Jonel Edwards: Trayvon Martin and the end of an era

Published: Monday, March 4, 2013 at 5:16 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 4, 2013 at 5:16 p.m.

We are at the end of an era of compromise and complacency. We have no more time for armchair activists and social media pundits.

We do not live in a post-racial society. One black man elected to our highest office does not negate the fact that black and brown youth are in a state of emergency. For children are our society’s canaries in a mine. It’s time to stop pretending that our canaries aren’t dying. It’s time for us to make decisions about our own lives. We've decided that we have worth.

A year ago last week, on February 26th, 2012, Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman on his way home from a convenience store in Sanford,. Trayvon, a 17 year-old boy, was seen as inherently dangerous, a criminal, a second class citizen, by virtue of being black. He was ultimately shot for being somewhere that Zimmerman deemed inappropriate.

57 years ago, in 1955, two men also decided that a black child’s life held no value. Emmett Till, a 14-year-old, was tied to the back of a pickup truck, dragged through dirt, and mutilated until unrecognizable because he stepped out of place.

In 1787, 226 years ago, at the Philadelphia Convention, our founding fathers formally decided that the life of a black person was not equivalent to that of a white person in America. In fact, our Constitution claimed that we, who were already enslaved and abused, were 3/5 of a white whole and called it a compromise. Surely, it was not a compromise we agreed on.

The founders of this nation set a precedent, one that continuously manifests itself in our society. So much so that on February 26 when George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon as he walked home, Florida was all but ready to send Zimmerman on his way.

As a result, we began to awaken and gain a new consciousness. We took to the streets, we protested. And for a short period of time, we stood together and we decided that this was not justice. Out of this turmoil arose the Dream Defenders and we’ve been building ever since. We’ve been building because we are living in a state of emergency.

Look at our public schools, for example. Black and brown youth have been labeled as less than from the moment they enter the classroom. Schools are less concerned with seeing these students flourish, but with pushing them out. What was once a visit to the principal or counselor's office in our parents’ day is now a degrading ride in the back of a police car. Shoving in hallways (battery), taking something from a classmates’ book bag (theft or robbery), or being a class clown (disorderly conduct) are all grounds for arrest in Florida schools.

In Alachua County, black students make up 32 percent of the student population but they account for 76 percent of school-based arrests. Black students are two to three times more likely to be suspended, expelled or arrested than white students for the same kind of conduct. It’s not because black kids behave worse than other students. You would think that after 266 years black youth would stop being unfairly treated like criminals and second-class citizens.

As Malcolm X said, “The odds are against us but, what do we care about odds?” We have decided that we are ignoring precedent. We’ve decided that we are whole. We will no longer be second-class citizens in the country that was built on our backs.

It’s time that we remember how we felt a year ago last week, it’s time we remember how we felt when voter suppression laws swept this state, it is time we remember that no human is illegal, it is time that we stand our ground and demand that our kids be taught rather than dismissed and senselessly killed. It is time we stop reacting and start building. No more Trayvon Martins, no more Jordan Davises, no more Rodrigo Diazes, and no more Emmett Tills.

So, we welcome you to the Dream Era, it’s only just begun. Join us on March 5, the first day of the legislative session, on the steps of the Old Capitol of Florida, where we will deliver the real State of the State address. The Dream Era is an era that will be propelled by black and brown youth who spent their formative years criminalized, marginalized, tossed aside and forgotten. We've found beauty in the dark, we found strength in our struggle and determination through despair. Now we’re ready to set new precedents.

Jonel Edwards is a senior at UF majoring in political science. She currently serves as the Vice President to the UF Dream Defenders and the President of the Gator Chapter of the NAACP.

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