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Posted: January 10, 2010 12:01 a.m.

11 years of telling it like it is

Twelve years ago this month, a young sports editor dropped by the gymnasium at Indian Creek Middle School to watch a little of my girl’s basketball team practice. He and I talked about that 1998-1999 team, many of whom went on to play for Eastside High, and then he dropped a bombshell.

He asked me to consider writing a weekly opinion column for the sports section. I was flabbergasted, and told him I’d consider it a way of giving back to this community, which has come to mean so very much to me and my family. And thus began my weekly appearances in this newspaper in January of 1999.

After seven years in sports, I was asked to move to the Sunday opinion page. Hard as it is to believe, the world has been my oyster here for the last four years. I’ve been free to address local, state, national and international issues, whatever happened to pique my interest any given week.

For this weekly opportunity to share what I think about things, I am supremely grateful. Although my main motivation is to try and give back to the community in the way of food for thought, I can testify that you have given so much more back to me. I’ve met the nicest people, many of whom stop me in the grocery store or on the town square, who feel comfortable enough from reading me that they will open up and talk plainly as to how they agree, or disagree, with what I’ve written.

Several years back, for example, I made my case in the sports pages for keeping Pete Rose out of the Hall of Fame forever. One of my personal heroes, Recreation Director Tommy Hailey, let me know he disagreed with that one, as did several other folks whom I regard highly. They know that variety is the spice of life, and that disagreeing won’t stop us from loving each other as people.

Another great fixture in these parts, Bill Travis, called me early one Sunday morning to let me know he was most unhappy with my views about squirrel hunting inside the city limits. Well, nothing will change the fact that Bill is a great, great Georgia Bulldog fan and a man whose opinion I value, and I appreciate him letting me know how he felt.

It’s always gratifying when folks agree with me, but in a very real sense I’m also pleased when folks who see things differently feel comfortable enough to strike up a pleasant conversation with me. Remarkably — knocking on wood as I type — I’ve never had an ugly conversation with anyone who disagreed with me over those 11 years.

Also, remarkably, the newspaper folks have been most gracious to me. Only twice have I had to resubmit a column to replace what I’d submitted originally, which was deemed perhaps a bit too controversial for publishing. After all, selling papers is one thing; inciting a riot is another.

For a very long while I’ve wanted to submit an article about race, racial relations, where this country is right now, where we need to go and how we need to go about getting there. Race is a tinderbox smoldering beneath the surface of virtually every issue our national, state and local governments face. The recent mayoral election in Atlanta proves my point perfectly and illustrates how totally opinions in the Deep South are divided along racial lines.

It’s my opinion that unless and until people are willing to tell it like it is with regards to race, we will never move forward to the greatness this nation can truly achieve. Either we really and truly want to fulfill the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s statement, "I have a dream, that one day my little children will be judged on the content of their character, and not by the color of their skin," or we don’t.

We can’t have it both ways. We’ve tried that for five decades now, and just look at where it’s gotten us. Everybody thinks they’re guaranteed what everybody else has, regardless of whether or not they’ve actually done anything to earn it.

But that’s an issue for another day. I’m still trying to figure how to get everything I need to say about race into the 800 word space I’m allotted. And, as you know, it’s tough for me to simply say "hello" in 800 words!

Today, then, I’ll just close by saying, sincerely, thank you. Those of you who take the time to read me each Sunday, who stop me and tell how you feel about issues, have made this weekly effort worthwhile and fulfilling. I take the responsibility of sharing my thoughts with you seriously, and appreciate your opinions and cherish your right to hold them.

May God continue to bless you, and the United States of America.

Nat Harwell is a long-time resident of Newton County. His columns appear regularly on Sundays.

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