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Made In Our America: Letter to Trayvon Martin

Reflections on a boy lost too young, and a culture that allowed it to happen.
 
 
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April 2012

Dear Trayvon:

What do I say to you, man-child, or for you, that has not already been said? I’ve tried writing this letter to you several times, and several times the words would not come. There have been tears in their place, or immense anger, and a painfully heavy kind of sorrow. Or some debilitating element of fear, if I can be vulnerable and real with you. Fear that I might say the wrong thing, or somehow offend you, your family, or someone who may not agree with my views of our society.

But this is not a time to be afraid, Trayvon. We are past that now, and we know that being afraid to speak and do is the same as creating your own prison, and being stuck there forever. These times are demanding courage, vision, love, and the determination to make sure your death is not in vain. For in writing this letter to you I am also writing it to myself, to America, to all of us, and asking myself, all of us, our America, to be truthful, in a way we have not been previously, about who we are.

Your murder, Trayvon, is a national tragedy, and the entire world’s gaze is upon us with a mixture of empathy and disappointment. Empathy because any human being, regardless of her or his background, is going to feel the devastating loss of a life, even that of a stranger. Disappointment because we in America claim to be a democracy, one that sets the standard for other countries—a great nation where there is, allegedly, justice and equality for each and everyone—yet it took over six weeks for George Zimmerman to be arrested, and only because of loud and consistent public outcries.

Mr. Zimmerman may have been the man who pulled the trigger, but there are so many responsible for your life ending abruptly at the age of 17. You did not deserve to die that young, not like that, in the frightened and tormented darkness of that Sunday evening in late February.

Furthermore Trayvon, I need to state, without hesitation, to those who have been quick to say that folks like me are screaming racism for the heck of it, that I love people, no matter who they are, that I really do believe there is just one race, the human race, that we are, each of us, sisters and brothers in the human family. And I do not simply condemn racism. I also denounce sexism, classism, religious intolerance and disrespect, homophobia, a reckless disregard and bigotry toward persons with disabilities, and violence in any way—in short, every form of hatred and human-to-human madness one can name.

We cannot merely be opposed to wrong and injustice that is convenient for us. We must also be opposed to every single kind of wrong and injustice, even if it does not directly touch or affect our lives. Because, eventually, it will. And because we human beings are ultimately connected, whether we want to accept that truth or not.

Due to my own challenges and changes, it took me many years to come to this conclusion, but after many conversations with my God, countless spiritual and emotional journeys, and travels to and interactions with communities and individuals worlds apart from the experiences of black boys like you and me, I do believe there are things that bind us, regardless of skin color, culture, ethnicity, region or national boundaries. Like our faith in something greater than ourselves that creates and sustains us. Like our desire to be happy, to have a stable home, a family. Like our longing to have possibilities for ourselves, our loved ones, and for employment that is not merely to pay the bills or survive financially, but actually brings us pride and dignity.

 
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