A Rather Large Bucket Of Lemonade

I’m quite sure all of you have heard the expression “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” It’s trite, and usually just the opposite of what we do with the bitter taste of defeat, the acid of anger, or the puckered mouth of distaste.

Instead, most of us bitch and moan for a while and then move on to the next thing in our struggle through life. Some grab on to that lemon and squeeze it for all of their days, the mist from the exploding fruit blinding them and choking their life out with the molecules thrown in the air each time they pound on the table and smash the fruit even harder.

A rare few actually look at the pile of lemons in front of them, find a pitcher and some sugar, and get to work making a beverage that will restore the balance in some lives, provide a needed drink in the desert of anger and sadness, and put their hands to the work that God has set before them.

One such man is my friend Clarence D. Castile.

A couple of years ago, on a hot summer night, his nephew was shot to death during a traffic stop by local police. Philando Castile was, by all accounts, a personable young man who was a giving person. I had never met him. Nor did I know the police officer who did the shooting. The point of this post is not to revisit the facts of the case, for a jury has already ruled.

What can be said with certainty is that a horrible event took place that night, and a number of lives were altered with the stain of blood. A community erupted in anger and outrage, and things were mighty tense in my hometown for a couple of months. The tension flared again as the trial of the police officer was held, and threatened to explode when the verdict of not guilty was returned.

I can’t say I knew Clarence at that time. We met the following year when I was teaching a class on writing at my church. Clarence is also a member of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, and the class was designed to help people explore their writing life.

During the class we got to know each other a little bit, and in the weeks following that morning we got together to talk about things and scarf some serious breakfast food. I was surprised to learn that Clarence, a guy my age, had applied to the Saint Paul Police Reserve, and was undergoing the training.

His goal? To find out what cops were taught, and see if he could make things better for all involved. He wanted to develop training for both police and civilians to help in the relationship issues that threatened to tear our city apart.

Over the past year, he has been a member of the Peace Officer Standards and Training (P.O.S.T.) board for the state of Minnesota. He has become a reserve officer with all the excitement that offers. (He got to guard a rockslide at one point. But that’s what reserves sometimes do!)

More importantly, he stepped up to the plate and brought about a community forum this last week, aimed at informing the public of what is going on with law enforcement, how they are struggling in their own ways, and how to successfully handle a traffic stop so that you get to go home, and not to the hospital or jail – or morgue.

You see, Clarence has taken that gigantic pile of lemons that were dumped on him when Philando died and made lemonade. He’s offering it to anyone who would like to quench their thirst for justice and transparency. He’s following the way of a peacemaker by doing this great service.

The forum was excellent. It was something that the local public television station filmed, and I sincerely look forward to it airing in the future. Most of all, I know Clarence is hoping that his hard work might save an innocent life. It doesn’t matter if it’s a black life, a blue life, or any other color: we are all God’s children and that’s how he’s judging the line for lemonade.

I’m proud to call him my friend. And when Black History month rolls around down the road, I suspect Clarence D. Castile will be a person young people read about and admire. For he is truly a good man.

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