“I’m doing fine,” Tracy Martin’s bass voice booms through the phone, his tone that of an exhausted warrior. When we spoke, it had been 19 days since George Zimmerman was found not guilty on all counts in the death of his son Trayvon. Martin and Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s parents, have been soldiering on in order to make sure their son’s life and the lessons from his death are not in vain. Both have been present at rallies, protests and at press conferences giving speeches and statements to the general public.
Though brief, Martin’s reluctance to speak on the phone comes with an urgency to emphasize the conversation we need to be having in the aftermath of the verdict. A week ago, Martin was on Capitol Hill addressing the Congressional Black Caucus during their inaugural summit of the newly formed Congressional Caucus on Black Men and Boys. He provided the opening remarks, in part stating, “Just to have your son’s life taken away from you when you molded him in becoming an upstanding citizen of this country is heart wrenching and it’s something that you just can’t get over.”
“One of the biggest points I made is the fact that we need to let the world know who Trayvon really was. I don’t want this verdict to dictate his character,” says Martin. “I wanted to start the conversation on what do we do in moving forward.”
The biggest step in moving forward, as expressed by Martin, is being a registered voter. Aside from voting, being a registered voter “means you are at least considered to serve on a jury. As a juror for a case like this you can help make the kind of decisions for a chance at fair justice,” says Martin.
Immediately the verdict ignited raw emotion as people rushed to their social media apps and blogs to express their frustration and opinion. In no time the furry took a turn into commentary about what the Black community is and is not doing, that perhaps is a factor for the easy disregard towards the life of a Black person. From actor Romany Malco to CNN’s Don Lemon’s "No Talking Points" blunder, it is as if the ineloquence of their points suggest that if we do x,y and z, we would have finally earned the right to be respected and treated as American citizens.
Such thoughts seem to be cutting deep, especially since they are expressed by other Black individuals. The focus has long strayed from the fact that a child was killed; a child that was racially profiled. Through the noise, questions are being raised; is this the right time to talk about what we are doing wrong?
“I think 50 years ago was the right time to discuss what we are doing wrong, not as African-Americans but as a nation,” says Martin.
Martin further expresses that it is not so much as what we are doing as African-Americans because no matter what good we do there always seems to be something in the road to try and trip us. The trick is recognizing the obstruction and figuring out the best solution to defeat it in order to keep moving.
“It’s easy to sit around and talk about the problems that exist in your community. Going out and making a difference is where the real impact will be made,” says Michael Powell, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Lifting As We Climb Foundation (LAWCF).
When the verdict came in “I was saddened but not surprised. Young black men, in particular, always seem to get the short end of the stick when it comes to the United States justice system,” says Powell.
Founded in 2004 and co-located in D.C. and Detroit, LAWCF serves all boys from underserved communities. They turn no one away, however according to Powell “it just so happens that most of the boys in the metro D.C. and Detroit areas are minorities.”
Powell has noticed or it has been expressed to him the high level of distrust towards the police from the mentees of LAWCF. It is something that echoes a universal fear among a lot of black men from their childhood.
“Society always viewed young Black males as troublemakers who were up to no good. A lot of people assumed most of us would either end up in jail or dead. Neither was an option for me, but the possibility was scary,” says Powell.
In 2012, The Center for American Progress highlighted 10 key facts about racial disparities in the U.S. justice system. The Center for American Progress states:
“According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. Individuals of color have a disproportionate number of encounters with law enforcement, indicating that racial profiling continues to be a problem.”
Also, as reported by the Center for American Progress: “African American students are arrested far more often than their White classmates. The data showed that 96,000 students were arrested and 242,000 referred to law enforcement by schools during the 2009-10 school year.”
“Our black boys are bringing a host of issues into the schools that aren’t being dealt with in a healthy way. But I don’t think that job falls only on the shoulders of the school systems. Teachers and administrators are already overworked and underpaid. The reality is that it is everybody’s responsibility to help fill the gaps,” says Powell.
Along with Powell, 35, the co-founders of LAWCF – Siraaj M. Hasan, 35, Curtis Blackwell II, 35 and Samir O. Cummings, 35 – have been doing their part in the movement of saving our boys before they are caught and swallowed whole by a societal undertow.
Starting as friends in their undergraduate years, the founders are alums of Hampton University. “We thought it was pretty unique that we all entered college and graduated on-time together. After graduation, we began discussing ways to give back and after reviewing different models, we ultimately decided to create our own,” shares Powell.
LAWCF’s principal focus is education, with components that groom the mentees in health awareness, leadership and community service activities and career development. The group has awarded scholarships and in the summer they run the Sound Mind, Sound Body Football Academy.
One of the lessons, especially brought to the table during Zimmerman’s trial, is diplomacy.
“We continue to stress the power of choices and their consequences. In every situation that we face in life, we have the power to choose how we’re going to conduct ourselves in response. And every choice that we make will have a positive or negative consequence on us and others around us. We can’t control what other people do, but the moment that we as African-American men in this society believe that we have no other choice, and engage in a physical altercation we have given away our power,” says Powell.
It is part of a conflict and resolution lesson that Martin says he shared with Trayvon that included reminders about respect; for self and authority.
Martin adds that another conversation for our boys is letting them know their lives mean something. “We have to figure out a way to ensure they are not afraid. We have to let them know that as parents we love them. I think it’s real important that we as a nation instill in our kids that you don’t have to come from a two-parent home to be successful. A lot of kids across the country feel as if they have nothing to live for. We have to let them know that we’re here to help. We’re here to lead them.” says Martin.
As the support continues, Martin is thankful for it all, especially towards President Obama for his remarks. It is the genuine support that Martin hopes will go on and not inadvertently turn into a #JusticeForTrayvon fad. “We’ve used this tragedy as a source of strength. No matter the difficulties of this, as long as we continue to have our faith we will not lose hope. We’ll be alright,” says Martin
Tiffany E. Browne is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter: @TiffanyE.Browne