08/14/2013 09:17 am ET Updated Oct 14, 2013

One Month Later: Trayvon Martin and an Unexpected Moment of Clarity


In the aftermath of the George Zimmerman verdict, countless people across America expressed the full range of human emotions. As with most controversial subjects, the loudest voices of support or condemnation received the broadest levels of attention in the media. Now, almost a month has passed since George Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges. Most of the mainstream media has moved on to other matters but there are still loud voices within the African-American community expressing anger and pain. The responses that continue to have a chilling effect on me are the silent voices. Whether a person is afraid to weigh in on the matter, are indifferent, or merely want this painful chapter to fade away is a personal choice. I do not condemn silence. Instead, I listen in the stillness to hear a voice that may offer greater clarity or consolation.

I believe I heard a voice recently among the swishing noises and clatter of a neighborhood Laundromat. Periodically, I take my bundles of literal 'dirty laundry' there when I don't want to spend five or six hours lugging clothes from my basement. So I loaded the washing machines and proceeded to wait for five loads to dry and become more purified by the heat of the spinning dryers. As I leaned against the washers shaking my head at the latest Anthony Weiner sexting scandal update, a mother and her young daughter rolled their laundry from the far corner of the Laundromat to my area. The mother -- a typical white suburban 'soccer mom' spoke to me and smiled. Her teenaged daughter smiled and spoke to me as well. Our polite exchanges were nothing extraordinary. After all, that is exactly how strangers should treat each other, especially when our clothes have found unity in the wash and spin cycle. But there was no way I could fathom what would occur in just one simple gesture.

The girl walked to the vending machine. When she returned, she extended her hand, asking, "Would you like to have some Skittles?"

I looked down at her hand. Skittles. A simple candy adopted by many people within the African-American community as a symbol of injustice and pain. How could this girl possibly comprehend the symbolism behind holding out a handful of Skittles to an African-American woman? Momentarily, my mind flew far beyond the walls of the Laundromat.

I thought about Trayvon Martin.

I smiled and said, "No, thank you." I'm not much of a candy person. I don't know the last time I ate a Skittle.

As the three of us continued to wait for our delicate and permanent press articles to dry, my conversation continued with the mother. We talked about the reports on the 5 o'clock news: A thwarted rape, a swindled elderly widower, the weather -- grit, grime, and the mundane. The girl stared at the television until she turned to me with a gleam in her eyes. "You know, I got baptized yesterday!" She said gleefully.

I looked at her: The joy of youth written over her face. A simple proclamation that has become a symbol of faith and rebirth to so many people. How could this girl speculate that her plunge into what some Christians refer to as 'the watery grave' would resurrect my spirit? Momentarily, my mind flew far beyond the walls of the Laundromat.

I thought about Jesus Christ.

I smiled and said "Congratulations." I'm not much of a proverbial Bible-thumping Christian. But I know that being a Christian should represent kindness and understanding.

Regardless of a person's politics or belief system, Trayvon Martin and Jesus Christ are symbolic. What they symbolize are specific to the frame of reference of individuals choosing to disregard or acknowledge them. Talking about either of them can stir emotions or close mouths due to the unseen hand of our own angst or unbelief.

As the 6 o'clock hour approached, we were happy to finish our laundry. Before mother and daughter drove away, the girl leaned into my car and said, "I hope I see you again." We exchanged names and they drove away.

I had a moment of clarity about my chance meeting with mother and daughter. Life will keep spinning us around while subjecting us to the intense heat of social, political, and cultural issues. There is plenty of dirty laundry in America that we need to expose in the light. There is no easy way to wash the stain of past and present transgressions away. Some people may never admit that the stain exists while others may doubt that the stain can be washed away. We may fall silent because of fear or lack the capacity to come to grips with what is happening before our eyes. Sometimes we will cry out as individuals or as part of a group to condemn injustice, whatever it might be. But somewhere in the mundane and unexpected there is a glimmer of hope that the human race can be better. We can evolve into the creatures that we should be. We can extend our hands to each other as we take a long and potentially painful journey to ultimately stand on common ground.