By Tim Trenkle
During the spring semester, Marlon Telesford radiated clean cut. He might have been a quarterback for an Ivy League school.
On June 11, Marlon was arrested for an attempted robbery at the Fidelity Bank in Peosta. I want to shake him and tell him this may be the turning point. I want to tell him that he knows better, that he’s smart and good and that people who know him care.
In class, I remember that Marlon debated image, saying people have to fit in, that if you’re interviewing for a job you have to look the part. We studied trust, image, poverty and diversity. Marlon was vocal about whether one can afford to be genuine.
I said that it matters. I told them to reject the dependence about what others think.
Marlon was an “A” student, courteous and compassionate. He was genuine, too.
Marlon is black and that shouldn’t matter, but it does, over and over again, it does. In 1991, “20/20” did a report about racism in Dubuque. Marlon’s class said Dubuque hasn’t changed. It’s both poverty and race, they said. Two nights after his arrest, a public forum was held about profiling. It’s neither the first nor last of its kind.
It bothers me that in Iowa, color still matters. A young widow and mother of small children in class a few years ago chose Dubuque, she said, because it seemed like a good place. She was an A student, but left after a year. She could not tolerate the white spaces. Her neighbor had urinated on her mailbox.
Ambivalence and denial seem to be the way of the world. Dubuque, for example, touts its All America city status and selection by Forbes as “The Best Small City to Raise a Family.” Yet repeatedly, in my surveys, residents and students say the awards don’t stand up to reality.
I want to scream that education is an answer, that we can be real, that we can understand, instead of dismissing each other.
I’m afraid Marlon will become an invisible man as I know he would agree that he made his choice to stand at the front door of a bank with a pistol.
I can’t help but wonder, though, if he’d been encouraged a little more, been listened to a little longer, if he’d given himself a chance instead of agreeing with a world that has told him who he is, he might have made it to the Ivy League.
Tim Trenkle of Dubuque teaches psychology and writing at Northeast Iowa Community
College. Comments: peace