Lessons learned from rainbows

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

Our little house on Maple Street in Germantown was small. As a kid, we spent a lot of time on the back porch. It stretched across the entire back of the house.

In fact, if it was a hot night (we had no air conditioning), the entire family might slip out to the back porch to sleep. Chaise lounge chairs, sleeping bags and cushions stretched across the old cement porch.

Despite the heat we might stay awake and giggle into the wee hours, or until Dad made us all quiet down.

We would also gather on the back porch whenever a storm was headed to Germantown. Our weather almost always came from the west and we could sit on the porch and watch storms blow into town.

On many occasions we would watch as a downpour made its way across the cornfield. We could see and hear the rain coming. The rain and wind would beat the corn loudly as we sat and watched.

Then, we would be hushed into silence as the rain pelted the hard-plastic covering of the porch. Dad taught us to enjoy watching the dark-clouds brew and then march the storm right into our yard. We would “ooh and aah” as the lightning bursts lit up the sky. It was like watching a fireworks show.

Afterwards, we always looked for the rainbow.

Dad would remind us of the story of Noah from the Bible, and God’s covenant to never again destroy the earth with a flood. The rainbow was a reminder of God’s promise. Mom would point out the beauty of the many colors of the rainbow and would help us remember them; red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.

Years later in school, I learned the scientific explanation that the droplets of rain caused a refraction of light that resulted in the full “spectrum of light.” That spectrum of light allows us to see the beauty of each individual color as they combine to form the rainbow arch across the sky.

Even today, after a thunderstorm people like to look for a rainbow. Everyone I have ever met appreciates the beautiful array of color that is spread across the cloudy sky following a storm.

Since the earliest days of our immigration from Europe to the New World, this country has struggled with our relationships with people of color. We had a stuttering start with the relationship between the Pilgrims of the Plymouth Colony and the Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans. Further south, the founders of the Jamestown Colony battled with the Powhatan tribe.

From our beginning as a nation, there has been an ongoing battle between Native Americans and white settlers. That battle has continued for nearly 400 years.

Very soon after establishing the Jamestown Colony, early settlers started bringing Africans to the American colonies as slaves. Black Africans were captured and brought to America for over 200 years. The Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War were intended by our leadership to bring about the end of racial divides and discrimination.

Still, the treatment of African Americans in this country has been a national embarrassment.

Sadly, many white Americans, especially members of the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacist groups, have fought to keep discrimination alive. There are still white Americans who staunchly believe that they are superior to other people based only on the color of their skin.

People … this is wrong. Completely and absolutely wrong. No single group of human beings are superior to another group of human beings because of skin color, shape of their eyes or texture of their hair.

White supremacy is a myth. Black supremacy is a myth. Any form of racial supremacy is a myth.

I watched closely during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. It was a heartbreaking decade. The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King came at the end of that decade. His death did not usher in the major changes in discrimination and segregation that was hoped for.

We are a diverse country. We can be stronger by acknowledging and accepting those things that make us different and we can work together to achieve the goals of this country – peace and prosperity.

Just as the “spectrum of light” allows us to enjoy the beautiful colors of the rainbow, we should also relish the “spectrum of life” that reveals our physical and social differences, but still allows us all to be a vital part of what makes the United States of America a great country.

“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.


Randy Riley

Contributing columnist