Two Years Gone, Needle Still Hasn’t Moved

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Yesterday I read Ta-Nihisi Coates’ latest piece in The Atlantic on my iPhone. Midway through the first paragraph, I felt my ears warming up (certainly turning red) and my breath quickened in that way it does when raw emotions — anger, fear, heartbreak, outrage, a confused mix of all of them — start to boil up in my gut. Coates met and talked with Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis, and he took his 13-year-old son with him. Coates brought his child, he says, because 13 is “about the age when a black boy begins to directly understand what his country thinks of him.”

The Mothers: Sybrina Fulton and Lucia McBath

The Mothers: Sybrina Fulton and Lucia McBath

By the time I reached the end of the piece — mindful and reading McBath’s parting words over twice and slowly — I had to set my phone down on my lap so it wouldn’t slip from my sweaty hand. McBath, this mother without her only child, turned to Coates’ son and, before giving the boy a hug, said:

“You exist. You matter. You have value. You have every right to wear your hoodie, to play your music as loud as you want. You have every right to be you. And no one should deter you from being you. You have to be you. And you can never be afraid of being you.” 

This shook my spirit, because I have been thinking a lot about when I will have to tell my own brown-faced boy the same words, assuring him of his clear and true value, despite what the world is trying to convince him about himself.  I’ve been thinking a lot about when I will have to have The Talk, about what others assume about him, about his life, about his intentions as he browses through a store or when he hops in a car with his friends — music blaring — or when he strides down the night’s sidewalk. You have to be you.

Then this morning I woke up to see that two years ago today, February 26, Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman. And it all comes back fresh. Another black mother without her child. Another family destroyed because one man didn’t understand or care that “the idea of feeling threatened is not the same thing as being threatened.”

This erasure story — the one about the unarmed black boy dusted away like pesky lint — cannot continue. It simply cannot. But the real outrage is … it does and will continue. It is happening on loop, just with different cities, different details, different juries — same verdict. I don’t know exactly how to move the needle, how to reshape the ending to this horrific story, but something must change. Because our black babies’ lives literally depend on it. Because we need to be able to look them in the eyes and say with conviction: You have to be you.  

  • 1

    Oh my word. I just finished saying how I compartmentalize in order to be effective, and then there is this.

    We can do what we can do. And these strong mothers (and the fathers, too — but they don’t get the same attention) who are willing to testify and speak and preach and pray and demand justice for their fallen sons are doing what they can do. Posting words like this is powerful as well. Force us to remember the person, not just the politics.

    Back in September, I told the sister of a man gunned down in Paterson this summer to always, ALWAYS, say her brother’s name when she speaks out. Make sure that no one can pretend that a death is just another statistic. Make sure that no one forgets that he was loved. Is loved. Is missed.

    Thank you for tapping in to my sadness once again.

    • 1.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      Thanks for this needed comment, (another) Kristin. Speaking loved ones’ names, so important, especially in these times of “Loud Music Trial” and “Hoodie Murder” … these young men have names. They had lives and families. They are not forgotten.