After the Verdict: A Mama Responds to the Trayvon Martin Case

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

“We leave fear in the dust as we let our sons dread their hair, dance in the neighborhood park, and wear hoodies in public because we know we are deeply free in ways the world doesn’t know.”
Justin-1-2

This isn’t the first time I’ve felt scared for my son. I remember when I first learned that dark-skinned men are more likely to be incarcerated. Or young men of color are more likely to be falsely accused of crimes. Or black boys are more likely to be victims of violent crimes …

When I learned of the verdict, sadness revisited my mama’s heart. My son might not be so safe walking in our suburban neighborhood—especially if it’s a cool winter’s day and he reaches for his favorite hoody (bought by Auntie Martha on a recent expedition to the zoo). His chocolate skin, his newly dreaded hair– which so echoes his vibrant personality–and his hoody could confuse someone. His everyday behavior crossing his own city streets could possibly look like a threat to someone else.

My son dances with a vengeance. He wants to be a rapper, a soccer star like Messi or a businessman capable of making lots of money.

“When I make my first million dollars, Mom, I’ll give it away to drill wells for all the thirsty people in Burundi,” he says, “so they’ll have access to clean water.” Because just as often as he dreams of being a rapper or a soccer star, my son dreams of following in his father’s footsteps and working alongside the poor so  they can build a better future. He thinks that’s cool, too.

But someone in my own neighborhood in America could see his dark complexion, his dreads, his hoody and feel threatened. And without any knowledge of my son, without any interaction with him, they could be frightened.

And what if they owned a gun …

I shudder. This is why I shuttle my sweet son to a school that’s close enough for walking. Despite all his protests and his desire to walk or ride the bus a few blocks with his friends, we get in the car and fasten our seatbelts. Truth is: I’m trying to keep him safe from more than he knows.

The verdict reminded me yet again how fragile safety is for a black boy in a hoody. How precarious freedom might really be for my extroverted, energetic, and compassionate son. I saw again how the world won’t grant him the benefit of the doubt under some circumstances.

After the verdict, my cracked heart and the oozing sadness gave way to a moment of relief. My son will be staying in Burundi for the school year. He’ll be in a school, neighborhood and country of black beauties, all sparkling in the African sun.

He’ll have the chance to dance, rap, play soccer and not frightened anyone, at least not because he’s black.

I know Burundi isn’t a perfect haven. There’s poverty at every turn, violence breathing down the northern road from rebels, tribalism still whispered in the night. But somehow it feels safer tonight because none of those things target my son for his blackness.

Maybe this jury and this judge did right by the law. Maybe they aren’t to blame. I recognize complexities exist and shades of gray abound. Can any of us hold full knowledge about what really happened that day in Florida? Who alone sifts motives, weights intentions, and knows hearts? Certainly not me—so I tread softly even as I feel the heaviness of it all saddling my shoulders. It seems that racism, violence, politically polarized rhetoric, and skewed laws all converged into a spectacle of a trial and still no justice for another mother of another son, a boy who looked like my own. (I say this knowing I might be wrong, but sensing deep down that something is amiss.)

An armed adult faces an unarmed teenager. A lost son and then this verdict. I must cry out. I must say that somehow we know in our bones that this is not what justice looks like. So I cry out for justice to roll down from Somewhere to this place, so sons like ours can walk free.

Tonight I cling to the words of prophets and angels: Fear not. I’m ravenous for a salvation oracle that will satisfy my mama’s soul and assure me that my son is safe and I need not fear for him when we return to my homeland. I pray for other prophets and angels to whisper to other mothers across America tonight the divine imperative to fear not, even though we see the darkness.

Let’s move away from fear and toward Love. We can do it as we forgive those who’ve wronged us and stolen sons from us. We leave fear in the dust as we let our sons dread their hair, dance in the neighborhood park, and wear hoodies in public because we know we are deeply free in ways the world doesn’t know. Let us not be fearful for our sons to show their full colors, to walk unafraid to school, to a movie, to their home for dinner.

We say no to fear, but also no to injustice. And here’s where I know I must work to make a better, safer world for our sons. I must be one of the maternal voices standing for our sons, changing laws to reflect true justice and unraveling racism one strand (one relationship) at a time. I must sweat like a welder melting swords into plowshares, guns into ploughs, fear-filled homeowners into good neighbors on a rainy night.

After “Fear not” comes the announcement of God’s presence and, more often than not, an invitation to participate in God’s work on earth. I want to heed the words and step out of my present fear. And I want to follow God into His ongoing work of bringing justice to this world He loves, one neighborhood at a time.

I don’t just want to stay angry, sad and afraid. I want to bring about God’s goodness for our sons of every color and on every street.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Kelley Nikondeha
Kelley is co-director and chief storyteller for Communities of Hope, a community development enterprise in Burundi. She is also the author of Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World (Eerdmans).
Kelley Nikondeha
Kelley Nikondeha

Latest posts by Kelley Nikondeha (see all)

Kelley Nikondeha