(Left to right) Trayvon Martin’s father, Tracy Martin; Attorney Benjamin Crump and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (NNPA Photo by Freddie Allen).
Instead of waiting for the Justice Department to decide whether it will bring federal charges against George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman who was acquitted of second-degree murder charges in connection with the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teen visiting with his father in Sanford, Fla., the Congressional Black Caucus is already acting.
It held a hearing on “The Status of Black Males: Ensuring Our Boys Mature Into Strong Men” that featured a number of Black leaders who addressed the issues facing Black men living in the United States of America
“The loss of 17 year-old Trayvon [Martin] has focused attention on Black males as nothing else has in decades,” said Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-Washington, D.C.).
Tracy Martin, the father of the slain teen addressed the need to seek the positive in an event marred by negatives.
“I always said Trayvon was my hero, he saved my life,’” he said. Tracy Martin said that it was heart-breaking for him to not be there during his son’s final moments of life.
Martin said that he hopes that the president’s recent remarks about the case and race relations, “sparks a conversation in every household over the dinner table and that conversation is: What can we do as parents, what can we do as men, what can we do as fathers, what can we do as mentors to stop this from happening to your child?”
Martin added: “I think that’s where the conversation begins.”
Martin said that the Trayvon Martin Foundation would advocate against senseless crime and senseless gun violence, develop mentoring programs, and work on educating people on the Florida statutes and the Stand Your Ground laws.
“There’s nothing that we can do to bring Trayvon back but there’s something that we can do under the foundation to keep other families from going through this, then we will,” said Tracy Martin.
Benjamin Crump, family lawyer for Trayvon’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, posed a simple question: “Can a private citizen with a 9 mm gun profile our children, get out of his car and follow our children and confront our children?”
Crump said: “We believe that there should be an amendment to the Stand Your Ground law that simply says you can not be the initial aggressor, you can not start a confrontation, you can not pick the fight and then shoot that person then put your hands in the air and say, ‘I was standing my ground.’”
David Johns, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, addressed the needs of young Black boys often stigmatized at birth.
“By the third grade, children from low-income families who are not reading at grade level are six times less likely to graduate from high school than those who are proficient in reading,” said Johns. “We cannot solve the employment or education crisis facing Black boys and men and America without first ensuring that they all have access to high quality early education.”
Jones also noted that by age 4, less than 30 percent of Black children were proficient in letter recognition, compared to 40 percent of White children. According to Jones, 55 percent of Black children were proficient at color and shape recognition compared to 70 percent of White children.
“Access to high quality early education for African American boys especially can be the difference between the pathway that leads to the White House and one that leads to the jailhouse,” said Jones.
Michael Eric Dyson, a sociology professor at Georgetown University and MSNBC contributor, acknowledged that Trayvon Martin and many who look like him suffer from stereotypes that predated them by centuries
“Black teens’ inherit suspicion and skepticism about their humanity and their inheritance, that’s what they deal with on the daily,” said Dyson. “Has some element of hip hop culture glorified and reinforced the devaluing of Black life? Of course, it has. But it has also spoken against it. They are combating the vicious misrepresentation of Black masculine identity by resorting to the very violence that is critical to American culture and American identity and the sense of machismo that young Black people appropriate has been given to them by a culture that creates laws like Stand Your Ground.”
Dyson added: “They didn’t invent the game, they’re playing it in their own way.”
Professor Dyson said that educators need to adjust to the unique learning styles, that would covet legendary hip hop MCs such as Nas and Jay Z instead of shunning them.
“As the president of the United States of America, your skin speaks before your mouth opens, the authority and the dignity that you possess as the most powerful person in the world gives you a leverage,” said Dyson. “Just as the president has been unafraid to go to Morehouse to challenge those Black men in public, be unafraid to stand before the rest of America to challenge them, too.”
Kwesi Mfume, a former Democratic congressman and ex-president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), said that it’s up to Black men to take responsibility for mentoring young Black boys.
“We reaffirm to ourselves as men, when we get to that stage, ‘to the day I die I’m gonna make my body a bridge so that somebody can run across it,’” said Mfume. “We reaffirm that we have no other obligation in life, accept to try to make it better for the group running behind us.”
Mfume suggested anti-stand your ground laws, federal legislation that would make it “ it illegal to profile, pursue, accost and eventually kill somebody,” and taking a closer look at mandatory minimum sentencing.
Mfume said that members of the Congressional Black Caucus should consider an urban “Marshal Plan” and direct existing resources towards urban investment to employment and education, a suggestion made by many over the years.
“We can’t depend on the Justice Department to do it for us, we don’t know what they’re going to do, but there is lots that we can do for ourselves,” said Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-Washington, D.C.). “Some of it [we can do] within the African American community, some of it within the United States Congress and state and local governments.”
Norton continued, “If we do not focus on a living, long-term legacy, this will go away. We’ll go on to the next kid who has been murdered, said Norton. “I want to see something real happen.”