Removal of Robert E. Lee leaves Arthur Ashe as Richmond’s remaining witness

Removal of Robert E. Lee leaves Arthur Ashe as Richmond’s remaining witness

The monument to Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia, after 2020 racial justice protests. Photo by Robert P. Jones

(RNS) — The last Confederate monument still standing on Richmond, Virginia’s Monument Avenue, the massive tribute to General Robert E. Lee, was removed on Wednesday (Sept. 8).

A 21-foot bronze sculpture mounted on a massive 40-foot pedestal, it was primarily funded and conceived by the Ladies’ Lee Monument Committee, a predecessor to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which has its headquarters in Richmond to this day. The statue’s dedication on May 29, 1890, was accompanied by three days of events (including a choral performance by the Young Men’s Christian Association) that drew an estimated 100,000 people.

Beside the statue, special stands were constructed to contain hundreds of white children wearing red, white and blue who were arranged to create a living Confederate battle flag.

The title of the Richmond Times editorial that week captured how the city’s white residents understood the meaning of this new landmark: “Conquered Though Not Vanquished.” As historian Karen Cox summarized it, “This was not just a monument to the region’s most cherished hero; it was about the restoration of Confederate men’s honor.”

It was also a declaration of a war on the terrain of culture and politics as Virginia, like many Southern states, threw off the reforms of Reconstruction and set up legal and cultural systems of segregation and the suppression of voting by African Americans.

The Lee monument was the down payment by the city’s white elite on a multidecade effort to create the broad leafy outdoor corridor that would eventually be punctuated by five traffic circles, each containing a massive monument to the Confederacy.

Between 1890 and 1930, the wealthier white residents not only moved their homes but also rebuilt at least seven of their churches out along Monument Avenue in the shadow of these monuments. The architectural interplay between monuments dedicated to the Confederacy and sanctuaries dedicated to God performatively expressed the motto emblazoned on the five-story column behind the statue of Jefferson Davis: “God will vindicate.”

Over the past few years, I’ve spent several weeks in Richmond, conducting research in the archives of the UDC for my book “White Too Long” and tracking the unfolding drama as the city and its churches are attempting to extricate themselves from the Lost Cause narrative and create a new story that looks to the future, rather than the past. The juxtapositions, and contradictions, can be jarring.

When I first visited in July 2019, the city had just renamed one of its central streets — one that historically fronted the national headquarters of the UDC along with “Battle Abbey,” originally built to hold Confederate reliquary and now the Virginia Museum of History & Culture — after native son and international tennis star Arthur Ashe Jr.

As a youth, Ashe had been banned from playing tennis on Richmond’s public courts because of his race. As an adult, he dedicated his life off the court to international civil rights work, philanthropy and scholarship.

Monument to tennis star Arthur Ashe Jr. along Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia. Photo by Robert P. Jones

That summer, the VMHC had hung large banners of Ashe outside the building, and there were images of him on large placards along the sidewalk. Just 30 feet or so down the sidewalk in front of the UDC building, half a dozen pro-Confederate protesters had hoisted large Confederate battle flags on makeshift poles over placards that read, “Save our monuments.”

When the UDC archivist handed me her business card, it had already been updated to show their location on “Arthur Ashe Boulevard.”

Interestingly, this is not the first time that Richmond’s residents have called on Ashe to oppose Confederate forces in Richmond. In 1996, three years after his untimely death, the city placed a memorial to Ashe on Monument Avenue. The 12-foot-tall statue, resting on a 21-foot pedestal, sits on a traffic circle just beyond the last of five Confederate monuments along the venue. About 500 people attended the unveiling of the monument, with some holding up Confederate flags in protest.

Monument to tennis star Arthur Ashe Jr. along Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia. Photo by Robert P. Jones

When I visited in 2019, I was struck by how diminutive Ashe seemed in the context of Monument Avenue. His likeness, anchoring one end of the avenue, was roughly half the size of the Lee, Davis and Jackson monuments nearer the city center. But when I revisited this past summer, the statue of Ashe, with a book held high in his right hand and a tennis racket slightly lower in his left (a pose explicitly requested by Ashe himself to emphasize the importance of education) loomed larger.

Four of the five Confederate statues were removed by the city in response to the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. The statue of Lee had been covered with graffiti that transformed it into an internationally recognized site of performance art for racial justice.

For the first time in 130 years, a trip down Richmond’s Monument Avenue will not entail an involuntary Lost Cause pilgrimage. Rather — and this is the surprisingly moving experience I had biking down that street this past July — the empty pedestals will stand as silent indicting witnesses to the past valorization of white supremacy by a city’s white leaders and churches.

The monument to Arthur Ashe Jr. prominently incorporates a biblical inscription from the New Testament’s Letter to the Hebrews on the front of its pedestal: “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

I don’t know everything Ashe and his family had in mind with that selection, but today it seems fitting for the last man standing on Monument Avenue.

(Robert P. Jones is the CEO and founder of PRRI and the author of ” White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity.” This article was originally published on Jones’ Substack #WhiteTooLong. Read more at robertpjones.substack.com. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

 

Bridging America’s divides requires a willingness to work together without becoming friends first

Bridging America’s divides requires a willingness to work together without becoming friends first

Amid two crises – the pandemic and the national reckoning sparked by the killing of George Floyd – there have been anguished calls for Americans to come together across lines of race and partisanship. Change would come, a USA Today contributor wrote, only “when we become sensitized to the distress of our neighbors.”

Empathy born of intimacy was the prepandemic solution to the nation’s fractured political landscape. If Americans could simply get to know one another, to share stories and appreciate each other’s struggles, civic leaders argued, we would develop a sense of understanding and empathy that would extend beyond the single encounter.

But after studying how Americans cooperate, both in moments of political upheaval and in ordinary times, I am convinced that tackling America’s political divide demands more than intimacy – and less than it.

Ordinary people, talking

Science bears out the idea that intimacy can make people more understanding of others.

A venerable tradition of social psychological research shows that people who interact with members of a stigmatized group may change their opinion of the whole group. The original research by Gordon Allport suggested that contact between members of different groups worked by giving people knowledge of the other group. But later studies found instead that it increased their empathy and willingness to take the other’s perspective.

That’s why a growing industry of professional facilitators champion carefully structured conversations as key to solving workplace conflicts, community development disputes, Americans’ political disengagement and racial division.

As partisan political divides became vitriolic, civic leaders brought ordinary people together to talk. You could join people from the left and right at a Make America Dinner Again event or a Better Angels workshop, where “you can actually become friends and colleagues with people you don’t agree with.”

Joan Blades, who created the online political advocacy group MoveOn.Org in 1997, seemed to have her finger on the pulse again when she launched Living Room Conversations in 2011. Small groups would host conversations across partisan lines.

“By the time you get to the topic you’ve chosen to discuss, you’re thinking, ‘I like this person or these people,’” Blades promised.

By the end of the 2010s, these were the terms for building unity: personal conversations in intimate settings that would produce friendship across gulfs of difference.

Commonalities and differences

The pandemic made the idea of living room conversations with anyone outside one’s household sadly unrealistic. But it may not have been the solution people were looking for in the first place.

Initiatives that bring together members of different groups, researchers have shown, are less effective in reducing prejudice when the groups participating are unequal in power and status – say, Black Americans and white ones.

Dominant group members tend to insist on talking about their commonalities with members of the disadvantaged group. That’s frustrating for the latter, who more often want to talk about their differences and, indeed, their inequalities.

Taking the perspective of someone different, moreover, works to diminish the prejudices of members of dominant groups but not those of members of disadvantaged groups. Research also shows that when people are asked to take the perspective of a person who fits a stereotype, they negatively stereotype that person even more than if they had not been asked to do so. Asking a Democrat to put herself in the shoes of a MAGA hat-wearing Republican, in other words, may backfire.

Nor does empathy always overcome political beliefs.

A recent study from the University of Houston found that people who are naturally empathetic are more likely to feel anger toward those in the opposite party and feel pleasure when they suffer. Empathy tends to be biased toward one’s own group, so it may fuel political polarization rather than counter it.

Naturally empathetic people are also more likely to suppress their feelings of compassion when those feelings conflict with their ideological views, becoming less compassionate as a result. In one study, subjects who had individualistic beliefs opposed government welfare programs even after reading a story about a man in financial need, but individualists who were naturally empathetic opposed welfare even more strongly after reading the story.

A march with white and Black protesters.
The protests after George Floyd’s death introduced many white Americans to the idea of allyship.
Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images

Friendship isn’t necessary

Since dialogue initiatives are voluntary, they probably attract people who are already predisposed to wanting to find connection across difference. And no one has figured out how a friendly meeting between Democratic and Republican voters, or even a hundred such meetings, can have a discernible effect on political polarization that is national in scope.

Certainly, participants who change their minds may share their new opinions with others in their circle, creating a ripple effect of goodwill. But dialogue initiatives may also crowd out ways of tackling political divisions that are likely to have wider impact.

Americans committed to living in a functioning democracy could demand that national political representatives, not ordinary citizens, sit down together to find common ground across difference. Or they could work to bring back some version of the Fairness Doctrine, a federal policy once endorsed both by both the conservative National Rifle Association and the liberal American Civil Liberties Union, that required television channels to air diverse points of view. Or people could rally to demand that Congress pass legislation like gun control that overwhelming majorities of Americans across the political spectrum want – working across party lines to win policy, not become friends.

Treating friendship as a prerequisite to cooperation also misses the fact that people have long worked together for the common good on the basis of relationships that do not resemble the intimacy of friends.

The protests after George Floyd’s death, for example, introduced many white Americans to the idea of allyship. Allies – whether white anti-racists and/or straight people or men – commit to listening more than talking and to taking direction from people without the privilege they enjoy. Allies don’t require intimate connection as the price for their involvement. They recognize that intimacy has often served to keep relationships unequal, and that is exactly what they want to change.

It is not just movement activists who expose the limits of intimacy for building unity. Black participants in the interracial dialogues political scientist Katherine Cramer studied were frustrated when they described what it was like to be discriminated against and white participants responded with their own stories about how they had never treated their Black friends any differently than their white ones.

But when participants ignored their facilitator’s plea to “dialogue, not debate,” and challenged each other on the evidence for their claims, the white participants, in particular, were stopped from sliding by with bromides about how “under the skin, we’re all the same.” It was the confrontational exchanges that led participants to recognize their real differences while still building a relationship.

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In the post-9/11 public forum about rebuilding Lower Manhattan that I studied, organizers instructed participants only to share experiences and values, not bargain over options for rebuilding.

But participants described themselves as “like a mini-United Nations,” and used that metaphor to effectively hash out compromises despite their very different starting points.

Intimacy is great, but democracy requires something more demanding: a willingness to tolerate, and even cooperate with, people with whom we share a purpose, but not much else.The Conversation

Francesca Polletta, Professor of Sociology , University of California, Irvine

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

There are many leaders of today’s protest movement – just like the civil rights movement

There are many leaders of today’s protest movement – just like the civil rights movement

Video Courtesy of Politico


The recent wave of protests against police brutality and systemic racism has inspired numerous comparisons with the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

Commentators frequently depict the charismatic leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X in sharp contrast with the decentralized and seemingly leaderless nature of the current movement.

Despite the efforts of activists and historians to correct this “leaderless” image, the notion persists. Such comparisons reflect the cultural memory – not the actual history – of the struggle for Black equality.

American Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., flanked by Rev. Ralph Abernathy (center left) and Nobel Prize-winning political scientist and diplomat Ralph Bunche (center right) during the third Selma to Montgomery, Alabama march for voting rights, March 21, 1965. PhotoQuest/Getty Images

Heroic struggle led by charismatic men

Through collective remembering and forgetting, societies build narratives of the past to create a shared identity – what scholars refer to as cultural memory.

The civil rights movement is remembered as a heroic struggle against injustice led by charismatic men. That is not the whole story.

King’s soaring rhetoric and Malcolm’s unflinching social critiques have supplanted recollection of the significant work performed by legions of local leaders, whose grassroots organizational style more closely resembled the efforts of Black Lives Matter activists and other contemporary social justice groups to build movements full of leaders.

The iconic images of 1950s and 1960s Black protesters marching, kneeling and being arrested while dressed in their “Sunday best” illustrated the respectability politics of the day

These efforts, designed to cultivate white sympathy for civil rights activists, relied on conformity with patriarchal gender roles that elevated men to positions of visible leadership, confined women to the background and banished LGBTQ individuals to the closet.

Yet the movement could not have happened without the extraordinary leadership of Black women like veteran organizer Ella Baker. Baker’s model of grassroots activism and empowerment for young and marginalized people became the driving force of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, known as SNCC, and other nonviolent protest organizations, past and present.

Flyer announcing a Youth Leadership Meeting, that was to be held at Shaw University, Raleigh, North Carolina, on April 15-17, 1960, and bearing the names of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Ella J. Baker, the president and executive director, respectively, of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, April 1960. New York Public Library/From the New York Public Library/Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images).

The decentralized structure of the current movement builds on this history of grassroots activism while working to avoid replicating the entrenched sexism and homophobia of an earlier era.

Amplifying voices

SNCC transformed lives by recognizing talent and empowering marginalized people. As Joe Martin, one of the organizers of a student walkout in McComb, Mississippi, recalled, “If you had a good idea it was accepted regardless of what your social status was.”

Ella Baker, NAACP Hatfield representative, Sept. 18, 1941. Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images

Endesha Ida Mae Holland, a teenage prostitute, found purpose as a SNCC field secretary, organizing and leading marches in Greenwood, Mississippi. Facing down Police Chief Curtis Lary “made me feel so proud,” she recalled, and “people start looking up into my face, into my eyes” with respect. Holland went on to become an award-winning playwright and distinguished university professor.

Black Lives Matter co-founders Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors also encourage strategies that place marginalized voices at the center.

Elevating “Black trans people, Black queer people, Black immigrants, Black incarcerated people and formerly incarcerated people, Black millennials, Black women, low income Black people, and Black people with disabilities” to leadership roles, they wrote, “allows for leadership to emerge from our intersecting identities, rather than to be organized around one notion of Blackness.”

Black women and teens have played a critical role in organizing, leading and maintaining the momentum of recent protests.

Kimberly Jones captured the nation’s attention with an impassioned takedown of institutional racism and debates over appropriate forms of protest. After repeatedly breaking the social contract to keep wealth and opportunity out of reach for black communities, Jones concludes, white Americans “are lucky that what black people are looking for is equality and not revenge.”

Women have organized family-friendly demonstrations, including the “Black Mamas March” in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a “Black Kids Matter” protest in Hartford, Connecticut.

Six young women, aged 14 to 16, organized a peaceful protest attracting more than 10,000 people in Nashville, Tennessee, while 17-year-old Tiana Day led a march on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Full of leaders

Seventeen-year-old Tiana Day leads a march on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, June 6, 2020, to protest the death of George Floyd. AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

The adaptive “low ego/high impact” leadership model, in which leaders serve as coaches helping groups build their own solutions, has become popular among current social justice organizations, but it is not new.

Baker encouraged civil rights organizations to “develop individuals” and provide “an opportunity for them to grow.” She praised SNCC for “working with indigenous people, not working for them.”

“You don’t have to worry about where your leaders are,” former SNCC organizer Robert Moses reflected. “If you go out and work with your people, then the leadership will emerge.”

Campaigns are exhausting and external recognition as a “leader” can take a heavy toll. Spreading leadership around helps to protect any one person from becoming a target for retaliation while advancing a stream of talent to rise as individual energy wanes.

Returning from a citizenship training program in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1963, Fannie Lou Hamer was arrested and severely beaten, leaving her with permanent injuries. Holland’s mother died when their house in Greenwood, Mississippi, was bombed in 1965 in retaliation for her activism.

Civil rights worker Anne Moody recounted how the physical and psychological toll of constant harassment by white supremacists in 1963 forced her to leave a voter registration drive in Canton, Mississippi, saying “I was on the verge of a breakdown” and “would have died from lack of sleep and nervousness” had she stayed “another week.”

In a 2017 interview, Erica Garner, who became a tireless campaigner against police brutality after her father, Eric Garner, died from a New York police officer’s chokehold in 2014, echoed Moody’s comments.

“I’m struggling right now with the stress and everything. … The system beats you down to where you can’t win,” she said. Just three weeks after that interview, Erica Garner died of a heart attack at the age of 27.

Comparisons to the romanticized cultural memory of charismatic leadership in the Civil Rights Movement devalues the hard work of today’s activists – as well as those who worked hard outside of the limelight in the earlier movement. Social change – then and now – derives from a critical mass of local work throughout the nation. Those who cannot find leaders in this movement are not looking hard enough.

Columbia U Protests 50 Years Ago Offer Insight for Today’s Activists

Columbia U Protests 50 Years Ago Offer Insight for Today’s Activists

File 20180827 75972 19v0afj.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Black power militant H. Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael (right) appeared at a sit-in protest at Columbia University in New York City on April 26, 1968.
AP

“If they build the first story, blow it up. If they sneak back at night and build three stories, burn it down. And if they get nine stories built, it’s yours. Take it over, and maybe we’ll let them in on the weekends.”

This is what Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Black Panther Party affiliate H. Rap Brown told a crowd of Harlem residents at a community rally in February 1967.

They were there to protest Columbia University’s construction of a gymnasium in Morningside Park, the only land separating the Ivy League university from the historic black working-class neighborhood. The gym, along with the discovery that Columbia was affiliated with the Institute for Defense Analysis – a national consortium of flagship universities and research organizations that provided strategy and weapons research to the U.S. Department of Defense – stirred students to protest for more decision-making power at their elite university.

When considering the key events of 1968, such as the Tet Offensive, the assassinations of national leaders, demonstrations at the Democratic National Convention and the Olympics, as well international events concerning democracy, the Columbia uprisings merit attention.

Issues converge on campus

As I detail in my book – “Harlem vs. Columbia University: Black Student Power in the Late 1960s” – all the issues of the 1960s and New Left collided on the Morningside Heights campus of Columbia. Students contended with the war in Vietnam, institutional racism, the generational divide, sexism, environmentalism and urban renewal – all while trying to find dates and attend classes.

Everything came to a head on April 23, 1968 – just weeks after the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. That was when members of the Columbia chapter of Students for a Democratic Society hosted a rally on campus to decry the war – and, what many considered the racist gym in Morningside Park. Members of the Students’ Afro-American Society, or SAS, and Columbia varsity athletes – known as jocks – were in attendance as well. SAS followers showed up to resume an earlier fight they had with the jocks who supported the construction of the gymnasium.




Read more:
Revolution Starts on Campus


Some students had been working with Harlem community groups. They saw the gym as a symbol of the university’s “power” over a defenseless and poverty-stricken black neighborhood. They joined local politicians who opposed the gym for a myriad of reasons, including its concrete footprint in a green park and the inability of the community to have access to the entire structure once built.

Troubled relations

The situation was, of course, complex. Columbia had long been a contentious neighbor to Harlem and Morningside Heights. The campus gym was decrepit and prevented the university from competing with its Ivy peers effectively in terms of facilities and space. Regarding the park, Columbia had constructed softball fields that initially community members could use. By 1968, however, only campus affiliates could access the fields. Then, white faculty members had been mugged in the park.

The university, seeking to expand in the postwar period, purchased US$280 million of land, mortgages and residential buildings in Harlem and Morningside Heights. That resulted in the eviction of nearly 10,000 residents in a decade, 85 percent of whom were black or Puerto Rican.

Columbia acted in coordination with Morningside Heights, Inc., a confederacy of educational and religious institutions in the neighborhood that also sought to “renew” the area to serve their mostly white patrons. David Rockefeller, grandson of oil magnate John D. Rockefeller, acted as MHI’s first president. Columbia was the lead institution.

Despite being close to a black neighborhood, the university admitted few black students and employed a handful of black instructors. For instance, as I report in my book, in the 1964-1965 school year, there were only 35 black students out of 2,500 students enrolled in Columbia’s College of Arts and Sciences, and just one tenured black professor. By spring 1968, there were more than 150 black students enrolled.

On April 23, protesting students attempted to take over the administration building but were repelled by campus security. Then, they walked to the gym construction site where they tore down fencing and physically confronted police. From the park, they returned to campus where they finally succeeded in taking over a classroom building, Hamilton Hall. In doing so, they surrounded the dean of the college, Henry Coleman, who chose to stay in his office with his staff. To “protect” Coleman, several jocks stood guard outside his door.

Clashes with police

What started as a racially integrated demonstration of students took a turn in the late night when H. Rap Brown and several community activists showed up at the invitation of the Students’ Afro-American Society. The student group, Brown and the community activists agreed that black people solely should occupy Hamilton Hall and that white activists should commandeer other buildings. The white demonstrators accommodated, leaving Hamilton and taking over four other buildings. That forced Columbia officials to contend with not just a student protest but a black action on campus at that height of Black Power Movement. Incidentally, the community activists removed and replaced the jocks as sentries of the dean’s office.

Participants of a student sit-in assist each other in climbing up into the offices of Columbia University President Grayson Kirk on April 24, 1968.
AP

To the ire of many white university administrators of the period, Stokely Carmichael of SNCC and the Black Panthers fame showed up to explain – through the press – that the university deal either with the student activists on campus or militants coming from Harlem. This insinuated the tone of the demonstrations would change drastically. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated less than three weeks before. From offices in Morningside Heights, Columbia administrators had watched Harlem burn as residents mourned and reacted to the black leader’s death. The only thing that separated the elite white institution from angry black rebels was the park in which the university was building a gymnasium against the will of many community members.

In consultation with New York Mayor John Lindsay, Columbia administrators chose to end the demonstrations by calling 1,000 New York police officers to clear the five occupied campus buildings on April 30. Chaos and brutality prevailed. As the NAACP and other Harlem community organizations stood watch, black students vacated Hamilton, which SAS had renamed Malcolm X Hall, and were arrested peacefully. In the building that national Students for a Democratic Society leader and Port Huron Statement author Tom Hayden occupied, police and demonstrators collided physically. One of the most iconic documents of the postwar period, the 1962 Port Huron Statement outlined the need for young people to be in the vanguard of the movement to eradicate racism and grind the military-industrial complex to a halt; it centered the notion of participatory democracy, which called for greater inclusion of the citizenry in decision-making. In other buildings, students found themselves on the hurt end of police batons when they resisted arrest.

Police rush toward student protesters outside Columbia University’s Low Memorial Library on April 30, 1968.
AP

Worldwide attention

In opening the door to violence, the university turned what was a local matter into an international story and radicalized moderate students and neighborhood residents. Young radicals abroad learned of “Gym Crow” and university-sponsored defense research. In solidarity, they supported the Columbia student activists’ causes and chanted “two, three, many Columbias” – a refrain that gained popularity among American student protesters.

After the demonstrations in April, ensuing violent demonstrations in May, and a six-week student strike, the university did not build the gym in the park and renounced its membership in the Institute for Defense Analysis.

In my view, elements of the 1968 Columbia rebellion are inspiring and instructional for today’s students, protesters and community residents. As gentrification threatens the homes of poor black people in urban areas today, activists should recall that 50 years earlier young people believed they could cut their university’s ties to war research and prevent a prestigious white American institution from expanding into black spaces at the same time. They succeeded.

Our new podcast “Heat and Light” features Prof. Bradley and Columbia University’s Michael Kazin discussing this issue in depth.

Listen on Apple Podcasts Stitcher Listen on RadioPublic Listen on TuneInThe Conversation

Stefan M. Bradley, Chair, Department of African American Studies, Loyola Marymount University

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Trayvon Martin Is Not Emmett Till

Trayvon Martin Is Not Emmett Till

RELATED BY TRAGEDY: The death of 17-year-old Florida student Trayvon Martin (right) has sparked comparisons with the iconic death of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old Chicago native who was brutally murdered in Mississippi in 1955 for allegedly flirting with a White woman.

I have an 18-year-old brother whom I love dearly. He’s an African American college freshman, and sometimes a knucklehead. He has all of the answers and therefore does not always listen to wise counsel. He has never been in trouble with the law, never used drugs, and has never drunk alcohol. Sometimes he leaves the house dressed in a suit. At other times, he leaves dressed in sweats. His attire doesn’t give anyone a license to kill him.

The reality is, I sometimes leave home looking both ways myself. I choose how I dress and what is appropriate for lunch with my girlfriends or a quick grocery-store run. If someone approached me at either location with an armed weapon and I feared for my life, I would do everything I could to defend myself and so would you.

HE COULD'VE BEEN MY BROTHER: Images of Trayvon Martin reminded the author of her own younger brother, pictured above. (Photos by Deronta Robinson)

My initial response to Trayvon Martin’s death was, “That could have been my brother.” As I witness the media hysteria build around the case, I have to sit back for a moment and take inventory of our culture. It would be quite easy to write a Facebook status or change my profile picture to an image of myself in a hoodie. It’s quite easy to march for a day or protest for a month. We may blog about the case, read an article, or discuss it with friends at work, or a Black preacher may shout about this injustice from the pulpit on a particular Sunday, maybe even two, but eventually, we will forget.

The danger in our current outrage is that we might turn Trayvon Martin into a symbol, when in fact he was a real teenager. Some have drawn comparisons between Trayvon and Emmett Till, the Chicago teen whose brutal murder by Mississippi racists in the 1950s helped mobilize the civil rights movement. One commentator suggests Trayvon’s death may be “our Emmett Till moment.”

Trayvon is not the modern-day Emmett Till. Our attention spans are much too short for that, and our thirst for the next trending topic is much too great. We will forget Trayvon Martin. It may not be this week, this month, or this year, but eventually we will all forget.

This is the travesty of the Trayvon Martin situation: injustices like this occur against poor and minority children every day in this country and many pretend not to know. Black-on-Black crime is still real, often effectively ending the lives of both parties. Black kids are still dropping out of school at alarming rates. Young Black men are still checking into prison at rates comparable to those who enroll in college, and too many of them are being raised in homes without fathers. They are struggling in failing public schools. Gangs are lurching around those schools and targeting our children on the streets. Every day young girls are born into welfare-type situations and growing up to repeat the cycles modeled by their mothers simply because they have not witnessed an alternative. These children lose hope long before the age of 18, and as a result they often descend into committing crimes against humanity. We are all guilty. We cut the lives of these kids short and murder them with our complacency and our silence.

Why? Because we are busy. As individuals, we have personal goals of success to pursue. We have to raise our own kids. Our churches are busy with a bunch of good programs and activities which cater to our children. We ignore large chunks of the Bible because they are disruptive to our current lifestyles. Remember the part when Jesus returns and all nations of people are gathered before him? Here is the qualification for entering God’s heavenly kingdom on that day:

“For I [Jesus] was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothe me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him ‘Lord when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:31-40).

Then Jesus proceeds to curse and turn away those who respond in the opposite manner. In this passage, Jesus is not asking whether or not someone recited a profession of faith or was baptized. He is simply asking, “How did you live?” See, the gospel is not something to simply accept and show up for on Sunday mornings. The gospel is life — our day-to-day choices of what we are going to prioritize. Are we going to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and whether or not we are going to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves? That is the critical question that we must ask ourselves every day of our lives. The answer to that question will make all the difference.

The question marks surrounding the Trayvon Martin case may never be resolved. It’s possible that the man who shot him will never be charged. But Trayvon’s life already has been laid down. The question is: Are you willing to lay down your life for those like him?

What are you going to do, Christian? What are you going to do, Church? Are we going to turn our frustrations into something positive that has a lasting impact? Are we going to turn the tide and reclaim responsibility for our children? Are we going get into the schools and communities to teach, mentor, and tutor our young people and equip their mothers and fathers to be better parents? Are we going to continue to murder, or are we going to choose life?