Fifty-six years separate the extrajudicial killings of Black boys Trayvon Martin and Emmett Till, each of their fates catalyzing movements of social change in memory of these teenage victims of American racism.
Martin’s death, like Till’s, would be a rallying cry for a generation to fight back against the injustice of mistreatment due to profiling based on skin color.
After a court ruling exonerated Trayvon’s killer, Barack Obama reflected that the teenager “could have been me.” That allowed Black boys to see themselves through the eyes of the president of the United States, with whom they shared the experience of being profiled and being made to feel to be less than American in so many aspects of American life.
Since that killing, the deaths of countless other Black men and women that followed, from Michael Brown and Eric Garner in 2014, Sandra Bland in 2015, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in 2020, and Daunte Wright in 2021, remind us that the stain of racism remains ever present in American life. And that there is much work to be done to get rid of its influence in our country if it is ever to achieve the prophetic vision of Dr. King’s “dream.”
When Trayvon was killed and his killer was set free, the illusion that America was “post-racial” was, once again, proven incorrect and shortsighted. The election of a Black man to the highest office in the land did not achieve that.
A decade of the Black Lives Matter movement, which started with Trayvon being deprived of his life and the ensuing pain and anguish his family and our world endured in his wake, is a reminder that racism does not disappear because of one man’s (or woman’s) election.
Fourteen years since the election of America’s first Black president and more than 50 years after the Kerner report, commissioned by President Lyndon Johnson following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., American society still remains, in many ways, separate and unequal. In 2022, as in 1969, Black Americans are more likely to have lower incomes and less likely to own homes.
Fifty years after the groundbreaking campaign by the U.S. Rep. Shirley Chisholm of New York for the U.S. presidency, the first woman and Black person to seek a major party nomination for the office, Kamala Harris is seated as the first female Vice President of the United States. Still in 2022 as in 1972, Black women are still paid, on the average, less than white men for the same work.
Trayvon Martin would be 27 years old, if he hadn’t been killed. Emmett Till would be 80 years old, if he hadn’t been killed. Martin Luther King Jr. would be 93 years old, if he had been allowed to live.
Time passes, but it does not heal all wounds, nor does it equate to progress in achieving true justice and systemic equality for the historically disadvantaged people of America.
On what would have been Trayvon’s 27th birthday, Sybrina Fulton, his mother, memorialized her son by voicing a call to action for the public:
“If you really want to support Trayvon Martin and all our young people, knowing that our children’s lives matter, then just do your part. Do your part. That’s all I ask. I’m just trying to do my part.”
We, each and every American, must do our part to end systemic racism in America.