7/21/2013, New York. It was inspiring to see the nation, and blacks in particular, express collective pain and take action due to George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the unnecessary shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin. Shortly after the verdict was announced on 7/13/2013, NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous circulated a petition for an investigation by the Department of Justice. The result was the NAACP’s website crashing due to more than 350,000 people immediately responding. As the week wore on, people protested across the nation, angry and hurt about the underlying message of the verdict: that a black male life in this country lacks value. But prominent black men are speaking out.
On the eve of nationwide “Justice for Trayvon” vigils, organized by the Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network (NAN), President Obama added his views to the mix. Surprising the White House briefing room on the afternoon of 7/19/2013, President Obama spoke about Stand Your Ground laws and emphasized the fact that the lives of black men and boys do matter. “Trayvon could have been me 35 years ago,” President Obama said, before disclosing how he, too, has experienced the indignity of being followed in stores and hearing car doors click as he walked by . The message was clear: the potential of black boys to grow up and lead the nation or make significant differences in every aspect of society must be cherished and guarded unapologetically.
Singer Stevie Wonder has vowed to boycott Florida in protest, but what about the 20 other states with existing Stand Your Ground laws? Attorney General Eric Holder said that “an investigation“ is underway but will it uncover any new information to support civil rights charges against Zimmerman? Former NAACP President and Congressman Kweisi Mfume shared his concern about the safety of his six sons while being interviewed on MSNBC, echoing an emotion that black men feel daily. So it was heartening so see Judge Greg Mathis, Jay Z and his wife, Beyonce, stand with the public at the New York vigil held at One Police Plaza on 7/20/2013. Walking next to Travyon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, her older son, Jahvaris and the Reverend Al Sharpton, they depicted a powerful showed support.
Across the country, multicultural groups came out and peacefully shared their thoughts. Tracy Martin, Travyon’s father, said his son was “a loved child” as he spoke at a vigil in Miami, vowing to fight for “all children.” Martin Luther King, III addressed the gathering In Atlanta, while the Reverend Jessie Jackson spoke in Chicago. Black men from all walks of life, and the women who love them, echoed the pain that resurfaces each time another life is taken. Yes, President Obama expressed ideas for empowering black men and investing in black youth. Other elected officials have spoken out and the public has reacted. Will this new burst of activism translate into meaningful results? How much more pain and lost lives must people endure? When will the change that Sam Cooke sang about decades ago occur? When will black men and boys feel safe in this country?