Brother to Brother: My Reaffirmation of Pride in Black Boys Post-George Zimmerman Trial

Like many Americans on Saturday July 13, 2013, my nerves got the best of me while awaiting the George Zimmerman verdict. When the verdict was announced, my heart dropped in aguish for Trayvon Martin’s family. I can only struggle to imagine the pain they are feeling. To have your child murdered and for there to be no consequences must be the most horrifying feeling a parent can go through.

For many Black boys and men, they share the same sentiments as I do, “I could have been Trayvon Martin”. I am writing this because I feel the emotions of many Black boys who are grappling with how to survive without being the victim of the threat called “racism”. To my brothers, it is important to reflect on the legacy of our ancestors. Movements to fight against injustice have been apart of history for centuries: From the revolts during the transatlantic slave trade, to the American civil rights movement, to the fight to end Apartheid in South Africa. Social movements and the quest for social change have always been a part of society. My brothers, you are a part of a contemporary movement in the fight for your own humanity. You have allies and aren’t alone. Stand with pride in this journey we call life. Never feel a sense of isolation because there is another Black boy who may be going through your same pain. Never feel discouraged or let someone make you feel as if your life does not have value. You are loved, and every Black boy is valued as a child of God. Remember that you have a purpose in life.

As a Black man of African descent born and raised in the United States, throughout my early development I was socialized on the experiences of Blacks in America. Resiliency was a phenomenological experience that I learned early on. There aren’t answers or solutions to every situation you may encounter while being a Black boy. You may desire to change or influence a racist person’s attitudes, which in turn maybe problematic. Keep in mind that no one is inherently born to be racist; racism is a taught behavior. Unfortunately, racism is part of the burden of being Black in America. Lastly, my brothers continue to persist and achieve despite white supremacy, sexism, poverty, and the continued assassination of Black manhood in America.

RIP Till, Diallo, Bell, Grant, King, Martin…..and all the Black boys and men who have been the victims of hate.

Teaching Trayvon Martin: Three Strategies for Teacher Educators

Every year as a faculty member in an urban-focused, university-based teacher education program, I pose the following questions to the teacher certification candidates and certified teachers in my classes: What is your vision of social transformation, and how far are you willing to go in your capacity as classroom teachers to achieve it? Sadly, the murder of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida is the latest of a never-ending series of tragedies that underscores the urgency of these questions. As teacher educators, it is crucial that we seize this moment to encourage and support classroom teachers’ efforts to end white supremacist violence in the lives of youth of color.

Those who deny the permanence of white supremacy in America will surely concoct a litany of excuses and justifications for George Zimmerman, the man who has admitted to killing Trayvon Martin. As demonstrated time and time again, white supremacy is amazingly adept at defending itself by denying its very existence. Regardless of whatever preposterous defense may prevail on Zimmerman’s behalf, the details of Trayvon Martin’s final moments paint a clear picture of a young man who became yet another casualty of American society’s enduring, well-rehearsed, and unforgiving assault on black bodies. That advocates for redress on Trayvon’s behalf are forced to make the case for the obvious—America’s suspicion of and contempt for young black males—detracts time and energy better spent on strategizing our collective responses for justice. Consequently, I will not devote more time to asserting the obvious. Readers who want to debate the “merits” of the case against Zimmerman are encouraged to do so in other spaces.

What I hope to do in this blog entry is to engage fellow teacher educators in discussions of the roles that we can play in the aftermath of Trayvon’s death. The public outcry over Zimmerman’s audacity and the Sanford Police Department’s complicity has turned the murder of Trayvon Martin into a potentially powerful teachable moment. The following are strategies that teacher educators can use to help teacher certification candidates and certified teachers transform this tragedy into a springboard for critical thought and collective action.

1) Engage teachers in rigorous examinations of white supremacy. The gravity of Trayvon Martin’s murder and the subsequent silence that surrounded it cannot be fully grasped without a critical understanding of white supremacy as a systemic arrangement of power that has privileged the lives and interests of white Americans from this nation’s inception, and that continues to do so despite social and political struggles for racial equality. Framing the historical and systemic nature of white supremacist power in America is crucial for helping white educators—specifically those who bristle at critical analyses of white supremacy—to understand those analyses as critiques of oppressive systems of power, not as indictments of individual white people. A critical examination of white supremacy can also help teachers of all racial and ethnic backgrounds to understand that while white supremacy privileges white people over racialized others, it can be reproduced by a multicultural cast of characters that aligns itself with white supremacist power structures (e.g., someone like George Zimmerman). In my experiences as a teacher educator, work in critical race theory by scholars like Gloria-Ladson Billings, William Tate, and Adrienne Dixson, analyses of privilege and power by Allan Johnson, and racialized examinations of white teachers by scholars like Christine Sleeter and Gary Howard, have been great resources for teachers who are learning to grapple with the realities and repercussions of white supremacy. A rigorous understanding of white supremacy is a prerequisite for teachers who want to stand against the white supremacist domination of youth of color.

2) Help teachers to connect youth of color to resources and strategies for negotiating white supremacist oppression, both individually and collectively. Learning to resist is not just a political undertaking—it is also a pedagogical act. As Paulo Freire’s groundbreaking work has taught all of us, just as the oppressed have to learn the terms of their oppression, they can also learn to create the conditions for their liberation. Teacher educators who are committed to social justice must find ways to support classroom teachers’ efforts to facilitate analyses of and resistance against white supremacy with youth of color. Continue reading “Teaching Trayvon Martin: Three Strategies for Teacher Educators”