From tragedy comes a demand for change




The murder of Trayvon Martin is a horrible reality that the people of the village are almost desensitized to, as murder isn’t an anomaly for too many of us. At the same time, like the deaths of Malcolm and Martin, Trayvon’s death has become a symbol of unity even as it has showcased the centuries-old flaws in the U.S. “justice” system.

People — vanilla, cinnamon and chocolate brown — have banded together over this tragedy at the University of Minnesota and across the United States. Chaka Khan called some of her friends to sing a tribute to Trayvon Martin, each singer donning a hoodie.

Babies wearing signs asking, “Am I suspicious?” flood Facebook pages across the world, and more profile pictures than I can count are of people wearing hoodies in solidarity. How powerful!

I admit that as a mother and grandmother, I never want to know the pain of losing my children or grandchildren, not even for the good that I see taking root as a result of Trayvon’s murder. Since I can’t turn back the clock and bring Trayvon home, I seek to find meaning in his sacrifice.

Parents are united in the fear and trepidation that come with teaching our sons to drive while giving them a crash course in how to respond should the police pull them over; the nagging thoughts about his safety lying in the back of your mind every time he comes home later than expected; and the uneasy sense you get every time he walks out the door, certain that not everyone he encounters will be working for his good.

Richard Wright, in Black Boy, wrote poignantly about the terror of Jim Crow, the terror that sparked the Great Migration — “This was the culture from which I sprang / This was the terror from which I fled.” Black children are still feeling the terror of Jim Crow segregation — there are no signs to point to White or Black only, but you can feel it when you walk into a place still wrestling with the 1954 desegregation decision.

The fear we have of the institution of policing is well-placed given our lived experience. The fear we have of gangs that recruit our babies and transform them into murderers is well-grounded in fact. But these realities do not have to stand!

We do not have to sit idly by any longer, giving our children the walking- biking-driving-riding-while-Black training, fighting back fear every time our babies want to leave the safety of our homes. We can change this, and we can change it now.

Our babies deserve a life free of fear of their brother or of the police, free from the fear of conceal-and-carry or stand-your-ground laws. Our children deserve a life free from the brutalities of the new Jim Crow, free from the fear that holds us hostage from the time our babies leave home until they come back again.

Freedom is never free, of course, and as A. Philip Randolph wisely advised, “Freedom is never given, it is won.” Our children and grandchildren are standing up. They are crying out through social media. They are building a new generation of leaders who refuse the fear of segregation, a new generation who refuse the confines of the myths of race, a generation that seeks freedom not by request, but by demand.

As was true in the Civil Rights Movement, the young are stepping up, taking risks, organizing and protesting and demanding to be seen and heard. They are not bound by the artificial color lines that still plague our nation and are not inhibited by the doubts that come with age. They are unrestrained in their desire to pursue their right to life, liberty and happiness, and we too must get up, must show up.

As the story is told, upon “emancipation” slaves didn’t rise up against those who so long had oppressed them, but instead went to seek out their family members: “Have you seen my son? He was sold on about two years ago?” “I am looking for my husband. He was sold about the time Master James bought me and one of our sons.”

In the words of James Baldwin, “There is never time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment; the time is always now.”


Hear Lissa Jones’ radio show “Urban Agenda” on 89.9 KMOJ-FM Thursday nights at 6 pm, stream her live at, or read web posts from Lissa at She welcomes reader responses to 





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