It was a cool but sunny Saturday morning in East Oakland. An old gymnasium sits surrounded by a parking lot on one side and a grassy field on the other. In the front of the property, facing the street, is a brand new, beautiful sports complex with a large pool, but we are waiting to enter the old gym. We are ready to play basketball, as others have for years and years. My mind darts to the article about the new NBA rookie impressing the nation who grew up spending his Saturdays at this same gym.
We wait. Whoever’s job it is to open the gym is not here yet, and some of us are getting impatient. Since I organized this league, I am starting to get nervous. I feel responsible for the fact that we are standing outside. I make phone calls. I text. I look around impatiently. I try to assure everyone that someone will come, but I am starting to doubt as the minutes tick down to our scheduled game time.
I decide to check one more time, to make sure there is not a city employee inside who does not know we have arrived. I look through windows. I check doors again. Finally, a door creaks open, slowly. We hesitate for a moment, and I enter. I call out for someone. I look around.
Suddenly, a horn is blaring. The alarm is sounding. It startles me for a moment, but I shrug it off and proceed to look down the hallway, hoping to find someone around the corner. I turn back around to see a dozen or so young men sliding away from the gym doors, without breaking into a run, but quickly walking away from the gym. They glance around nervously while they make their way towards the cars and trees around us. I stay at the door, confused and feeling alone and vulnerable.
The light bulb turns on. I am different. I am white. I am middle class. I do not fear the police. I have never been harassed. I have never been questioned. I am confident that I would calmly and firmly explain that I have paid to rent this gym, and it was not my fault that a door was left unlocked at the time that I was supposed to enter. The arrival of any sort of authority figure does not bother me at all. In fact, I welcome it. I am getting upset that no city worker has opened up this gym for my basketball league.
We wear the same baggy shorts and play the same game. We live in the same neighborhood, and we all listened to rap music in our cars on the way here. But my life is different.
I stand alone, by the door, waiting for someone to come.