today, of course, is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It’s the only federal holiday that’s observed as a national day of service.
There will be a parade to celebrate King’s life, achievements and legacy. In 1968, the civil rights leader was assassinated. The third Monday of January is set aside not just to honor King, but to spend some time serving others, as well.
Maybe you can take a meal to a home-bound neighbor or help beautify your community.
There’s a quote in the "Green Book" movie when Oleg tells Tony Lip, “You’ll never win with violence. You only win when you maintain your dignity.”
Later, Oleg also explains to his driver that “it takes courage to change people’s hearts.”
Maybe we can make some headway with each other through humility and humor. It may also require extra doses of dignity and courage.
King advocated non-violent activism. His words and deeds exuded his dignified approach to change. Come to think of it, so did the actor in the "Green Book," as well as my buddy, Earnest.