My dearest Solomon and Ellison,
Last year your father and I spent countless weekends taking the two of you to various bar mitzvahs held for your Jewish friends. We were happy to see you learn about their important rite of passage. But, when George Zimmerman shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin we knew that at 11 and 13 years of age that it was also time for you to have an important rite of passage of your own.
Steeped in generational tradition like the bar mitzvahs you attended, yours would not be like the lavish celebrations you’d attended; your rite of passage would be somber. It was time to talk to you about racism and the police.
So we invited a group of the Black students from your school over to our home and one of their father’s who is a defense attorney talked to you guys about how to interact with the police. It was so hard to say to you that despite everything we’ve always told you about doing your best and that people will judge you based on that we now had to share the harsh reality about being a young black male in America.
The jury in the George Zimmerman trial reached a verdict of not guilty in the murder of Trayvon Martin. In addition to the anger over the fact that a child murderer is being set free I and many other black parents are concerned that more people could take this verdict and embrace the “Stand Your Ground” laws in Florida and use it to attack our children. There’s not one black mother who isn’t holding her children more closely in the wake of this slap in the face.
I look at photos of Trayvon’s face and my heart breaks because I also see you both. At 14 and 12 you’re both beautiful, inquisitive brown boys with limitless potential and bright futures in front of you just like Trayvon had. But I must come to terms with the fact that far too many in America see you as threats. I see how people react to you when we’re out shopping. I saw the confusion in Ellison’s eyes after he went into his favorite lacrosse store by himself and came back out and said the clerk behind the counter watched him the whole time. I notice how when we walk by police officers they size you up letting you pass perhaps because you’re out with your mother. You may have even noticed how your father tenses up when he’s stopped by the police with you both in the car. I know he’s silently praying the officer will quickly write the ticket and send you all safely on your way.
We don’t want you to fear the police or all white people but we do want you to be aware that some people you encounter may have negative perceptions rooted in stereotypes. You must understand that they don’t care how smart you are. They don’t care how talented you are. They don’t care that your father and I love you more than life itself. The only thing they may see is the color of your skin and their own raging prejudice.
We don’t want these conversations to cripple your confidence, instead we want it to motivate you to work harder. That’s what we’ve always done as a people to overcome adversity. Embrace every opportunity to spread your wings, try new things, make new friends and take giant leaps forward toward your own dreams. Remember what we heard in church sunday: Talents are God’s gift to you. Your gift to God is what you do with them.
And when the time comes when you do step outside of our protective embrace and have to deal with some of these issues on your own keep your wits about you and remember what your father and I have always told you. And when you’re frustrated, angry and having trouble understanding why certain things happen to young men of color you may remember those rhyming words from that Will Smith book “Just the Two of Us” that we read to you when you were little boys: Throughout life people will make you mad, disrespect you and treat you bad. Let God deal with the things they do because hate in your heart will consume you too.
In the coming days please excuse your father and I when we hold you both a little closer, hug you a little tighter, kiss you a little more and pray over you a little harder. Because, sadly we know Trayvon’s mother and father both wish they could do the same thing just one more time.
With all my love and protection,