Some believe that Mrs. King failed on several levels. This is in no way a departure point for discussion. If Mrs. King failed, then Dr. King failed, as well as Malcolm X, Nat Turner, Denmark Vescey, Harriet Tubman, and many others. These are all individuals who led their own lives and, often by default had to represent an entire movement. We cannot call people failures who lived their lives selflessly for others.
Furthermore, we do Coretta a disservice by comparing ourselves to her. I raise no human being to God-status, but I have a healthy respect for people who put their lives on the line for me and all who read this. It is a shame that we can raise rappers like the late Tupac to God or Malcolm X-status in his passing but be so critical of people who have never defamed the image of black people. Whether you are a Tupac fan or not, you cannot deny that during his lifetime, he hurt the black cause probably more than he helped it. Can we say the same for Mrs. King?
While we chastise Mrs. King for not carrying on her husband's legacy properly, let us not forget that she was her own person who created her own legacy. If a U.S. President dies, no one speaks of the former First Lady as having to carry on the legacy of her husband. They are allowed to just be. The Reverend Al Sharpton and many others spoke at length last week about all the bold moves Mrs. King took to keep them focused on the struggle, long after Dr. King passed. He credits her with keeping them on task and not becoming in mind and heart the same as their enemy. Through her death, she passed on another lesson to me through a quote from Al Sharpton: "She reminded us that when your heart us in the right place, your mind and body will go in the right direction."
It was entirely up to Mrs. King to promote her husband's legacy as she saw fit. I cannot speak for Dr. King, but I doubt he was looking down from his resting place in disgust at how she has failed him. If we are to not give credit to one man or woman for an entire movement, we should not blame one man or woman for the "failures" of that movement. In terms of the King Center, we should view the fact that the King children are disagreeing amicably (no defaming of each other in the media, for example) about the legacy of the Center as a testimony to their mother's teaching.
Is black America in disarray? Of course. All of America is. But we who are part of this next generation of leadership are old enough to no longer blame our ancestors and current elders for what they did not pass on. We know the mistakes of the past and have no excuse to not learn from those mistakes. We should be thinking about what 20-something-year-olds will be saying about us in 50 years and what we have "failed" to accomplish. Collectively, we are all failing our forefathers and mothers in some way, shape or form. At the same time, collectively, we need to continue to learn from what worked and what did not work in our historical continuum. In the struggle for human rights, the only people who "fail" are the people who truly are blind to the cause for social justice. Mrs. King was visionary for justice on par with any human being who has walked the face of this earth. Let's not let her down.
I have a great deal of respect for everyone across the country who is marching to demand justice for Trayvon Martin. Like many, I do believe that Zimmerman should have been found guilty of something. Deep in my heart, however, I knew that a “Not guilty” verdict was going to most likely be the decision. For days, I spent time thinking about my own mortality. I was reminded once again that, should something as tragic as this befall me, half the country will be in support of getting “justice” for me and half the country will seek to paint me as a criminal based on my past writings, emails, films, and songs. After a few days, however, I decided that I am not going to worry about this. I have decided that the best way to honor Trayvon Martin, Sean Bell, Emmett Till, Danroy Henry, Amadou Diallo, Jordan Davis, and countless others is to live and live to the best of my ability and be an example for others.
At the end of the day, marching is not going to do much to challenge our justice system. Those who do not want to watch will just change the channel or stay in their air-conditioned homes on a hot summer day. How do I know this? I know this by the fact that there are no rallies for George Zimmerman taking place across the country. Those who support the verdict and even proclaim Zimmerman to be a hero will focus on legislative efforts to make sure that Stand Your Grand laws stay on the books. They will focus on midterm elections and the 2016 elections to make sure they are putting the politicians in place who will support them. At the end of the day, the rallies will end and America will go back to business as usual, but there is a way that this time can be different.
Rather than march for Trayvon, let’s live for him. What does that mean? It means increasing our efforts to save our youth across the country who are victims and perpetrators of violence. As someone who has been a community activist all of my life, I know that there are Americans of all races and faiths working in inner city neighborhoods to halt the violence that persists in our communities. Unfortunately, our efforts will never make it to the mainstream media because mass black-on-black crime is expected. With all due respect, we have to step it up. We have to do more to show our youth that we care about them but will we?
While many who will march for Trayvon are people dedicated to their families and communities, I know for a fact that there are some protesters who will go home and beat their own children like they don’t know them just for looking at them the wrong way. Some protesters will go home and call their own children the most vile names imaginable. Many more will go home and let their children continue to listen to music and watch movies that degrade people who look just like them. This is not living for Trayvon.
If we want to live for Trayvon, we have to increase our efforts in showing the world, starting with our own community, that we care for our youth. In addition to boycotts, we need to organize BUYcotts to buy and fund artists, music and movies that showcase us in a more positive spotlight. Juror B37 was able to refer to Zimmerman as “George” and Trayvon and Rachel Jeantel as “they” because she has only been informed about black people by the images that have placed before her by mass media. If you did not live in a black community, what would your view of the black community be based on watching TV?
Living for Trayvon means demanding more of us. While not perfect, I see the Jewish, Latino, and Asian communities demanding respect in this nation by building their own institutions and participating more in the political and business process of America. Many of us in the black community are still letting our votes be taken for granted by democrats, pimping ourselves out on YouTube for record deals and “exposure”, and showing by the way we let our young black boys walk outside of their homes half naked that we don’t care about them. I reiterate: living for Trayvon means demanding more from us. It means rappers realizing that their lyrics celebrating violence may be entertainment for some, but it’s the only form of education on black people for others. If we demand more from us, the country will be forced to change its impression of who we are.
And please notice that I am saying “We” and not “You” because I am as much a part of the problem as anyone else. Whenever I see young brothers and sisters repping themselves incorrectly on the streets or in the schools where I speak as a youth speaker, I am guilty as charged. My pledge to Trayvon and so many others we have lost is to do my best to not let them down. I will continue to promote peace in my lyrics, and be a role model wherever I go. I’ll work to smile more at the young brothers I see in the streets. When I slip up in this mission (as we all do at some point), hopefully my community will not let me fall but rather help pick me back up. Justice for Trayvon starts with me, not fighting to have the justice system pick the verdict I would I have preferred. Let’s join together and build ourselves up after the rallies on the shoulders of all who have died unjustly. That’s the least we can do.