Justice is not enough for Trayvon Martin.
Yes, justice is what we all want for Trayvon.
Justice is what he and his family deserve.
And justice is what I’m confident that they will one day receive, hopefully in the not too distant future.
But no, justice alone is not nearly enough for Trayvon.
If his senseless death can somehow lead to anything of lasting value, it will only be an awakening to a much larger truth.
And that is that we are ALL connected.
President Obama touched on this truth when he said that if he had a son, he would have looked like Trayvon. But if we are to learn anything from these past weeks, we must wipe off our collective lenses and see the larger truth as well: Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich’s sons all look like Trayvon too. This is because no matter what color our skin, no matter whether or not we wear a hoodie, no matter who we fall in love with, or even what gender we are, at the end of every day, we are ALL the same.
Not 50 percent the same, 75 percent the same, or even 90 percent the same. No, we are all 100 percent the same. From Trayvon Martin to George Zimmerman to Barack Obama to me to you, there is not one degree of difference between us. We are all just little drops of water tossing around in the same big ocean of God.
Thankfully, as I watch the outpouring of outrage and sorrow over Trayvon’s death cross over perceived racial, social and political boundaries, I sense that this tragedy can be catalyst for real change. I am watching people, especially young people the same age as Trayvon, come together unlike any moment in recent memory.
But that incredible potential will never be realized if we succumb to the empty promise of judgment. Or retribution. Or revenge.
As a black man, I can identify strongly with those impulses. Despite my dreams for a new America, I’m under no illusions about the current realities. The realities in which, despite all the talk of a post racial society, black men and boys are still considered suspects simply because of the color of their skin.
A reality in which there’s no question that if Michael Skolnik, my white Editor-In-Chief at GlobalGrind, had been in a hoodie like Trayvon’s that night, he would still be alive. Yet if my black president had been wearing a hoodie that night, he too might be dead.
And to me, that simple fact makes Trayvon’s death not only a “black issue,” but a issue for all Americans as well. If our President, or our President’s son, would be in danger simply for walking to the store with a hoodie on, then that’s a hard reality that the entire country must confront. This reality has become a matter of national security. And if a Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum can’t see that Trayvon looks exactly like their sons too, then they are not fit to serve this country. You cannot be a great servant, which is the President’s primary job, if you refuse to see all citizens as being exactly like your sons or daughters. President Obama embraces this concept. His challengers run from it.
Until Trayvon’s death creates a truly national dialogue, the coals of anger and revenge are not going to just cool off. Yet as someone who is old enough to remember the civil rights movement, someone who, as a young boy watched his own father literally put his life on the line in order to confront the forces of prejudice and fear, I believe that while anger is understandable, it is ultimately not our greatest weapon in this fight. The angry voices will ultimately just drown each other out. The loving, compassionate voices are going to be the ones that rise above the din and affect real change.
Which is why I say if we put too much emphasis on justice, when justice is eventually served, all the powerful energy that has been built up will slowly dissipate back into apathy.
If we’re wrapped up in themes of justice, revenge and retribution, it will only be a matter of time before those pictures of hoodies and Skittles and yes, even Trayvon’s angelic face, will be replaced as our Facebook profile pictures. It will only be a matter of time before we stop coming together in the streets in Orlando, New York, DC, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and so may other places and instead slowly fade back into our collective corners.
What sort of solace will revenge and retribution really give Trayvon’s heroic parents? If we want to truly give them something of value, then we will give them the same legacy that was given to the families of Emmit Till, the families of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, even the families of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. A legacy which future generations can point back to and say, “That is where a shift in consciousness took place. That is where the real change began.”
This is why I believe what we do collectively in the wake of Trayvon’s death will determine how the next chapter of civil rights will read. Will it be a chapter in which we continue to fight the same old battles of hatred and race? Battles that leave no winners, only casualties. Or will it be, as I hope, the final chapter, the one in which we state once and for all that our shared aspirations, dreams and experiences must bring us together more than artificial obstacles like, race, religion, sex and class can keep us apart.
If there is any good news to be had in these sad days, it is that every single one of us CAN help create the so-called “post-racial” America that proved so elusive for Trayvon Martin. We don’t need to wait for the media or Congress or the President to give it to us. Just as we can’t let a George Zimmerman push it even further away.
Every one of us can help make that change by looking inside ourselves, first. Every one of us can look inside and confront our own racism. Our own hatred. Our own homophobia. Our own hypocrisy.
And if every single one of us who has spoken out for Trayvon can look inside and modify our own consciousness even just one degree, then the collective will have no choice but to feel that shift.
When each person rightfully outraged by Trayvon’s death decides to be a even just one degree less judgmental, or hateful or racist in their dealings with the world, then that collective shift will feel like an earthquake shaking this country.
By committing to purifying our own hearts first, we can ensure that Trayvon’s death is a cataclysmic event out of which will arise a new America. A country where we celebrate and embrace our shared humanity, rather than hate each other over our perceived differences.
That his death can ultimately bring us closer together, as hard as that might seem, is my prayer for Trayvon.
My prayer for Trayvon is a prayer for the soul of our country.
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