In the wake of the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin, we are changing our usual weekly posts and sharing the following "word in time" from Rahiel Tesfamariam, a 2012-13 Beatitudes Fellow. She wrote this piece at the one-year anniversary of the killing and posted it at The Washington Post , where she is a columnist and blogger.
Reflecting on Trayvon Martin's death in a post-Newtown America
Before mass shootings at Aurora and Newtown put gun control at the forefront of the nation's attention, America's trigger-happy gun culture also crystallized when 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman.
A year later, we must ask ourselves if Martin's senseless death and the movement that erupted in its aftermath taught our country the lessons we so desperately needed to learn.
Long before Zimmerman and Trayvon ever crossed paths, it appeared that a particular psychology was driving Zimmerman's calls to the police and his subsequent actions. Mother Jones described it as an obsession "with law and order, with the minutiae of suburban life, and with black males."
Notwithstanding the protestations of his family and friends, who argue that Zimmerman has a multi-racial group of friends, Zimmerman appeared to live in a cultural bubble in which his understanding of the world was dangerously limited to those things most familiar to him. His "suspicion" of Trayvon mirrored the gaze that looks upon many blacks and Latinos with fear, distrust and expectancy of criminal behavior.
The hoodie that Trayvon wore on the night he was killed became an iconic symbol becuase it perfectly represented the criminalization of black men in America. Even in death, the young man who was gunned down after purchasing Skittles and iced tea was reduced to a weed-smoking thug who was delinquent in school.
We can't begin to address gun violence prevention until we acknowledge that the criminalization of Trayvon was a mere extension of the racial profiling that millions of African American men face every day.
Considering the limiting depictions of black Americans in mass media, this shouldn't be surprising. We can't expect to have our minds saturated with destructive, violent images of a particular group of people day in and day out without that affecting how we view and operate in the world. This was why Trayvon's murder reaffirmed my committment to media representations of communities of color
But Trayvon's murder also affirmed the power of media as a tool of social change. The blogosphere, for example, is often credited for pushing mainstream media outlets to begin giving coverage to the case. This "bottom-up" effort included Kevin Cunningham, who was a 31 year old Howard University student at the time, starting a Change.org petition calling for Zimmerman's arrest that resulted in international attention and over 2 million signatures.
Cunningham struck a nerve. As part of a generation whose sense of identity is so deeply tied to technology and social media, many of us came alive this time last year. Wanting to ensure Martin's death would not be in vain, we used every medium at our disposal to tell his story. It was our moment to get informed, educate others and mobilize our spheres of influence. But we weren't alone in doing so. The tragedy had bridged generational divides so much so that the likes of Rev. Al Sharpton were just as necessary as the Howard University students who launched the "Am I Suspicious?" campaign.
For many of us, this became our modern day Civil Rights Movement. Ironically, having an African American president seemed to have little bearing on the pursuit for justice in Trayvon's case. Beyond President Obama's endearing "if I had a son" statement, he was absent from the national dialogue. And if that didn't teach us anything else, we should know that we can't continue to soley rely on politicians and lawmakers to spark tangible progress in our local communities.
The passion and "righteous anger" that Trayvon's death inspired in millions of people worldwide is a testament to the power that we all possess to be agents of change. We can no longer sit on our hands waiting for a charismatic, messianic figure to rescue us from racism and class inequities. We must fiercely engage in the work of social justice everyday, ushering in the improvements that we hope to see locally and globally.
There's something to be said about Trayvon's parents and brother refusing to let us forget that they had prematurely lost their loved one. They instilled in us what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the "fierce urgency of now." Hearing them speak on television was not only heart-wrenching but it was also awe-inspiring - constantly motivating us to fight on their behalf.
A year later, as the Martin family has faded from the national stage, our sense of urgency may have diminished. Thus, the question becomes: what will it take the next time around for us to declare that there is no other time but now? ~ Washington Post, February 26, 2013
Echoes from the Edge
By Rahiel Tesfamariam, 2012-13 Beatitudes Fellow - July 15th, 2013
Rahiel is also the founder and editorial director of Urban Cusp, an online magazine highlighting progressive urban culture, faith, social change and global awareness.
Today at Urban Cusp she said,
"Believe me when I say that Trayvon did not die in vain. His death will birth more than we could have ever imagined. His name will be etched in history for having resurrected our community/ our country from any possible slumber we may have been in. We are awake. And ready. Are we not? To start, please sign this petition created by the NAACP calling on the Department of Justice to launch a civil rights investigation."
Finally, the Poet
By Langston Hughes - July 15th, 2013This is for the kids who die,
Black and white,
For kids will die certainly.
The old and rich will live on awhile,
Eating blood and gold,
Letting kids die.
Kids will die in the swamps of Mississippi
Kids will die in the streets of Chicago
Kids will die in the orange groves of California
Telling others to get together
Whites and Filipinos,
Negroes and Mexicans,
All kinds of kids will die
Who don't believe in lies, and bribes, and contentment
And a lousy peace.
Of course, the wise and the learned
Who pen editorials in the papers,
And the gentlemen with Dr. in front of their names
White and black,
Who make surveys and write books
Will live on weaving words to smother the kids who die,
And the sleazy courts,
And the bribe-reaching police,
And the blood-loving generals,
And the money-loving preachers
Will all raise their hands against the kids who die,
Beating them with laws and clubs and bayonets and bullets
To frighten the people-
For the kids who die are like iron in the blood of the people-
And the old and rich don't want the people
To taste the iron of the kids who die,
Don't want the people to get wise to their own power,
To believe an Angelo Herndon, or even get together
Listen, kids who die-
Maybe, now, there will be no monument for you
Except in our hearts
Maybe your bodies'll be lost in a swamp
Or a prison grave, or the potter's field,
Or the rivers where you're drowned like Leibknecht
But the day will come-
You are sure yourselves that it is coming-
When the marching feet of the masses
Will raise for you a living monument of love,
And joy, and laughter,
And black hands and white hands clasped as one,
And a song that reaches the sky-
The song of the life triumphant
Through the kids who die.