Are you tired of hearing about “this whole Trayvon Martin case thing”? Well I’m pretty sure Trayvon’s family and friends are tired of him being dead, so maybe take a few minutes more on it…

‘A few of the boys were from Miami and one had gone to the same high school as Trayvon Martin. He began to cry, lamenting that Trayvon did not deserve to die. The other kids circled him, and as he opened up to express his fears, the other followed as well. And these kids, all potential Barack Obamas, and all potential Trayvon Martins, became very scared. As advisors, we felt powerless to protect them. ‘[Madison Gray, I am still Trayvon Martin]

I have spent the last few days reading a lot of different articles, stories and opinions related to the recent Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case that ended just recently following the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman on the night of February 26, 2012 in Sanford, Florida in the United States of America. Martin was a 17 year old African American high school student and George Zimmerman, a 28 year-old mixed-race Hispanic who was the neighborhood watch coordinator for the gated community where Martin was temporarily staying.

This is unusual for me, to have such great interest in a news story, but this time around I have been realising the severe and deep-lasting implications of this incident and trial and the fact that George Zimmerman, who initiated the confrontation [despite apparently being advised not to], walked away free and completely unaccountable for the events that transpired. This is not an isolated event, but something that has profound impact and connection to probably every black person in America.

handsAnd therein lies a huge part of the problem. This is not, and should not be seen as ‘a problem for black people’ or even ‘a problem for people of colour’. There is no justice at all, until there is justice for all. The racism, stereotyping and racial profiling and related issues affect us all. What stood out for me strongly in one of the article I read was the idea that on the Sunday following the not guilty verdict, the case was at the heart of every single black church service in America, whereas it would more than likely get nothing more than a brief mention, if that, in the white churches.

This status I saw on my friend Ben McBride’s page sums a lot of it up for me: “I think we can lift up is the honest wrestling we all have at times, including me, with the tension of images of young men of color. I think it would be great to see how we start creating conversation with people, not about the case, but rather how we restore invisible humanity back to people with whom our society has aided our subconscious to have no emotional reaction to outside of fear.” [Michael McBride]

The strong likelihood in this story seems to be that if Trayvon Martin had been a white guy in a hoodie in that neighborhood that night, that none of this would have happened. And for all of the white people jumping in and making ridiculous statements about their frustration with “black people playing the race card” and sharing incidents and stories where black people were shown to be racist, I need to ask you to be quiet for a moment and take a step back from your defensiveness and just really try and listen for a moment and ask some honest questions. And be prepared for the answers you might receive.

Val and I heard the news of Zimmerman’s acquittal on the way back from Vegas where we had been for a week. In the ride home from the airport we heard from our friend who drove us home, who works with a number of young black people, some of the stories of how some of his young guys have been treated simply because of the colour of their skin. This story was not an unrelated incident. This is the truth for so many young black men and women in particular, but also for their friends and families and communities.

As my friend Dave Gale responded to the Facebook status above,  the answer might be in our willingness to understand and embrace people around us who are not ‘just like us’ – seeing diversity as a rich and empowering thing, not as a threat. As simple as engaging in conversation, offering basic hospitality. Stepping out of our comfort zones to do that?’

For those of you who are trying to make excuses of stick the blame on Trayvon Martin for what happened, it might be interesting to watch this short video clip and hear the ‘threee facts’ that the reporter presents at the end. For those of you who might be tempted to see this as an isolated incident or not fully grasp the ramifications on racial profiling and stereotypes, this ABC experiment on race dynamics might be helpful or mind-blowing.

But for those of you who ‘get’ this and who are looking for answers and trying to figure out the best way to respond, or just want to be inspired by some of the positive stories and messages that are out there regarding this case, I encourage you to spend a little more time on this.

Start with the story of Trayvon’s mother and her reaction to this during the trial when she publically held on to her faith as support and encouragement as she walked through the valley of the shadow of death.

Spend a few moments witnessing the encounter that a white pastor had the Sunday after the verdict when she felt God telling her that she had to go and visit the church of Trayvon Martin and his community.

Share in this ‘Lament from a White Father’ by head of Sojourners, Jim Wallis, as he shares a white father’s perspective on the event and gives a call to white people to ask black parents what they were talking about with their children this weekend:

‘Death is horrible enough. But systematic injustice — one that allows white boys to assume success, yet leads black boys to cower from the very institutions created to protect our own wellbeing — is a travesty. Listen to the stories from Saturday and Sunday nights, of 12-year-old black boys who asked to sleep in bed with their parents because they were afraid. If black youth in America can’t rely on the police, the law, or their own neighborhood for protection — where can they go?’

Spend a few minutes reading the account of Madison Gray who, ‘as the George Zimmerman verdict loomed, spent several days with 60 African-American boys and saw the sting of their lives being cheapened.’

But if you take time to read anything in this post, then I encourage you to take some time on these last two:

The story of Wesley Hall and what he wants you to know about being a young black man in America. Hopefully, as you read his account, you will be nodding your head to the sense that he is making in terms of how his parents raised him to be and at the same time completely becoming angrier and more frustrated that this has had to be his reality.

And finally this amazing piece by Eugene Cho who I believe is a strong prophetic voice for the kingdom in the world today – this was the best response piece I have read so far on this whole case and I hope we will take this seriously. Especially the white people. Stop the excuses. Stop justifying or diverting attention or being defensive. f our black brothers and sisters are hurting why can’t we just shut up and mourn with them?

These words stuck out for me strongly:

‘Please don’t reduce this story to a mere 24 hour social media frenzy.

Examine yourself. Count the costs.

Commit yourself to justice, reconciliation, and peacemaking. God invites and calls us to be agents of reconciliation to a world in need of much mending, healing, and grace.

We must take this call to heart.

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” – 2 Corinthians 5:18-20′

This has been a long post, especially if you have taken time to read the different articles and watch the video clips and if you haven’t then I encourage you to do so. This is such an important moment in America’s history [and so representative of the same kind of issues in South Africa and the UK and probably most other countries where there is more than one race or culture of people living] and it can so easily blow over until the next one happens, or it can be a transformative catalyst for change. It needs to be this. Which is why instead of being tired of people talking about ‘The Trayvon Martin case” get tired about the circumstances that allowed for it to happen in the first place. Get tired and angry enough to do something about it.
As I was reading through these various accounts relating to a whole number of different aspects of race-related issues, I was struck by the amount of grace and love and hopefulness that existed in so many people who could have chosen to respond differently. And in the space of being a white person caught up in something that has all the appearances of being a systemic black problem [it’s not, this problem is all of ours] and wondering what is my response to this? What can I do to make and be a difference? I was reminded of this prayer by Francis of Assisi, which is a great starting point and call to action:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen