Passengers wait to board the Red Line train at the North Springs MARTA station recently. (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

First person: Let me tell you MY story about riding the MARTA train

Our readers write: This is another installment of Across the Divide, in which the AJC solicits first-person stories from readers in response to the prompt: Talk about a time when you felt like an outsider. The Across the Divide feature is part of the AJC’s RE:Race project, which is covering the dramatic racial and ethnic change sweeping Georgia.

I felt like an outsider, but not for long

Maria Mackas, Atlanta

Maria Mackas of Atlanta. (Contributed photo)

I’m a white woman in my early 60s, a small business owner, a mom, a wife — and a grad student at Georgia State. I am an Atlanta native, born and raised. Went to public school. Graduated from UGA. For three years, I’ve been riding MARTA from Midtown, where I live, to school.

» Tell us about your experience of race

When I read of Melton Bennett’s experience on MARTA, I felt compelled to offer mine. He feels like an outsider on the train. I did, too — for about two weeks. Yeah, I was in the minority, race-wise, on the train — and even at school. But then a young black man offered me his seat on the train. And a young black woman came and sat by me and said, “Ma’am, you need to be careful with that iPad — I had mine taken right out of my hands. I wouldn’t read on the train if I were you.”

An older black woman told me she loved my gray hair. An young Asian man offered me his MARTA card when I couldn’t get mine to work. I didn’t feel like an outsider anymore.

At school, I was in the minority age-wise, too. I was nervous about feeling like an outsider. And sometimes I did.

But, for the most part, from the very start, I felt accepted, encouraged and supported — by my classmates and my professors. Georgia State is an amazing melting pot. There are so many ethnicities and cultures represented, you’d be hard-pressed to feel like an outsider.

I started looking forward to my MARTA ride and my walk in the city. A high point is hearing the black preacher evangelizing outside the Five Points station — his melodious voice greeted me each school day last fall and warmed the early morning chill. Sometimes he even sang. Somehow, he made me feel a part of something bigger.

I know we’ve got problems, Atlanta. But come on, we’ve got a lot of positives. If you look for them, and are open to them, you just might see them. Take a ride on MARTA. Visit a class at Georgia State. Report back.

Maria Mackas is a business owner in Atlanta.

I felt at home in a black community

Melina Barbuto, Marietta

Melina Barbuto of Marietta. (Contributed photo)

I went from living in a community that was all black, save for my Hispanic family, to one where the majority was Hispanic, and yet I felt more isolated in the latter.

There was a sense of unity in that first neighborhood that, no matter how poor or what happened around the complex, they still showed a level of respect for my elderly grandmother and never expressed any ill will toward us despite the differences in our skin color or culture.

But when we moved to this later neighborhood, it was as if we were something on display. Perhaps it was because of the structure of our family, perhaps because my grandmother is white passing, or maybe it’s because we weren’t the right kind of Hispanic, but I felt such a sense of “otherness” that it made me a little uncomfortable.

Melina Barbuto is a student at Savannah College of Art and Design

Charisse Davis of Smyrna with her husband Sean. (Contributed photo)

Where do I belong? Where do I not? 

Charisse Davis, Smyrna

I have to say that since I graduated from Spelman College, I never feel like an outsider. In my personal and professional life, I have often found myself the only person of color in a given place, but I have a certain level of confidence that going to a school like Spelman gave me.

I think about the women who both founded and attended the college and the perseverance they must have had back in 1881. I know that because of them, I can move throughout this world with pride.

On paper, my now husband and I seemed to have little in common (and the fact that he is white and I am black and Latina came in at the bottom of that list). Yet, we shared the same sense of humor and held similar beliefs and goals. There is so much that joins us as people, no matter what our race is, and I refuse to let anyone else make me feel like I don’t belong.

Charisse Davis is media specialist at the Atlanta Public Schools.

Martin Han Clarke, Brookhaven. (Contributed photo)

A brighter future for multiracials 

Martin Han Clarke, Brookhaven

As an African/Asian-American, multiracial boy, fitting into predominantly white, black or Asian worlds was not easy. I grew up in a neighborhood that was white but transitioning to black. Every weekend I attended a Japanese church surrounded by Japanese kids. Going to homogenized Japan as a kid was tough because mixed kids, especially mixed with black, were a pariah in a country where conforming was the social order.

All of these environments were race-conscious and, for a young child, divisive. As a result, I now defend contracting programs that help women and minorities, outsiders. From divisiveness we now look at unifying groups. I married a woman who is Hispanic, white and of Sephardic ancestry.

We are starting the Multiracial Association of America to give a voice to the growing population of multiracials. Multiracials are the fastest-growing data set in the U.S. census. There was a 32 percent increase between 2000 and 2010, making up 3 percent of the population. There are estimates of our being 30 percent of the population in the upcoming decades.

As that transition comes, we are seeing violent hate crimes against interracial couples around the country. America is now seeing multiracials on television, movies and the literary world. Its an exciting time.

Martin Clarke is an attorney practicing in Atlanta. 

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