Trayvon Martin in Obama’s America: Searching for Action when this Moment has Passed

In 2008, when Barack Obama was first elected as the President of the United States, I remember feeling like I was floating. I was shocked and excited. I cried. I screamed. My mind fluttered with so many thoughts, I couldn’t think thoroughly. I was happy to have been wrong all along; Americans were ready for a Black president. I felt privileged to see this victory, and to experience it during a young time in my adulthood. For days, I kept saying, “Now I can tell my future children that they can truly be whatever they want to be—even the President of the United States!” I knew that that moment in Berkeley—huddled up in a small bar booth with friends and strangers who would later become friends-for-the-night—would forever be clearly sketched into my memory. My country had left an impression on me. My country had surprised me, and made me proud.

image by Shepard Fairey

After President Obama’s election, there were whispers turned to strong-voiced acclamations that, ta-da, we now live in a post-racial America. I knew this not to be true. Each day, as I drove to my job at an elementary school in East Oakland—where my Black and brown students struggle to stay afloat because of lack of basic necessities at home and at school— I cursed every journalist who wrote such lies.

Five years later, and a new moment, which I know, in the future, will serve as a vivid memory, is created. In this future memory, I am across the Bay Bridge, walking the streets of San Francisco. Again, I am with friends, and it’s the evening I say farewell to my 28th year, welcoming my last year of my twenties. In between laughs and excitement for the evening, I hear about the acquittal of George Zimmerman—the adult murderer of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was a Black boy. I am angry and distraught. I muffle my scream with my hand, but I feel as though I’ve been punched in the stomach. I will cry later… privately. I ground my body, but my stomach continues to flutter. I can’t think thoroughly. I’m devastated to be proven right. Regardless of how much I understand the societal systems that promote and maintain racism, one never gets used to being told their life, and the lives of people who look like them, have no value in their country’s judicial system. We lack white-skin privilege, automatically marking us as suspicious, at the very least.

I struggle with talking about what has happened. My emotions are too much to articulate these last few days. My husband and I can barely discuss it together, and we really don’t have to… this verdict tells us what we already know.

I write—mostly in my journal, now on my blog— because I know the unhealthy effects of holding anger, and writing is my outlet. I write about my students, my nephew, my future children. I try to make sense with how I’ll juxtapose the news that they can be President, but they can’t walk out the house with hoodies on their head, they must be home before the street lights come on, and they can’t ever take irresponsible photos of themselves, even though that’s a part of growing up.

I am tired and feel helpless.

My own country, once again, has left an impression on me. It didn’t surprise me this time, but I wish for that moment, 5 years ago, when I began to see a glimpse of hope in the American people—that moment when I felt like I had American citizenship. I’m grateful that I’m leaving the country for a few days; the US of A and I need some space. I am not proud of how we look right now.

As I struggle through my emotions, I think about next steps. Many of my friends are peacefully marching, petitions have been signed, artists are creating, some of us are writing. Many of us are in mourning, and I’m proud that we are giving ourselves this time to be angry and sad. To shout and to cry. Historically, we’ve been told not to feel, because our emotions have threatened the status quo, but we’re doing what we need in this moment—this is progress for us.

But what happens when this moment passes? How do we fight so that there are no more Trayvon Martins, Oscar Grants, Emmit Tills? How do we honor the nameless Black women who have experienced similar injustices, but, for some reason, get no attention? How do I speak to my students –4th graders—whose wide-eyes know what’s going on, and who are watching us for how to heal? I am looking for answers. I am looking for a productive, healthy way to process these feelings, and support change. I want my community to heal; I want to heal. Our feelings cannot become silenced when this moment passes; they cannot be in vain.

Trayvon Martin’s life must not be in vain.

Poster collaboration by Dignidad Rebelde’s Jesus and Melanie and Studio Mazatal’s Santiago. All three are Justseed co-op members.

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