Earlier this week, our nation was catapulted into a profound discourse about race that has not been heard for decades. Regardless of how one feels about the case of Trayvon Martin and its outcome, it has brought up unresolved questions about what it means to be a person of color in this nation. This case, and consequentially, how we chose to handle its manifestations, will help define the legacy of the millennial generation.
Even as young people grace the covers of newspaper articles and evening news segments advocating and protesting for this case, we are still left with the fundamental question of what this case means for minorities and whites alike as we head back to college campuses, or enter the workforce. Questions of how we balance advocacy against the inherit racism that still exist in this country while maintaining the strides in tolerance and pluralism our nation has made remains a challenge as the fallout of this case develops.
We, here at the Georgetown University Chapter of the NAACP, as many other college chapters have set out to answer this question. We truly believe the answer lies in how we choose to use this case as a bridge or as a gap.
As college students and advocates, our charge is to first, continue to push for the repeal of unjust laws and protocols to protect both young and old from the systems and sentiments that killed young Trayvon. Our second charge, through our demonstrations and commitment to advocacy, is to help restore hope for those who have given up on the justice system and worse, each other.
During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, college students and young adults led the way in fighting injustice and creating faith for a nation that could be. Today, college students and young adults alike are more connected than ever before; therefore our ability to organize and meet these charges should be effortless.
While the advocacy and solvency via posts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram that our generation has showed are indeed a sign of the political awareness of our generation, we must find a way to have that energy transferred to grassroots mobilization and activism. Instead of being limited to 140 characters, we should write letters to local, state, and federal officials. In place of uploading a picture on Instagram, we should join civil rights organizations such as the NAACP. Instead of only signing an online petition, we must attend local rallies and community organizing meetings.
Nevertheless, whatever the mode of activism we take, we must make our presence known and keep Trayvon relevant, because it is his legacy that has created this space to tackle these fundamental questions and issues. We must not let Trayvon’s death be in vain. We must fight against the “stand your ground” laws throughout the country, we must fight against lax gun control laws, and we must fight against unwarranted profiling. Most important, we must follow Trayvon’s parents’ example of dignity and determination while we continue to fight for our civil rights. In the words of Attorney General Eric Holder, “we must stand our ground,” and we shall not be moved until justice for Trayvon is attained. The jury has spoken, and now we, the people, must speak.
Yet, we must remember that actions speak louder than words and this case has caused us to look not only at the issue of race, but a host of other ones. We as the millennial generation cannot afford to sit idly as we lose young people (of all shades) to gun violence. We cannot afford to have our elected officials discuss matters like gun violence without our voices, opinions and stories shared. We cannot afford to have this platform to discuss the issue of race relations in the 21st century and back down because of the discomfort that racism causes, years after the Civil Rights Movement.
As our hearts ache for Trayvon’s family and for all of those who have lost an innocent, loved one to a vicious crime, we must channel this pain into action. As the verdict was read, the nation was split. While many were enraged with the jury’s decision, others were amazed that the case was receiving national attention. This is a problem.
Racism is still alive in the United States, and we cannot turn a blind eye or sweep it under the rug.
As a younger generation, we have the power to shape the discourse of race in America. We must face this issue head-on. Why are unarmed, black men deemed dangerous? Why does it take national pressure and media attention for the murder of a black youth to be investigated in Florida?
These are the underlying issues that face this nation. We cannot afford to let these issues take the life of another innocent person. That is why young college students and professionals must rally and mobilize to counteract the societal pressures that have allowed an armed man to walk free, while an unarmed youth was given the death penalty.
Rashawn Davis (Co-President, Georgetown NAACP)
Taylor Doaty (Co-President, Georgetown NAACP)
Mikaela Ferrill (Vice President, Georgetown NAACP)