Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.
Find more columns by Douglas here.
Steamboat Springs "Rob, we've just crossed into N-ville."
I sat in stunned silence.
Not only was he a well-known figure in the community, he didn't say "N-ville." Each time he uttered it, he filled out the "N" with the remainder of the most vile word in American lexicon.
As I silently looked out the passenger window contemplating what to do, he filled the void by reinforcing his ugly view of a city neighborhood back east.
"Rob, you need to understand. There are blacks and there are N's. These are Ns."
Not only was he a respected voice in the city, he was a department director where I worked. But he didn't control whether I kept my job.
I could have spoken up.
I could have called the bigot out.
I remained silent.
I was a coward.
I was no Randall Nelson.
Randall Nelson has courage.
Randall Nelson in his 15 years of life has exhibited more courage than I in thrice the amount.
Randall's story of fortitude in the face of bigotry is well-known to this community. For years, Randall turned the other cheek and absorbed the racist taunts of a bully. But a year ago this month - having endured more than most of us ever will - Randall stood up and put the bigot down.
Would I ever counsel violence to someone in Randall's shoes?
Not a chance.
Will I ever criticize someone for doing what Randall did?
Not a chance.
Sadly, what Randall faced and overcame still is far too common in a country that has made significant strides in seeking racial equality.
Starting as an investigator with the Washington, D.C., public defender service, continuing as a private investigator working criminal cases, through work as a security consultant and political commentator, I've seen countless examples of individual and institutional racism, including:
n Prosecutors and judges who make charging and sentencing decisions with differing standards depending on the race of the defendant.
n Laws that impact blacks disproportionately to whites typified by sentencing guidelines that impose stiffer penalties for crack cocaine found in black inner-cities than for powder cocaine found in white suburbia.
n A disproportionately high number of people of color wrongfully convicted compared to whites, particularly in death-penalty cases.
Indeed, how many black "convicts" do we need to see walking off death row - cleared of guilt by DNA - before we awaken to the ongoing injustice we all are collectively responsible for?
But there's good news.
I have a second chance to do what I should have done all along.
I have a second chance to right a wrong.
I can help a young man who showed character where I showed weakness.
I can help Randall.
We can all help Randall.
Randall's triumph against his tormentor - and over a prosecution that should never have occurred - has saddled his family with $40,000 in legal expenses.
This Sunday, a tennis exhibition and mixer will be held from 3 to 6 p.m. at The Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs to raise funds for the Randall Nelson Defense Fund. Those unable to attend Sunday's event can write a check to the fund and mail it to Wells Fargo Bank, PO Box 774888, Steamboat Springs, CO, 80477-4888.
Six years ago yesterday, I pulled a U-Haul trailer into the Yampa Valley and found a new life away from the madness of Washington. I've come to love a community rich in kindness and resources that always rallies to the aid of our own.
Randall is one of our own.
Let's rally one more time.