I have a friend -- family really -- who attended Key Elementary with me in Arlington, Texas. I'd been at the school for about a year before she showed up. I lived in Los Angeles before moving to Texas.
Each morning at Key, before classes began, we would line up and then properly proceed into our homerooms. I was in the 4th grade. The line-up had become tricky for me. It was a time when older kids would pick on me, calling me -- the black kid from Cali who oddly fit into the South -- "ni--er." This necessitated my fighting the bullies, and then being disciplined, and then explaining things to my mom over, and over, and over again. The teachers knew the deal, the administrators at the school where aware, other kids were with me, my mom had my back, still, no matter, I was an exhausted little dude. I was solo in my fight.
But then, one morning in line, my friend was there. She was from Harlem. She was fresh to the school, a newbie who needed my support and protection. While in the line I saw the 6th grader coming up to us. He was a white boy who I'd put paws on before. I was bracing myself to fight again. He walked up, contorted his face and fixed his lips, but before he could give the "n-word" slur his full throat, my friend smashed him on the side of the head with her metal lunch box. The boy was shook, but fine. My friend was still screaming on the kid when teachers, or whoever, took her to the office. The boom from the box-to-head got everyone's attention.
It was amazing. I had a comrade in the fight with me. I was not alone. My struggle was cosigned.
Shortly after President Obama's surprise comments in the White House press pool reacting to the Zimmerman acquittal, I went back and forth with my friend a bit about what the president said. The balance of her reaction was, "it's a start." And I agree.
However brilliant the president's words were in reaction to the tragedy of Trayvon Martin, and however deft his balance of social commentary with policy, with the power of his personal narrative, it was still a start. It was a good start, his metaphorical metal lunch box to the head of our collective consciousness on issues of institutional and cultural racism.
The gravity of the president explaining his personal connection to the criminalization of black men cannot be overstated. His "Trayvon Martin could have been me," was great. President Obama, in his remarks, cosigned my struggle. He referenced an important history of injustice for black people in this country that has metastasized to present policies and socio-cultural realities that remain barriers to a full realization of The Great Experiment for black people.
There is a present, however, that we have to press. Indeed, President Obama cosigned my struggle, but he also compounds it with his consideration of NYPD Police commissioner Raymond Kelly -- Officer Stop and Frisk more black people -- as the head of Homeland Security, and in implementing other domestic policies that cripple black men and boys.
The sense-making in politics can be baffling.
The president's remarks were important. They were historic. But there is still extension needed to this start of his. There is a mountain to climb regarding the relentless marginalizing of black men and black boys that is cyclical between popular culture, everyday practice and policy.
My friend hitting that 6th grader in the head with her lunch box, and me fighting all the time in elementary school did not solve our problem. Truth be told, our mothers moved us to a different school where we thrived. But that action, that jolting response to normed racist behavior was a start. It helped us to redefine our situation in a way that helped us to move beyond it. I pray the same will be said of this watershed moment in Mr. Obama's presidency, and that this will be a significant move to justice for Trayvon Martin and too many other black boys and men.
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