On Monday mornings, my co-workers and I ask each other the customary question of, “How was your weekend?” It always involves answers of new restaurants discovered, errands run, movies seen, and activities done with our kids (for me, it would be my 8-year-old nephew).
This morning was different.
This morning we just shook our heads at each other, exhanging exasperated glances about the not guilty verdict handed to George Zimmerman Saturday night, acquitting him of all charges in the killing of Trayvon Martin.
This morning, I shared how much my nephew favors Trayvon, and they agreed.
This morning, I explained the anger I felt, the hot tears that fell two days ago as I thought of my 8-year-old nephew, too young to know the impact this legal decision could have on his life.
But this morning, as angry as I still am, I realized literature can help me cope with life’s disappointments, better explained by what I retweeted Saturday night:
People wonder why I’m so vocal about wanting to see diversity in literature? Because that’s one way to start acceptance.
— Nicole Brinkley (@wordforteens) July 14, 2013
Yesterday I finished Tanita S. Davis’ Happy Families, the story of an African-American family coming to terms with the father’s decision to live as transgender, told from the perspectives of 15-year-old twins Ysabel and Justin. The siblings love their father, but worry what impact this will have on their family. They also worry about what people will have to say about their father Christopher, now to be known as Christine.
Happy Families delves into the typical teenage embarrassments and insecurities, but there’s a part that really stood out to me as I read yesterday. Justin, a flourishing debate team member at his high school, uses his patented logic to help him sort through his feelings. Though it deals with a completely different subject than the GZ trial, I felt it profound:
Fact: Random violence happens—no matter where you live.
Fact: Some racist could attack us for being African-Americans. But no one has.
Fact: These last three questions probably fall at least a little under the category of “paranoid.” Who are these “people”? Why do they suddenly know who we are and what we’re doing?
Other than asking Dad to be careful and praying for him like always, there’s nothing I can do about any of this. Just like every other day of my life, when I say goodbye to Dad when he flies down to supervise a building site, when Mom has a late job and I go to bed before she comes home—all I can do is make sure they know I love them, say my prayers, and let it go.
Stuff happens. None of us control anything.
Considering the decision found by an all female jury, one that couldn’t realize that an unarmed black child minding his own business in his own neighborhood didn’t deserve to die, the impact of Justin’s realizations that “none of us control anything” hit me hard once again. It’s not something I didn’t know before, but when tragedies like Trayvon Martin’s killer walking free occur, you can’t help but feel like we can’t win. We’ve fought so hard through slavery, through segregation, through languishing at the back of the bus, and we think after those brutal periods, nothing could be worse. Until injustice slaps us awake again.
But despite Justin’s realizations, we can do something. We can affect change in our words, our actions and reactions, and our most important gifts, our children. As always, education is key. Not only should we teach them to be aware
(not scared) of the cowardly boogeyman with guns, we should arm our children with the knowledge that they do matter, that their lives do have meaning even in the face of this verdict. We should impress upon them that while being black could mean being a target, they do not have to walk in fear. God will handle the rest.
And, as Justin, says, “Make sure they know I love them, say my prayers, and let it go.” My nephew’s life means too much for me not to.