When You Can’t Find Your Words

Trayvon Martin’s parents attented the Million Hoodies March. Photo: NYMag.com

It’s been almost a month since the slaying of Trayvon Martin. This particular African-American child was intentionally shot through the chest while walking back from the store in a Florida suburb. He was armed with a pack of skittles and some iced tea.

For the past few weeks, each time I open my Facebook account or scroll through Twitter I see endless posts about the Trayvon Martin case. And I’ve seen Trayvon’s face over and over again. He was 17 but he looks like a 15-year-old cousin of mine.

I have not written anything about this tragedy because to be honest, I have been unable to find my words around or through this. I could write about anger, injustice, racism, the loss of another black male child, crazy American gun laws or even the shock or actually lack thereof, of how the police initially handled this murder. But mostly what I want to write about is the deep, deep sadness and sorrow I cannot seem to shake.

I am deeply sorrowful that this violent, cold-hearted killing of children is still par for the course of the world we live in. I am deeply sorrowful that the roots of racial prejudice and the dehumanizing of dark-skinned people runs so deep that it’s truly hard to imagine a world without these ongoing consequences. We have done such a good job of teaching and fostering suspicion, fear, and hate between people of varied ethnic and racial backgrounds (socio-economics is a whole other story. Cue Rick Santorum and the “Blah people.”)

I wish we could hear about Trayvon Martin’s death and be shocked in disbelief rather then having to painfully acknowledge that we still have so much further to go. But those are not even the things that keep running through my mind the most.

I cannot stop thinking about the incredulous fear Trayvon must have felt in the moments from being followed to being shot and killed by George Zimmerman. I cannot stop thinking about how many more black male children, boys on the cusp of becoming teenagers and young adults around the country have heard about this tragedy and have imagined themselves marked in some newly intensified and terrifying way.

You no longer have to be a “boy in the hood” to worry about making it alive to 25. But then again, it’s been a while since that was the case. (Remember Sean Bell, shot and killed by police officers in 2006 the night before he got married.)

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I haven’t written much about the death of Trayvon Martin because I cannot find my words, appropriate words, enough words, redeeming words, resurrecting words. I cannot find any words that could breathe any modicum of life into the death of this child. I listen to and welcome the words of others, of anger and the clarion calls for justice. I listen and I receive them because they are justified.  But all I am able to speak to at this point is of deep sadness and burrowing sorrow. For now.

I share these words from Marian Wright Edelman, President of the Children’s Defense Fund. “Walking While Black.”

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Enuma Okoro (M.Div) was born in NYC but reared in four countries on three continents. A writer, speaker, consultant, and retreat / workshop leader, she writes for abc Good Morning America, The Huffington Post, Sojourners, Christianity Today and others.  Okoro is the former director of the Center for Theological Writing at Duke University Divinity School, of which she is a graduate.

(Subscribe to her weekly blog here or follow her on Twitter.)

Her spiritual memoir, Reluctant Pilgrim: A Moody, Somewhat Self-Indulgent, Introvert’s Search for Spiritual Community was released in September 2010. She is also co-author with  Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, of Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. When she’s not writing she can be found with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine in hand, depending on the time of day. Visit Enuma at www.enumaokoro.com

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About the Author

Enuma OkoroEnuma Okoro (M.Div) was born in the NYC but reared in four countries on three continents. A writer, speaker, consultant, and retreat / workshop leader, she writes regularly for abc Good Morning America, Sojourners, Christianity Today and others. Okoro is the former director of the Center for Theological Writing at Duke University Divinity School, of which she is a graduate. Her spiritual memoir, Reluctant Pilgrim: A Moody, Somewhat Self-Indulgent, Introvert's Search for Spiritual Community was released in September 2010. She is also co-author with Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, on Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. When she's not writing she can be found with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine in hand, depending on the time of day. Visit Enuma at www.enumaokoro.comView all posts by Enuma Okoro →

  • Drew

    Maybe this blog should be renamed “Pop Culture Christians.”  I don’t even have to watch the news anymore, just have to come here.  The pop culture posts don’t even allude to Christianity half of the time.  Not to say that story isn’t important.

    As for the story itself, I think it is unfortunate for the author to say that this is “par for the course” or that “we still have a long way to go.”  The reason why this story is so big is precisely because it is not “par for the course” and precisely because we have already came a long way.

    • Anonymous

      Drew, the country has come a long way, but I do feel we have a long way to go.  Laws can be abolished, but they do little to change views that people hold of one another that may be prejudicial and that may ultimately color their interactions.  As for “par for the course”, for some African-Americans it does feel par for the course because of real experiences that we have had that were based on others’ stereotypical view of us.  It happens more often than some may think.  

      As for the blog, I believe our faith influences (or should) how we think about issues in the larger world.  How do we as people of faith respond to injustice?  What role do we or should we play?  Can we speak light to the darkness?  Will we model the forgiveness and unconditional love that our Lord modeled for us?  While these questions may not be asked forthright on the blog, for me, they are in the background.  I think these questions and more are the premise for the blog, whether Christ is named or scripture is used.  I think this is about Christians thoughtfully reflecting on matters that impact the world in which we live.  

      • Drew

        The ratio of hate crime homicides to homicides is roughly 1:2000.  94% of blacks are killed by other blacks (86% of whites are killed by other whites).  Hate crimes are not “par for the course,” at least not in terms of homicides.

        Of course our faith should influence how we think about issues in the larger world.  However, I am seeing less about faith and more about issues in the larger world, as is prone to happen when you are discussing what the 24/7 media is hyping.  I could live with more series like the one Piatt introduced (Why Young Adults Leave/Rejoin Church) rather than five articles about Martin that are more or less written from a secular perspective.

    • Macroman

      For who is this type of racism out of the norm?  If you walk in a person of colors shoes for a little in the south you will soon realize this is the norm.  About 6 years ago my daughter was walking with some girl friends and their younger brother.  He was 13, six feet, 100 lb. and of color.  A young white 18 year old man, local footballer decided he did not like the look of this child and decided to take a shovel to his head.  This was the middle of the day in MS.  After the fact we had the police cover up.  I tried to voice my resentment to the actions to the local police and nearly spent the night in jail.  Yes this is normal in parts of this country.

      • Drew

        If you look at statistics and not anecdotal evidence, yes, this type of overt racism has been declining for quite some time.

  • Dsmaxwell64

    While this was a terrible tragedy, this “child” was also six foot three, sporting gold teeth and wearing a hoodie in south Florida on a warm night in a neighborhood that had eight break-ins in fifteen months (all by young black adults). A witness saw Trayvon on top of the hispanic man, who was shouting for help, before he was shot.  Racism? Maybe. Stupidity? Definitely; but there was plenty to go around.

    • Sojourner_Truth

       While social stigmas do exist, it’s not Christ-like to judge a book by it’s cover.  There are other black men, who I’ve known that were taller than 6-foot, with gold teeth, and that wear hoodies that wouldn’t hurt a fly.  Sometimes they are just into hip hop culture, but not violence or thug-like activities.  We need to get to know people before we pass judgements.

      I also could be suspicious of all white men with long beards or completely bald heads as being grand wizards or skin heads, but that wouldn’t be Christ-like either.  Re-read your post and I believe that you will see what it is prejudice in nature.   God Bless.

      • Dsmaxwell64

        My aunt just posted a news report showing a shooting of a couple by two men, who looked liked thugs and happened to be white. Suspicious looks come in all colors- no prejudice needed.

  • Sandieflipflops

    not only does a witness describe martin having chasing and knocking zimmerman down and beating him but police reports show zimmerman with facial cuts and bruises as well as the back of his shirt wet with grass stains consistant with witness statements.  maybe zimmerman should have stayed in his vehicle but it sounds like he was definitely attacked. it’s nice that a Christian blog puts out this crap and then justs walked away when the facts do not fit the authors beliefs. where is the article from this author apologizing for jumping the gun with a preconception of zimmermans guilt.

    • Sojourner_Truth

      That witness was 13 years old.  Unfortunately, you left that “minor” detail out as well.  As usual, everyone just needs to calm down about this until we can gather more facts, but in the meantime lets not assume that Zimmerman was completely acting in self-defense when he was pursuing a 17-year old kid as a grown man, that had quite a sketchy past of his own.  Let’s just let the facts play out.

      • Sandieflipflops

        i rarely post political comments, however, no one is simply letting the facts play out.  surely not the blog post on which i was commenting on. the age of the witness did not seem important to me when the statements seem to be consistant with physical evidence found by the police.  whether zimmerman was protecting himself or became a vigilante needs to be sorted out by law enforcement.  zimmerman also has a right to justice (innocent or guilty) but there are people with agendas who do not care about the truth.  they have already convicted him.  i agree with you that everyone needs to calm down until we get more facts, however i notice that you never suggested that to Enuma Okoro. 

        • Anonymous

          Exactly.  No one knows exactly what happened that night.  None of us should jump to conclusions.

  • http://www.fivedills.com Greg Dill

    I still remain on the fence on this issue. Yes, all evidence supports the fact that Zimmerman was getting pummeled to death and he acted in self defense by shooting Martin. But, my guess (and, it’s only a guess) is that Zimmerman himself was being overly aggressive and offensive. He likely shot off a few “N” words. Made some threats. Taunted Martin. Made some ill-conceived assumptions about him. And, likely got in Martin’s face acting like some tough-guy, wanna be, police officer. Who knows, maybe Zimmerman even took the first punch. I find it very hard to believe a 17-year old teen, with no criminal history, and an A/B student would just fly off the handle and go after some innocent man and begin pummeling him. No, my guess is that he was likely taunted and did the very same thing for which Zimmerman is being defended for… acting in self defense. Only, Martin didn’t have the gun. 
    The irony: If a black man carries a concealed weapon, he is branded a criminal. But, if a white man carries a concealed weapon, he is a law abiding citizen. And, here is my radical statement of the day: Ban all guns. Fallen man can’t handle such a weapon. But no. Americans love their guns. In the meantime, their will be more instances such as these. America isn’t free. It’s held in bondage to guns, militarism, violence, and  centuries old racism that hasn’t gone away.

    • Sandieflipflops

      your first sentence said that you are remaining on the fence.  you then went on to add supposition about maybe zimmerman used the “n” word etc. you have no way of knowing this. i do know that although martin had no criminal history with the police he was under suspension from his school for being caught with a bag of pot.
        
      florida allows concealed carry with a permit and if a black man has a permit he is not branded a criminal.  our countrys history is based on fire arms. just read the writings of the founding fathers.  as far as militarism and violence, Jesus said that there will always be wars and rumours of wars until his second coming.   

      • Drew


        our countrys history is based on fire arms. just read the writings of the founding fathers.  as far as militarism and violence” …and this is a good thing? Perhaps it’s time to move past the gun culture.

        “Jesus said that there will always be wars and rumours of wars until his second coming.”  He also said the poor will always be with us. Does that mean we sit on our hands?

        • Drew

          Hey, that’s my handle… you’re going to be confusing people : )

          • Drew Two

            Yeah, I know. I keep forgetting that. 

          • Drew Two

            Yeah, I know. I keep forgetting that. 

          • Drew Two

            Nuts. I attempted to change it in the post. Will probably have to figure out how to change the account directly.

          • Drew Two

            Nuts. I attempted to change it in the post. Will probably have to figure out how to change the account directly.

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