You May Be Tired of Talking About Trayvon Martin, But Teenagers Aren't

Trayvon MartinI remember when Yusuf Hawkins was murdered in Brooklyn. I wasn’t very old, but I can vividly recall being sad, then angry that a group of people felt collectively entitled to take the life of another person based on something as frivolous as their race. No provocation, no just cause, and certainly no remorse.

My mother had purchased the Eyes on the Prize collection, so I had seen more than my share of grainy footage from the Civil Rights era when men and women marched despite being pelted and spit on by antagonists furious at having their way of life and their white privilege threatened by a group of uppity niggers.

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But this was almost the 1990s in New York City. It was a current event, not something we learned about in history. It might as well have been a throwback to the Jim Crow yesteryear. Yusuf’s killers were fueled by a hate so unchecked and a mob mentality so contagious that, for the minutes it took to end his life, it could have been 1949. Or 1849, for that matter. 

They were virulent, subhuman even. And that really troubled my little 10-year-old thoughts. I wrote an essay about him in school and kept up with the case until the media tired of it and moved on to a new hot-button headline. I’ll never forget how I was so deeply affected by the brutal killing of a complete stranger.

More than 20 years later, I’m still emotionally invested and black boys are still dying cruel, wasteful, unfortunate deaths at the hands of folks who are so gone off of their prejudice that the inhumanity of murder takes a backseat to hate-filled impulse. We’re all feeling the loss of Trayvon Martin right now. I’m not sure what to expect from the George Zimmerman trial. On one hand, if Trayvon can’t be at graduation, prom, and holidays with his family and friends, then George Zimmerman darn sure shouldn’t enjoy his life either. But I’ve seen this story play out so many times, I can’t help but brace myself for his exoneration because of some random loophole or empathetic jury.

But, if there’s ever anything good and useful in a tragedy like this, it’s the community activist that comes out in most of us to lend our voices to the fight for what’s right. And that’s been handed down to kids. I’ve seen more teenagers protesting this case than I’ve seen occupying and picketing on behalf of any other issue. It doesn’t matter if it’s their first time wielding a public opinion. Their involvement, at this point, is just as valuable as someone who’s been on the Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson Emergency Response Program since the 60's.

The other day, I had to go in on some overly critical folks on Facebook poo pooing on the influx of people wearing hoodies to represent Trayvon and throwing sour grapes at the rallies and marches on his behalf. There are more pressing, less publicized issues going on and people who have been doing real work on their behalf for years, they grumped. Oh boy, I thought. Enter all the self-righteous folks. So here goes: if you’ve consistently dedicated your weekends, talents, time-juggling and energy to community work, we applaud and appreciate you. We really do.

But if someone—especially a kid—only did one socially relevant thing this year and that one socially relevant thing was helping to get justice for Trayvon Martin, then that's cool with me. Even if it meant just wearing a hoodie in a show of solidarity. Even if it meant going to their first public protest and holding a sign for a few hours. I'm not going to knock anybody because they weren’t on the frontlines of Community Rally X six months ago or won’t be backpacking through Grassroots Movement Y six months from now. Coming at folks because they aren’t as politically or community-involved as we think they should be is the sure-fire way to make sure they never participate again. Don’t we want them to catch the fever for making a difference?

I’m seeing kids with a spark, a new light and interest in the world, even down to the legal idiosyncrasies of this case. The circumstances are dismal but the silver lining is the budding community activists, the potential attorneys, the political masterminds being shaped in the midst of it. My activism started as a 10-year-old kid mourning and writing about Yusuf Hawkins, which proves it doesn’t matter when or how you set it off. Just set it off.

Do you think protests are the right way for teens to get involved in social causes?


Image via jnissa/Flickr

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