Is Trayvon Martin our Emmett Till Moment?

Lenny McAllister

Lenny McAllister


Is Trayvon Martin our Emmett Till Moment?

Is this enough for us to unite and rise up back into our legacy as people of color, across all of the varying delineations diversifying us? Or will Trayvon Martin’s legacy just be #TrayvonMartin?

I asked several months ago after news of the group rape of a young Black girl at the hands of over a dozen Black men in Cleveland, Texas: was this our Emmett Till moment?

And as I traveled – be it on the bus or in a car, on the train or via walking – by Emmett Till Road here on the South Side of Chicago, I often find myself revisiting the notion, both within myself and with those around me:

When is our Emmett Till moment coming to modern-day Black America and to the nation overall in the 21st century?

From the outcry of Black Americans on both sides of the political aisle to the grassroots of the nation and even professional athletes, it is pretty clear that the intersection of race, politics, perception, and tragedy in the Trayvon Martin case is being addressed in a manner that will likely make America think.

Further, it should make us as Black people inquire to ourselves, publicly: is this – finally – our Emmett Till moment?

Not that we must equate George Zimmerman with a Klansman. Making a racist, deadly presumption based on stereotyping is not quite the same as dedicating one’s life to White supremacy as a Mississippi coward hiding underneath the darkness of night and the anonymity of a costume disguise. However, in 2012, the proliferation  of violence, failure, disease, and pain in our communities collectively – whether it is with Black men filling up jails disproportionally or with  Black women being more inclined to contract HIV than to experience marriage – must force us to ask the question: Is this the time to transform our communities? Is it finally our Emmett Till moment?

It is very easy to ask the question and, perhaps, insinuate that another tragic death – much like the ones of Derrion Albert in Chicago in 2009 or Jonny Gammage in Pittsburgh in 1995 – should be enough impetus to push Black America into action. It is logical to believe that the constant spilling of blood and the continued loss of life – through lack of opportunities or increase in tragedies – would be painful enough to move us out of our comfort zones and back into our legacy of overcoming.

Yet, some very real accessory questions come into play if this is, indeed, our moment to reform the Black American Experience and, therefore, transform 21st Century America.

Are we finally ready to work across the political aisle as people of color in order to pursue, uphold, and elevate standards and justice within today’s America, particularly with our communities? Are we now willing to stand up for a necessary paradigm shift, regardless of the cost, in order to retard the rate of daily tragedies that befall Black people? As a Black Republican that has been willing to take on court systems and corporations for the sake of Black families and the underserved in America, it is a commitment that has been wantonly cast aside by our communities in need for the sake of political “correctness”, mis-education, and lack of accountability within both major political parties. No change will come without changing this dynamic within our mindset and, thus, our influence within American politics today.

Would we be willing to work with, say, a Black gay activist that was fighting for civility and justice in our communities, even if we ended up disagreeing on other major issues? Would we be willing to accept them as fellow Americans and activists for racial justice, even if we eventually disagree on issues involving religion and marriage? Could we put aside undercurrent prejudices against Asian-Americans in the West or Spanish-speaking Americans in the East for the sake of Black communities nationwide? If we are not savvy enough to understand the appropriate times and methods to align ourselves within today’s America, we may not be capable of finding lasting peace at any time in America’s future.

Also: would we be willing to accept an alliance with those that are not people of color? In Chicago, there have been examples of Tea Party members coming to the worst parts of Chicago, willing to work with Black activists for the sake of Black underprivileged children. Are we willing to put aside our predispositions to stereotype others and, in the process, free up opportunities for partnerships that will aid the effort of reversing the horrible trends we face in Black America today? In our original Emmett Till moment in the 1950s, we welcomed plenty of God-fearing and America-loving White people as they joined in the cause. That included those that paid the ultimate price. Without an active acknowledgement that America is no longer the 1940s South and, thus, accept and work with those that seek to end institutionalized racism in our modern society regarding of color, we risk the ghastly and complete return to the 1940s regarding disparities in education, employment, poverty, and life expectancy. We are already on the path, so we have little time to waste.

Social revolution is much more than a hash tag on Twitter. It is a commitment to a cause that unites strange bedfellows as well as former (or perhaps merely perceived) adversaries for the sake of a common sense of justice. For all of the soul-searching that President Obama noted on Friday, at some point, we must also bond together and open our eyes – to see the allies around us, to see the opportunities to work and heal together, and to vision a better America in the near future.

It is time to open our eyes and look into the collective coffin of America, just as we did in 1955. We must see for ourselves our Emmett Till moment – finally – and act perpetually. Unless, of course, we are willing to wait for another senseless killing, another senseless crime…and, at some point, perhaps another opportunity to see that we are rapidly running out of time.

LENNY MCALLISTER is a senior contributor to Politic365 that can be found every Saturday with Democratic pundit Maria Cardona on “CNN Saturday Morning” at 10:30 AM Eastern (9:30 Central / 7:30 Pacific.) He is regularly featured on CNN’s “Early Start” weekdays between 5:00 AM – 7:00 AM Eastern as well. Hear “The McAllister Minute” on the American Urban Radio Network each week and catch the radio show “Get Right with Lenny McAllister” live on at 11 AM Eastern weekdays and re-broadcast on Politic365.

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