McNair: Many questions persist regarding Trayvon Martin case
By JERALD McNAIR October 24, 2013 9:26PM
Updated: November 26, 2013 6:33AM
As a black male educator, it can be difficult talking to students when they bring up the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida and the jury verdict in July clearing George Zimmerman of criminal conduct. All educators may have trouble discussing it, and the fact it occurred saddens me a great deal.
When I look at the dismal statistics about the number of black males who graduate from high school and college, relative to those who are incarcerated, my feeling of sadness increases. Black males make up about 6 percent of the U.S. population, but they are about 36 percent of the 2.2 million people incarcerated in the nation. This “school-to-prison pipeline” begs for immediate attention.
What is to be said about this? Do these statistics have any relation to the Martin case and verdict? What can educators do to guide young black males in the right direction?
I wrestle with such questions continuously. Having spent 15 years in education, I feel enormously obligated to do something to improve the odds of success for young black men. I’ve written many articles, authored a book, mentored many students, read many books on the issue, debated and discussed these matters but feel I still feel I haven’t done enough.
The Martin case is significant because virtually all black males in America can identify with Trayvon Martin, including President Barack Obama, who said, “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.” Well, the teen could have been me 20-25 years ago. It is this perspective that makes the incident so frustrating for so many.
As we move forward, the most important question is, “How do we as a society, one community, stop this type of incident from happening?” As President John F. Kennedy said, “Not every child has an equal talent or an equal ability or equal motivation, but they should have the equal right to develop their talent, their ability and their motivation, to make something of themselves.”
Trayvon Martin no longer has that opportunity. He could have been an educator, a medical doctor, a truck driver, a police officer, a stockbroker, a dentist, a professional athlete, just about anything he pursued. We will never know. A young man should not end up dead simply because he is walking home with nothing but candy and juice in his hand.
As for Zimmerman, why did he approach Martin? Did he fall victim to the stereotype that depicts young black men in such a negative light so frequently that they are to be viewed suspiciously or perceived as potentially dangerous?
Some argue that because black youth are involved in crime and incarcerated disproportionately to their population, it’s easy to prejudge and look upon them with doubt. When you read about the black-on-black crime that continues to take place, much of it violent crime, some people contend that it’s only natural for young blacks to have such a negative image.
To find talking points for discussion in an effort to achieve progress on these issues, I offer the following suggestions:
More public debate about the illegality of racial profiling needs to occur.
Greater and authentic diversity training in schools, the workplace and the community, along with community outreach connecting parents, schools, students and other agencies.
Teach black male youth to take ownership of their behavior.
Foster real dialogue about race so people of all races understand that it is our commonalities that tie us together.
More funding for programs to provide more black male role models and to continue and expand mentoring of our youth in schools and the neighborhoods in which they live.
Jerald McNair is dean of students at Parker Junior High School in Flossmoor School District 161.