Many people have said, things. I write this more for the record and to give an honest accounting of how I feel rather than try and change someone's mind. Hopefully folks are talking about race, class, and violence in a way that changes our society. All I know I am inspired by young people today more than ever thanks to Trayvon’s life and so many other youth just like him. I dedicate this commentary to the Kappa League program of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., which has molded leaders of high school age since 1922 and the young men and women of Oakwood University, which has historically trained Black leaders for Christian service since 1896.
When a person does not have cable television, catching the latest news can prove to be a challenge. I am just old enough to remember television with only 3 channels and the news coming on only two times a day between 5-7pm and 11pm. The first news cycle I watched that was covered 24 hours was the O.J. Simpson trial just a year after I graduated with my bachelor's from Oakwood College (now University). In 1996, as I watched the O.J. Simpson verdict on a 15-inch television in my supervisors office at an elementary school site, she one of the few Hispanic faculty members and me, the only manof color on staff, quietly cheered the legal dream team as Orenthal J.Simpson heard the jury foreman repeat the phrase “not guilty”. I had worn an O.J. jersey as a toddler and wanted to run in the airport like he did in Hertz commercials when I flew on a plane for the first time as a elementary school-aged child. However, after O.J.’s initial criminal trial I had a new hero, Mr. Johnnie Cochran, one of the lawyers on the dreamteam. He talked smooth like a preacher, was methodically prepared like my father an Army veteran and math teacher, and he won! News stories covered differing reactions from people of color to the O.J. Simpson verdict and White people seemed to have a problem with this version of justice. So much so, Mr. Simpson was sued in civil court and lost his possessions and many would say his mind. At any rate, O.J. is in jail now after trying to steal back, yes steal back his former possessions.
In this trial that was broadcasted across cable news 24hours a day, I saw Black men I identified with and unlike most movies of that era these men were in charge. In the example of Johnnie Cochran as well as Christopher Darden for the prosecution, two Black men were running the show from my view point. To add to that show, a Black defendant won and lived to tell about it, a rare thing in deed. This was unexpected! O.J. Simpson was the man who stared in a film called the Klansman, where he killed White Ku Klux Klan members (1) and was free in real life after a lenghtly trial! There was a lot of evidence against him but like Dave Chapelle quipped in one of his famous comedy sketches, mixing some truth with the absurd, “my Blackness would not accept that that O.J. didit”. Even though I will admit today, if asked, “Do you think O.J. did it”? You would get a weak but definite “yeah” from me. I was 24 years old and had yet to live when that O.J. trial because I did not have children. But now as a father, when I think of losing my teenagers to a 29-year-old volunteer watchman I am filled with dread. It was too much to think of so I did not watch any part of the trial.
For the sake of sanity, minimize arugment, and a need not to re-try the case, as far as I know George Zimmerman, the watchman, was justified in his killing of Trayvon Martin according to the law. However, like Mark McGuire’s or Sammy Sosa’stainted batting records, many questions about Zimmerman’s case bring upconcerns. Basics, like what is a watch an doing with a gun? Why didn't he listen to 911 operator and NOT follow a 17 year old? Who trained him in mixed martial arts? Will he get his money back, because clearly he was NOT well trained? What influence does his father’s standing as a judge have on his non-arrest, then arrest, and subsequent funding of the law firm that backed him? None of these questions have to do with what the jury saw to make their decisions, yet these are the ones that do not sit well with many people, including me. However, the verdict has been rendered and I really could care less about the trial because I was not on the jury nor the prosecution team.
What got me, and I tried my best to avoid until the President of the United States reminded me, when he said, “I could’ve beenTrayvon Martin”. In the media and I heard that in the trial, people were “against Trayvon” because he “was a thug”. This was based on false picture and stores promoted in general and social media (2). However, even that was not a surprise to me because I really had not connected with a 17 year old nor seen him as myself, as any human should do. Likely, because I did not want to experience the pain of knowing that Trayvon’s and by extension, my life was valued so little. Contrary to how some have tried to portray him, Trayvon was no thug. He was an adolescent who likely was on his way to college. He had entertained a dream I gave up, aeronautics. He had a 3.7 Grade Point Average. His parents, according to the Miami Herald, “tried to make sure he was exposed to experiences beyond South Florida: skiing,snowboarding and riding snowmobiles. Mother and son went horseback riding forher birthday, 13 days after his” (3). My kids are some of the few Black kids snowboarding when we go. A little detail but many people do not realize what it takes to have parents who ensure their children have access to such activities. Trayvon was loved!
I got rid of cable a year ago to save money for my children’s tuition and college prep, so I missed this trial on television but as I rode home I listened to the POTUS’ speech and had to pullover with tears in my eyes. When Mr. Obama said, “I could’ve been Trayvon”, it hit me like a an avalanche of space and time. I imagine many other folks may feel that way but it was a very raw feeling and I became more sensitive to how folks talk about his life because his life mirrors my own in so many ways. Even if you are like former Republican Congressman Allen West (3) who found the POTUS’ statements to be contrary to his experience and called POTUS Obama personal statements “horrific”, you have to admit this has been a powerful time in American life. I am not a Democrat nor a Republican but I am very much a Black American and I feel this loss very strongly. I am disappointed that Allen West, who appears to be a Black man, handles this case with so little care.
Many pundits and politricksters have talked about Trayvon and Black men in general as having issues with violence that taking time to worry about this case seems hypocritical. Others seem to have deified Trayvon but to me neither approach is a balanced look at the tragedy of his death nor the significance of his life. I am simply sad at the loss of his life and I do not feel either anger, hate, or pain regardingTrayvon’s killer. I only have apathy for George Zimmerman and his supporters. When folks worry about gun violence, Trayvon’s image, or some big social movement I am reminded that I need to get back to work and finish my book on Black male success. I have been changed by Trayvon’s life and death. Not in a ephemeral or cosmic way, just via strong reminder, that we are all human and at 17 years of age I was so much like Trayvon it scares me yet empowers me to ensure a better world for the next generation of young people.
Next time I will write about what we can do going forward. Right now I wanted so share myfeelings. Maybe that is enough for now, but I know we have more work to do going forward.