Steve Hixon – My Freshman Roommate at ECU

Update. On January 4, 2022 Steve Hixon passed away. I did some minor updates.

This past week has brought back some of the words that Steve Hixon, my roommate from freshman year at East Carolina University, had challenged me. He had grown up in the racism of the deep south. By just being white I had no idea of all the privileges I had due to skin color alone.

I have never been pulled over just because of the color of my skin. I haven’t had people avoid me walking down the street.

I had not experienced not being looked at as a human being as Steve had been treated.

“Iceman” is what Steve Hixon’s nickname was on the basketball court. While we were put together as roommates at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC, I saw “Iceman” more on the basketball court than in our room.

We were both Social Work majors. We both did our concentrations in Alcohol and Drug Abuse. However, while I went in the direction of using photojournalism as my way of helping people, Steve went on to work as a Social Worker in Richmond, Virginia.

This is how I looked in college.

Now Steve wasn’t my first African American friend, but Steve was the first one that I would live with and get to have lots of conversations with during our college years.

Steve said I would never have him in my home. Sadly that never happened. My home at the time was in Englishtown, NJ and I had just come home during the semester breaks.

This past week watching George Floyd being killed by white police officers while other police officers stood by and condoned his actions was sickening. What is sad is this has been played out over and over throughout my life.

I see people constantly treating people of color unjustly. The lady in Central Park treats a man based on the color of his skin alone with such disdain.

I think the response of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in his op-ed piece in the LATimes is good.

Too many people are not realizing how not just the George Floyd case isn’t fueling this civil unrest. The COVID-19 Pandemic has opened up many wounds in the African American community. Do you remember the Brown vs Board of Education?

Children were not equal when it came to staying home and going online to do school work. Many don’t have computers or internet connections.

Without the schools, many of our children go hungry because they no longer get the meals through the school they desperately need. Why? Not because their parents don’t work, but because their employers pay them so little that no one can feed their family and put a roof over their head with these wages.

Then think of all the people who are working from home. Sadly there are many whose work cannot be done from home. This is hitting the minority communities the most.

This is where those of privilege have blinders. They fail to see how they got into a college not based on their grades alone, but because of legacy. A study of thirty elite colleges found that primary legacy students are an astonishing 45% more likely to get into a highly selective college or university than a non-legacy. Secondary legacies receive a lesser pick-me-up of 13%. [Article]

How do we fix this?

I do not hold the silver bullet that will answer this question. I can only say I can see some things we can do that could help.

  • Open your homes – the eleven o’clock hour on Sunday morning in America has been called the most segregated time in America. We cannot just learn to work with people of different races. We need to truly create all-inclusive communities. This means we need to invite our co-workers and neighbors into our homes and build friendships.
  • Get out of your comfort zone – Say yes to opportunities in your community. Volunteer for a Habitat for Humanity Build. Be intentional that you are looking for ways to move beyond your homogeneous circle.
  • Challenge your Faith Community – See if your faith community could find another different faith community and do activities together to get to know each other. My church Roswell Presbyterian Church did a Race Reconciliation project where we were paired up with another socio-economic similar church that was African American. So we were mainly just different in skin tone and not economically. That was eye-opening for so many.

Steve Hixon and I talked a lot through college and this past year before he died, we talked by phone for a couple of hours. We were catching up, but the conversation went to our passions–helping people and our society. Steve didn’t have all the same opportunities that I had growing up. He was treated differently due to his skin color. I was also treated differently. If you don’t remember being refused anything due to your skin color, good chance you were experiencing privilege.

Steve realized we all needed to work together to overcome our past.

I believe tolerance and understanding are intertwined in the path toward human progress.

Let’s not let all the rioting make all of the white community uppity. Not much has changed since Steve Hixon, my college roommate, challenged me that I wouldn’t be welcomed into my home.

We must do as Keisha Lance Bottoms and Police Chief Erika Shields did on Sunday. They realized they cannot let justice be handled in the same way when it came to the night before when officers pulled two college students from their car on live TV and tased the male and roughed up the female student. They put everything else aside and reviewed all the body cameras from that event and moved swiftly and fired two of the officers. They put the others involved on desk duty for the time being.

Atlanta mayor: Two police officers fired over excessive use of force during George Floyd protest

It is time for action not more research on racism. I think Michael Jackson’s video Man in the Mirror hits perfectly.

“I am starting with the man in the mirror.”

– Michael Jacson