It has been four years since Trayvon Martin's February 26th, 2012 murder by George Zimmerman. It was a leap year, just as it is this year. Trayvon would be 21 years old had he walked home safely. I happened to drive through Sanford while on vacation the day before Trayvon and Zimmerman met for the first and last time.
On February 24th, 2012 my boyfriend and I took a trip to Florida. My boyfriend had a long established tradition of going to Florida for a few days at the end of winter and he asked me to join him. We were a new item and I was excited to go on vacation and soak up the sun. The sharp fingers of winter can squeeze hardest in Michigan at the end of February. It's the best time to escape winter depression for warmer weather.
We flew into Orlando and drove our rental car to Cocoa Beach. We walked along the breezy Atlantic and savored the warmer air. Every blooming flower was a miracle. The next morning we visited his 90 year old aunt on Saturday, February 25th and drove past Sanford on Highway 417. At the time it was an insignificant moment just another town along Lake Monroe. All the small towns, swampland and trailers along the highway become a blur while looking for the exit. I had never heard of Sanford, Florida, but now that town and the events of the next day are forever burned into my memory. Sanford is one of the birthplaces of the Black Lives Matter movement. It was in 2013 after Zimmerman was found not guilty that Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi created the hashtag Blacklivesmatter and the Black Lives Matter Movement. Trayvon, his hoodie, that can of Arizona Iced Tea and bag of Skittles are now symbolic of a modern day martyr.
The rest of our Florida vacation was spent in ignorance of what happened Sunday night. The trip was filled with enjoying the warmer weather, meeting my boyfriend's longtime friends and visiting Disney World for a time of sugary amusements, childhood thrills, and mainstream entertainment. We flew back to Michigan refreshed and able to endure a few more weeks of winter.
I am not sure when I realized that we were there just a day before Trayvon was pursued and killed by Zimmerman. However I have thought about this seemingly weird coincidence since 2012. Of all of the weekends in winter why were we there on vacation that weekend? It is surreal to be so close to this tragedy to needless loss of life. It is always devastating when a young person is not given the opportunity to live out their potential. I watched as millions of people around the country protested, signed petitions, posted on social media, and expressed their outrage until Zimmerman was finally arrested in April 2012. As I watched the story unfold I experienced overwhelming sadness when Trayvon was discredited in the media. I was appalled to learn that people donated money toward Zimmerman's legal defense and the Stand Your Ground Law.
In July of 2013 when Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges I felt a heavy, dry rage and a loneliness that has not abated. Justice was not served that day. This verdict was a shocking revelation to me that our country had not changed much since the 1950s. I had no idea that this would become a trend that would characterize the next four years.
Until writing this I have been silent, speaking only to family and friends about the profound, sickening, sour sadness that I feel. I am still trying to digest just how close we were to Trayvon that year. As an educated Black woman with the ability to write this, I now feel that the time is right for me to speak up and speak out against the unjust and unpunished murder of Black people in America. I have not been vocal, until now about the fact that we were so close the events of February 26th, 2012. As I contemplated writing this the words of activist, author Audre Lorde came to mind: "Your silence will not protect you." As I seek to publish these words I am also reminded that courage feels like fear, but I must move forward and speak up even if your voice shakes.
This, hopefully, is just a first step in using my voice, intellect, and resources in the cause for justice and healing. Won't you join me in using your talents, voice, and resources to help transform this all too familiar narrative? You are not alone in wishing to turn the tide of intolerance and fear. Today please take a moment and honor the work of millions of people who are not silent and not afraid to use their voices to shout: Black Lives Matter!