The murders of Renisha McBride and Jonathan Ferrell last year have reaffirmed that simply being black in America can be lethal. Trayvon Martin’s father, Tracy, shares how to hold your head high
You never really sit down at your dining room table and have a conversation about race until something happens in the news. That’s a conversation that America is afraid to have. Blacks aren’t afraid to talk about it—we always get the short end of the stick. Even though my kids grew up in a diversified community, I let them know racism is alive and it’s not going anywhere. Some of the population really feels African-Americans are beasts. America is set in its ways.
Growing up, Trayvon and Jahvaris were in a program called Youth of America, which was run by an internal affairs police officer named Walter Alderman. He’d teach them how to conduct themselves if they’re being stopped by the police. First thing you do is go into surrender mode. If the police tell you to stay on the ground or put your hands behind your back, go ahead and do it. Even if you did nothing illegal. You don’t want to give them the opportunity to beat on you or shoot you for no reason. You just have to be mindful of your surroundings and the things that you say. On the 7-Eleven surveillance video, you notice Trayvon asked for a bag. We’ve always taught our kids to ask for a bag if you’re in a store in an area you’re not familiar with. That way when you’re walking out, no one can accuse you of stealing—your receipt is in the bag. That’s a small thing that can go a long way.
I tell my sons to conduct themselves in a professional manner when they’re in public and be mindful of what they post on social media. What you say and do today will stick with you for a lifetime. And push come to shove, America will turn it around on you. They tried to make Trayvon out to be this monster because of some of the things he said on social media, but that’s just typical things teenagers say. Don’t be afraid of the skin you’re in. You can change your clothes, shoes and hairstyles but you can never change your skin. You have to be proud of who you are. We have to show our kids that their lives are as valuable as any other race. We have to reassure them that their lives matter.
Since the Zimmerman verdict my kids don’t want to play outside. We try to encourage them to get some fresh air, but they feel safer in the house. They’ll wear a hole in the bed just sitting and playing PlayStation. We have to let our kids know they don’t have to be afraid to leave their homes, go to the store or wear hoodies. Since the Trayvon incident, I tell my kids to make sure people can see your face under a hoodie, but does it really matter? If a person has ill will in his heart, he’s going to do what he wants to do anyway.
I’m sure Trayvon used conflict resolution, tried to get away from the confrontation. But as a parent you tell your child to defend yourself. Do what you have do to get home because you don’t know if you’re going to make it. I would’ve been ashamed if my son didn’t put up a fight. It’s not that we’re teaching our children to be aggressive, but we’re trying to teach them how they can get home safe. Protect yourself. Anywhere you go. —As told to Bené Viera (@blackgalfound)