This past weekend thousands of college students and their friends invaded Tybee Island for an annual tradition called “Orange Crush.” Orange is the color of the college that used to sponsor this event as part of their spring break. We left the island for the day to visit Rev. Kathy Burton and her partner and had a wonderful day with them.
When we returned to our home about 8 p.m., we found an island that had been completely and thoroughly trashed. Taking the dogs for their walk was almost impossible because the road, sidewalk, and grass were covered with trash that simply had been thrown down. It was disgusting and discouraging, especially considering that Saturday also was Earth Day. I kept wondering how we had failed these kids and why their parents had not taught them better values.
Unfortunately, the college that started Orange Crush (something the school stopped sponsoring many years ago) is a historically black college. Almost all the thousands that stream onto the island for the weekend party are African-American.
Hundreds of police join them, many businesses shutter, and the city does everything in its power to keep the event from being a success. The island is only 3.2 square miles, so parking is limited on many normal weekends. The city works to make it even harder to park during Orange Crush. As we passed dozens of young African-Americans who had been pulled over by the police, I couldn’t help but think of all the innocent lives that have been lost simply for “driving while black.” There is no doubt in my mind that much of the response to Orange Crush is racism, and that includes my own.
I must confess that, as I tried to navigate a newly-bathed Brix around the mountains of trash, my own racism surged with my anger that these black students would so trash someone else’s home. It has been only my commitment to eradicate my own racial prejudices that forced me to wrestle honestly with my feelings and acknowledge that, regardless of the race, the invasion of thousands of immature people would have left my home island worse for wear.
The good news is that when Brix and I got up for his Sunday morning walk almost all the trash had been cleaned up. How is a mystery, but sororities and fraternities from the college have come out in years past to clean up the beach. My admiration for them reminds me that it is evil to judge any group by the behavior of a few.
Rev. Michael Piazza