It’s been several years since a young, Black teenager, Trayvon Martin, was targeted, confronted and subsequently shot dead by a white man who claimed that he was just protecting his gated, Florida community when the tragic incident occurred.
I would get a ringside seat in my role as the editor of The Miami Times, the largest and oldest Black-owned newspaper in the state and in the South, as protests gathered steam and as court proceedings which Trayvon’s shooter unfolded. More difficult to swallow in any objective way were the numerous opportunities I would have to spend time with the young man-child’s parents, family, friends who all willingly shared their memories of Trayvon, also expressing how difficult they found it to believe that something like that had actually happened.
Perhaps it was naïve to believe that the senseless death of Trayvon Martin was an anomaly and had little chance of reoccurring. But it happened again, and again and … again.
And so, as the days became months and then years, the list of young Black boys and Black men, as well as Black women, killed before their time — victims of police-involved shootings — grew longer and longer. Still, I remained convinced that it was only a matter of time before this troublesome and senseless trend would come to an end.
But it hasn’t.
So, when a 17-year-old Black boy from a suburban Pennsylvania city lost his life after being detained by police and then running out of fear for his life before being shot in the back, there was little I could do that I believed would end this heinous trend.
I guess that’s why I called my oldest grandson, 15 and then tracked down my youngest child and only son, 24. I proceeded to have “the talk” with both of them. And I wanted to believe that it would help keep them safe — that it could one day mean the difference between life and death for them. Then I grew angry.
But there was nowhere to place my anger so that it wouldn’t hurt others. Further, my anger could not be aimed at those who deserved it. Nonetheless, I am so weary, so sick and tired of the same kinds of things happening in our country’s urban communities.
I just don’t see our young boys as threats to my personal safety. I am not afraid of them, even when they have gathered in large numbers. And I do not want to become part of that segment of Americans who want to discard Black boys because of ignorance, fear and bias. And so, I continue to reach out to young brothers wherever I find them. I tell them, as I constantly tell my oldest grandson and my son, that they must stay on duty. That they must always be aware. That they must avoid confrontations with the police at all costs. And that they must consider the pros and cons of their youthful decisions including with whom they spend the majority of time, the kinds of places they frequent and the kinds of activities in which they tend to normally become involved.
I cannot wait to see my two grandsons (one is just 4) and my son as they continue to navigate their way in this world as young, gifted and Black men. They deserve the chance to grow from boyhood to manhood. And we, the elders, must find ways to better protect them. If not us, then who?