The phrase "I am Trayvon Martin" has been repeated by demonstrators, posted as status updates and tweets, and whispered by young black men and women walking the streets of our nation knowing that sadly they too may "look suspicious."
I and many others can't help but weep at saying the words "I am Trayvon Martin" because in too many situations I have been and so many of my peers have been. As a high school student driving with my friends in the predominantly white neighborhood our school was in, we were pulled over because we "looked suspicious." Walking around the university in which I was enrolled, I was stopped by the police there because I "looked suspicious." Perhaps most painfully, while I was enrolled in seminary studying for the ministry, I was walking back to campus one evening when a local policeman stopped me, made me put my hands on my head and kneel on the ground because "there had been a lot of car thefts lately and I "looked suspicious."
I am Trayvon Martin. And anyone who has been stopped, profiled and questioned because they didn't seem to belong in an area or they looked like they might be planning to do something illegal -- when they were not -- is Trayvon Martin too.
That officer who stopped me near my seminary did not believe that I was who I said I was and so he put me in the back of his car and drove me up to campus dormitory. He didn't believe me until I unlocked the door and went inside. No apology. Just silence.
And yet, my seminary wasn't silent at all. I told my advisers who reached out and cared for me pastorally. The seminary president called the local police department and the mayor's office on my behalf. I never forgot their care and their willingness to go to bat for me.
What role should clergy play in situations like this? It's easier to envision a local pastor, priest, rabbi, imam or any religious leader getting involved pastorally and advocacy wise when something occurs in their neighborhood or area. But what about when what happened to Trayvon happens hundreds of miles away. Do clergy who are not directly involved have any responsibility to address the situation in some form? Should they care?
Like so many people around the country and world, Trayvon's brutal killing, which is so far away from me geographically, hits home and deeply hurts. Just as when Troy Davis was executed, this national attention grabbing case feels very personal.
And yet, what do I want? What should I want? I add my voice to those calling for the arrest and conviction of the man who killed Trayvon. But that's not enough. That won't bring Trayvon back. That won't prevent this situation from repeating itself the way it does every week in this country.
What I want and what I pray for is a changing of the culture around the millions of African American Trayvons living in the U.S. that allows for them to be thought of as "other," as criminals, as people up to no good. A changing of the culture that allows for people, non law-enforcement people, to carry firearms, use them on a 17-year-old boy, and then hide behind poorly thought out laws. And a changing of the culture where this situation surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin doesn't matter or is irrelevant to so many of my neighbors -- especially my neighbors in the faith community. That indifference hurts just as much as seeing a young man who looked just like I did when I was a teenager die.
This weekend, thousands of houses of worship will gather to sing to, pray to, read about and preach about God -- a God Whom I am most certain cares about Trayvon and the culture around him. And yet, in so many of the sermons and the prayers that will go up, any mention of Trayvon, of gun violence, racism and profiling, will be absent. Silence. Nothing. No condemnation of an atrocity that is inconsistent with the teachings and spirit of the faith. No pastoral outreach. Just a silence that will make many congregations "look suspicious."
The bullets of silence hurt just as much as the bullets that took Trayvon's life.
I am Trayvon Martin. And there is a Trayvon in every congregation. Even the affluent suburban ones. Perhaps it is in those places that this story needs to be told most.
I recognize the hesitancy in many preachers to "get political" in their pulpits. Fine. No need for strong condemnations about gun laws (unless you feel so led). But a boy died. A boy who was not committing a crime. He died because black men walking in certain neighborhoods, perhaps like the neighborhood your church is in, look suspicious. For people of faith to be silent seems to be inconsistent and a poor witness. If you don't want to bring it up in the sermon, perhaps make it one of the items you all pray for. Or at least reach out to someone you think might be grieving because of this case. Or perhaps have a small group or an after service discussion about gun violence in your city.
I am Trayvon Martin. This name should be spoken, at least whispered in your service. Care. Your God certainly does.
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