Today I received comments suggesting (asking) that I appear on the morning talk shows, all of which appear to be focused on the Trayvon Martin tragedy, and the associated Zimmerman trial.
It dawned on me that I had not said much about this crisis, publicly, and that maybe I should. What I have to say is that this is a tragedy for Trayvon's family, and a son they will never get a chance to see grow up into a man; to accomplish things, to grow out of his youth and youthful ways. A young man who will never be able to fulfill his God-given potential on this earth, and to make a contribution to society. A young man whose life was senselessly cut short before his time. For this I grieve for his family, and send them my love, respect and my prayers. I also grieve for Trayvon himself.
Trayvon reminds me of my best friend growing up in Compton, California, whose name was George. George, who was 18 when I was 10, was my childhood role model, and my best friend. He got excellent grades, while I got average ones. I wanted to be just like George. I admired George. Unfortunately, George did not admire himself enough, didn't value his amazing straight A grades, as much as I and others did. George did not have the benefit of the role models that I did either growing up.
So while I started a business when I was 10 (the Neighborhood Candy House chronicled in my book Love Leadership: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World), George started hanging out with all the wrong people, and doing a lot of the wrong things. But make no mistake about it, George was smarter than me growing up, and I am sure would have done great things -- had his life not been cut short at 18 years of age.
You see, George like Trayvon, had the unfortunate similarity of being at the wrong place, at the wrong time, being low-wealth (meaning, they lacked real societal power that wealth and position often brings) and of course being of color too. If you are African-American, you are born on (perception) probation in America. Unfortunate but real. And even those who seem to be the fairest of people, seem to also want to naturally attach negative impressions to young black men who are not honor students. They unfortunately 'assume' something (bad) must be up with that kid. Maybe 'they got what they deserved,' the rational continues. No, is the answer to that question.
A white kid who smoked marijuana growing up is just going through youthful growing pains.
A black or brown kid smoking marijuana as a teenager must be a thug.
An unfortunate portrait, but looking at many of the media reports and the trial itself, one that is unmistakable to associate.
My friend George was killed on a lonely street corner, hanging with the neighborhood thug named Tweet, who happen to live next to my house. In short order, George started walking like Tweet, hanging out like Tweet, and even dressing like Tweet. Ultimately, George was shot and killed, just like Tweet. And as a result, George's story is over. I carry George with me, every day of my life.
Trayvon's story is not George's story. Trayvon, it appears had a very supportive family network, and a loving dad to role model. Left alone to eat his Skittles and move about his business, Trayvon would still be alive today. He was not playing with the social fire that, respectfully I say, my childhood friend George was. But I cannot help but draw the association between these two senseless childhood deaths.
I grieve for the Martin family, and for Trayvon Martin, as I grieved for George and his family when I was 10 years old, hearing of my best friend's death. And no, this cannot be easy for the Zimmerman family either, so this is just a tragedy all around. And this is not good for America, no matter what anyone says.
If we cannot sort out our basic democracy, basic freedom, and baseline justice for all, then we cannot continue to sell America's amazing freedom story around the world.
This said, what is being said and debated on the various news talk shows these days, is not my fight. Everyone needs to vent their pain and express their frustration, and I totally understand this. I do understand. And this national debate -- about who we are, what we are, and what we must become as a nation -- is an important debate to have.
My role, if I am to have one, is and will be around the solutions, associated with this and the other crisis that our larger community suffer. And so, my advocate friends, and my civil rights and social justice friends, are all doing the right things here, tied to their missions and mandates.
They are (amongst other things) raising questions, and respectfully challenging what they believe to be wrong with our system. They are holding up the best of the American tradition of our democracy. They want policy changes, and with any luck they will get them.
I in turn will soon be doing my part; to try to insure that the Trayvons and the Georges of future generations don't find themselves in these vulnerable, unfair societal positions to begin with.
We are all in this together. So let's go.
John Hope Bryant is an entrepreneur, author, advisor, and one of the nation's most recognized empowerment leader. He is the founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE and Bryant Group Companies, The Inc. Magazine/CEO READ bestselling business author of LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass), the only African-American bestselling business author in America, and is chairman of the Subcommittee for the Under-Served and Community Empowerment for the U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability, for President Barack Obama. Mr. Bryant is the co-founder of the Gallup-HOPE Index, the only national research poll on youth financial dignity and youth economic energy in the U.S.
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