Did the Stark Signs Read,’Am I Next?’ Or ‘I Am Next”


Had to do a dyslexic double-take after seeing the photo of three little black boys holding up sings with that gut-wrenching Tupac lyric, “Am I Next,” during a weekend protest rally, as I was trying to digest all the Internet twitter following George Zimmerman’s acquittal for the death of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black Florida teenager who has become the iconic symbolic of all the racial ills America sustains.

Just ask America’s first African American president who was so moved by this polarizing case that he risked his ratings to lecture about this country’s deep-rooted racism and racial profiling practices. As President Obama painstakingly said, “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”

The list of unjustly murdered black boys keeps growing. So much so that I coined a new word for the American lexicon: “Trayvoned,” meaning a young, black male killed under curious circumstances simply for being black in the wrong place at the wrong time. Next up: Jordan Davis, 17, shot and killed at a Jacksonville, Fla., gas station apparently for playing music too loud.

Protests, boycotts and rallies against these racial injustices serve a visible purpose, but what next to jumpstart initiatives and laws that will actually make a difference in the safety and protection of young black lives?

“People are looking for something to do,” Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) told the AFRO this week. They need a place to put “the frustration out there and funnel all that energy; we need a real legacy for Trayvon and for what we think happened out there,” to him the night he died.

To that end, Norton suggests increasing efforts to repeal or prevent the Stand Your Ground self-defense laws that crept on the books in state legislatures with little notice, and was read to the jury in the Zimmerman trial.

Also, this week Norton and Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Black Men and Boys, scheduled the caucus’ first hearing, entitled “The Status of Black Males: Ensuring Our Boys Mature Into Strong Men.”

Tracy Martin, Trayvon's father, is slated to give opening remarks. The hearing was scheduled before the Trayvon Martin trial, Norton said, but now it is “causing a lot of excitement.”

Norton hopes this inaugural hearing on the congressional level about the status of young black males “can frame the issue and will set the stage for a national discussion and assist states in focusing on help for “black boys on their way to manhood and how to get there.”

“First, we have to approach the subject face-on; that’s what the president was doing,” she said.

Other scheduled hearing speakers include former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, Georgetown University professor Michael Eric Dyson, and Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans David J. Johns.

Mfume, former NAACP president and Maryland congressman, is the father of six males ranging in age from 23 to 42. At the hearing he intends "to talk frankly and openly about the need for black men to take hold of their destiny to the extent that they can and not assume that society will do anything for them." In addition, he said older black men will also have to emphasize to younger ones that they "have got to assume control over their own lives, as well as be aware that this can be a cruel and racist society in which they're going to be judged before they open their mouths." Mfume also plans to focus his comments on developing skills and building strong families.

Who is next?. All our hopes for our budding future John Legend-like songwriter and Romare Bearden-like artist are clouded by genuine worries for their safety and their psyches as they navigate a world that besieges them daily with negative black stereotypes and racist rants.

What father, mother, or “auntie” does not wrestle with the words to explain racism to a child as they necessarily warm the young, black and male to be careful around certain people and in certain situations? Who among adult guardians does not live in fear that their black child might not live to see another day in a world that devalues their humanity because of the color of their skin?

Read even the poignant Internet words of a white father concerned about his biracial son: “Although I can never fully appreciate the experiences and fears of a black man, I now know the fear in the heart of every black father.”

Now is the time to capitalize on the increased national racial dialogue to forge sustainable solutions as one way to honor not only Trayvon’s legacy, but also countless and nameless others like him. We need to stop little black boys from worrying “Am I Next?”

Veteran journalist Adrienne Washington writes weekly for the AFRO about relevant issues in the District, Maryland and Northern Virginia. Send correspondence to her at editor@afro.com.

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