04/12/2012 06:48 pm ET Updated Jun 12, 2012

To Honor Trayvon, Don't Wear a Hoodie, Buy a Book

My mysterious friend, Trublud, sat in a coffee shop in Chelsea section of New York Thursday morning, looking at the iPad he held in his hands. He was reading a story about Trayvon Martin.

"I think we're missing the boat," the black, 60-something military veteran, said sadly. "I understand how important it was for George Zimmerman to be arrested, even though it took 45 days after the crime to come. It's important that he be brought to justice. He pulled the trigger and killed one of our young men. My prayers go out to Trayvon's family. But Zimmerman is only the symptom of a disease. The cure will not come from his arrest or trial, or even from his conviction."

I imagined a spectral procession of Trayvons, often shot to death by the police - famous ones such as Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell, and less noted ones such as Kendrec McDade, Rekia Boyd, and Kenneth Chamberlain.. I got Trublud's meaning: We have to deal with the systemic problem the Trayvon incident is a sad reminder of.

Like legions of other black men in America, I know what happened to Trayvon could have happened to me on many occasions. I was often stopped by the police when I was about Trayvon's age as I walked home from high school in Beverly Hills, Calif., where I lived with my father and brother. I was often stopped riding my bicycle to and from the city's library or stepping out of my house to get a carton of milk at a nearby store. I remember how each encounter with the police began: "Someone fitting your description was reported perpetrating a crime. Where are you headed? Where do you live?" And so on. But, while I was often stopped, I was never frisked. I was spared that indignity - a violation of personal space straight out of slavery. And I was fortunate to have a gun drawn on me only once.

"I know wearing the hoodie is supposed to symbolize solidarity, but to me it symbolizes burying our collective head in the sand," Trublud continued, with a mixture of compassion and frustration. "Wearing a hoodie with our heads bowed, or even staring defiantly into the camera lens, is not empowering in any substantive way. If the problem was how we dressed, as a people we'd be in a much different situation than we are in today."

"A better way to symbolize our outrage and defiance over Trayvon's death would be to buy a book, not pull a hoodie over our head," Trublud said. "Imagine Jamie Foxx, Spike Lee's son, the Miami Heat standing with their right hand raised high holding a book: Classics such as Carter G. Woodson's Mis-education of the Negro or Ralph Ellison's The Invisible Man. Contempory detective novels by the likes of Valerie Wilson Wesley or essays on modern America by Toure. Or Shakesphere. Or Philip Roth. That would send the message that we, like our forebears, recognize the importance of education and the social clout in confers."

"Bettering our situation will not come overnight," he said. "But employing the analysis it takes to understand what we've read will keep us moving steadily in the right direction. I have faith in that."

In my book, Black Pearls, I quote Malcolm X from his autobiography where he talks about being in prison:

"If I was not reading in the [prison] library, I was reading on my bunk. You couldn't have gotten me out of books with a wedge."

So, let our action for today be honoring Trayvon Martin, and the many like him, by reading a magazine article, a poem, a newspaper article, or the chapter of a book -- and thinking about what it means.