The Trayvon Martin tragedy is a severe wound inflicted on a sick patient, a patient already suffering from critical ailments:
- 72% of black families are headed by single parents
- Teen birth rates are higher among minorities than they are among their white counterparts
- 21% of black adolescents girls will give birth by their 20th birthday
- Black youth have higher rates of juvenile incarceration and are more likely to be sentenced to an adult prison
- One in three black men are expected to go to prison in their lifetime
- 48% of black youth that entered high school in 2006-2007 did not graduate in four years
Instead of pursing righteousness, many young black men value hustling; instead of “Loving thy neighbor,” many rob them; instead of working to be good citizens, many struggle to be good inmates; instead of providing the affection of good fathers and husbands, many seek the affection of fellow hustlers, inmates, and gang members.
A National Geographic documentary, Hard Time, profiled an Ohio inmate named Juice Reynolds in an episode entitled “The Hustle”. Like many other black youth, Juice began his thug life early, at 13, stealing bikes and cars, and then graduated to burglarizing homes and stores. “I’d tell them ‘You know what time it is”, he explained. “Open up them cash registers, open up the safe.” At 16, he was caught robbing a restaurant at gun point and received 8 years in prison. “I wasn’t a bad kid,” he said, “I was just adventurous.” Now, he and many others like him are pursuing the same adventures in prison that he did on the street, in prison where he does not have the opportunity to learn to be a good boyfriend or husband to an eligible young lady, in prison where he will not learn what it means to be a good father, in prison where he will most likely not learn any skills that will allow him to positively contribute to himself, to a family, and to society when he is released.
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.” While there is discrimination in the justice system, and while our school systems can be improved, it is the parent’s responsibility to instill values in their children, values that influence the choices their children will make and determine the type of people they will become. Twelfth grade reading scores of black males were significantly lower than those for men and women across every racial and ethnic group, reading scores influenced by the education system, yes, but also by parents whose influence on the child begins prior to entering school and continues throughout the child’s school years. A broken justice system and a broken school system are not fully to blame for the failure of young black men, young men who failed because they were not taught to succeed, their failure leading to under-education, to poverty, to loss of hope, and to crime. “What is wrong with our tree that our fruit is so rotten?” asked Iyanla Vanzant, speaking as a guest on the Melissa Harris-Perry show on MSNBC on Saturday, July 27, 2013.
Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, though not a couple, have demonstrated the type of leadership we need from black parents, in black families, in the black community, and in all communities. America has admired their strength through unimaginable adversity brought on by the tragic death of their son, Trayvon Martin. They have demonstrated determination, despite their loss, intelligence and confidence despite their broken hearts, articulate speech despite their tears. They have put their trust in the Lord.
On July 24, 2013, Tracy Martin addressed the Congressional Caucus of Black Men and Boys, speaking of the conversations that have begun and continue following the George Zimmerman verdict, a verdict that acquitted Zimmerman of murder and man slaughter charges even though the fact that he killed the unarmed 17-year-old, Trayvon Martin, was not disputed. “That conversation is what [we can] do as parents, what [we can] do as men, what we can do as fathers, what we can do as mentors, to stop this from happening to your child,” Tracy Martin said. “I vowed to do everything in my power not to give up the fight for Trayvon, but to fight for so many other black and brown boys of this country.”
“We have taken the negative energy that has been throughout this whole process, and tried to turn it into a positive,” Tracy Martin continued. “A lot of people will say that nothing positive can come out of death, but I disagree, and I disagree whole heartedly, because it has to with what we can do tomorrow as a nation and as a people to stop someone else’s child from being killed – [which] is certainly a positive. That’s why we are putting our energy into the Trayvon Martin foundation.”
The Trayvon Martin Foundation, http://trayvonmartinfoundation.org/, includes a circle of prayer for parents, family members, and others affected by the senseless death of children. The website reads, “Through the Foundation, we stand committed to being a strong support system for families across the country who have suffered a similar tragedy.”
Matthew 7:17 says, “Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit.” Trayvon Martin died with the seeds to become a strong, determined, intelligent, and confident man, seeds sown in him by his parents, seeds that were destroyed before they could take root.
“At times I feel like I am a broken vessel,” Sybrina Fulton said, addressing the audience at the National Urban League Conference, on Friday, July 26, 2013. “At times I don’t know if I am going or coming. But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is using me and God is using my family to make a change, to make a difference.”
God has done much with broken vessels. In these broken vessels, broken vessels that appear to us in the form of Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, God is growing trees that are bearing good fruit, fruit with essential nutrients for a healthier America.