Made In Our America: Letter to Trayvon Martin
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Perhaps that is why America turns, again and again, to the ghost of Dr. King. Our collective soul is so repressed at times that a dead man has more vision and more answers than we do. That just should not be the case any longer, because Dr. King is never coming back, Trayvon. And neither are you, young man. But what is here, what Martin Luther King left, and what you’ve left, Trayvon Martin, is a call to action for our souls, and for the soul of America. What connects you to Dr. King is that he, and Ella Baker, and Fannie Lou Hamer, and Malcolm X and nameless or forgotten others, fought, sacrificed, died, Trayvon, so that my generation and your generation could move freely, anywhere in America. Yet 44 years since MLK was shot on that Memphis motel balcony the way you were shot in that Florida gated community, we know that is not the case.
Further irony, Trayvon, is that if you were in a ghetto environment your fear would not have been a George Zimmerman but someone of your own race. Yes, internalized racism and black self-hatred are real, and we should be as angry about that as we are about what George Zimmerman did to you. There is no room in the process called soul searching for selective outrage. But any society that is forever chasing its tail instead of mustering the courage to stand still and look itself in the mirror will do exactly that. For sure, I asked once in a poem “where does one run to when stuck in the promised land?” Well, the answer, Trayvon, is that we should not be running at all. We should be living, and loving each other and ourselves as if the future of the world depends on our commitment to such. Because it does, young man, it really does.
Finally, Trayvon, I need to leave you with something an older man said to me when I was but a few years older than you. That you are a prince. A prince because your tragic death has given many the chance to see light for the first time, to feel and be in a very different way. While some may criticize those who wear hoodies in your honor, I say at least they are doing something. My beef is with the ones who do nothing but talk, if they do that. We’ve got enough talkers and non-doers in our America, plenty of individuals who think of themselves and not others, ever. But your death will not be in vain, Trayvon, if we are able to gently nudge those types aside and make way for the folks who know we will not only get full justice for you, but who will take America forward, not back.
You, wherever you are today, do not be afraid ever again, of George Zimmerman, of the dark, of walking wherever you please, Trayvon. They can kill a man-child, a boy, in cold blood, they can leave him for dead, they can delay informing his parents, they can hope the sorry episode would disappear, but they cannot murder his spirit. And they will never be completely free if all of us are not completely free.
Kevin Powell is the author or editor of 10 previous books, and is also a poet, essayist, acclaimed activist and public speaker, and a columnist for theguardian.com. His 12th book will be The Education of Kevin Powell, an autobiography of his childhood and young adult life, to be published by Atria Books/Simon & Schuster in Spring 2013. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter: @kevin_powell.