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Lessons from Trayvon Martin

OPINION

  • Protesters rally in protest of the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin at Daley Plaza Saturday July 13, 2013. B583056396Z.1 (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune) ....OUTSIDE TRIBUNE CO.- NO MAGS, NO SALES, NO INTERNET, NO TV, CHICAGO OUT, NO DIGITAL MANIPULATION...
Protesters rally in protest of the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the… (E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago…)
July 14, 2013|By Ernest Wilkins, @ernestwilkins | RedEye

I went to Nelly's show Saturday at North Avenue Beach. He played the hits, the weather was great, and I couldn't stop smiling. Afterward, folks came over to my place and we whipped up some dinner.

While I was washing dishes and listening to music, my friend let out a scream. Or maybe it was a yell. I don't really remember, mostly because of what came next.

"Holy [bleep]!" she said. "George Zimmerman was found not guilty!"

I yelled. I swore. I ignored a call from my mom because I couldn't face her at that moment, even if she couldn't see me.

It got quiet. See, I was the only black person in the room. Everyone was looking at me. My friend tried to hug me. It was awkward.

What was I supposed to do? Or say? A boy who easily could have been me is dead, and the guy who killed him is moonwalking home. I cut my finger on a knife. "Get Your Roll On" by the Big Tymers was pumping in the background.

This trial has taught me a lot about people. There are folks who believe Trayvon Martin deserved what happened to him and will kindly inform you of that fact. There are people who will abstain from commenting because they fear public conversation on controversial issues. Some people just don't care because it had nothing to do with their day-to-day lives.

I can never explain to you what being a black man in America is like. The feeling of the cop car doing an extra lap when you're sitting on the stoop of your own home. The woman at the Southport CTA station who clutches her purse when she sees you like it's going to fly away. The smug expression on the face of the guy who calls you the N-word because he knows that his previous attempts to provoke you were unsuccessful and that it's his trump card. The cabdriver who makes you get out because he doesn't "trust people like you to have cards that work." Seeing black kids massacred by other black kids because society gave up on them. Being told in words and actions that you deserve all of it.

In situations like this, we like to ask ourselves: What can we do to change things? How can we mend the lack of education and understanding that leads to situations like this?

Here's a start: Be aware of the fact that these kinds of behaviors are out there. Don't shy away from them. Preaching to the choir doesn't fix anything. Engage the detractors, the racists and the uninformed in conversation and debate. Don't allow ignorance to continue to spread because you don't want to make a party awkward for a few minutes.

Remember that Oscar Grant, Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin aren't the only three. The other kids matter too, even if we never learn their names. All of them.

It's not an overnight solution, but it's a lot better than what we have right now.

Ernest Wilkins is Chicago's wingman.

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