I had been looking forward to last Saturday for quite some time. My best friends from college have both moved within driving distance so I can now get in my car and love on them and their children within a few short hours. I was looking forward to squeezing the waist of one of my best friends who I had not seen in almost two years and holding her 10 month old baby girl in my arms for the first time and telling her how much I love her. I was looking forward to spending quality time laughing with my godparents and eating great food. I was looking forward to the view of the river and the noise of children and connecting with old friends and mentors from college. I was looking forward to the vision planning meeting we scheduled for that morning with a group of loved ones and colleagues. Yes, it was going to be a great day!
And a great day, it was. As the evening drew to a close, most of the house guests went home, and my husband, godparents, mentor and his wife settled down for the evening. Some of us fixed bowls of ice cream and began to snuggle on the couches. We would surely watch HGTV or the Food Network (that would have been my choice) and engaged in more conversations about life, education, God, politics, concerns of the community, parenting, professional advancement, etc. Then my godfather, the deacon, would have gotten up from the couch and said, “Well, we are not going to solve all of the world’s problems tonight. We have to go to bed so we can get up for church in the morning.” But before we could bring our night to a close with our hearts full of joy and peace, someone looked at their phone and said, “The verdict is in.”
Immediately, we all swarmed to the television like moths to a flame. We sat in silence for a few minutes. You could barely hear a pin drop in the room. Some of us leaned forward with our eyes glazed as we watched George Zimmerman enter the court room. Then the judge read the verdict, “Not guilty.” Silence. Not guilty. Not guilty. Not guilty. The words ran through my head as I tried to process what I just heard and how that resonates in my heart. I was sad. Shocked. Angered. In disbelief. “A boy is dead and the shooter goes free.” I fought back the tears.
Then my mind started filtering through its rolodex of injustices against Black people and against Black men and Black boys in particular. The sadness was really sinking in now, and I got angrier. And I began to think about my brother—who is only a few years older than the victim, Trayvon—who does not always have the best judgment, and yes, I began to fear for his life. And then the anchorwoman from MSNBC began to share her wisdom as she openly pondered, “Why no Black jurors sit on trials…It’s because of the felony laws.” As if to say: All Black people are felons! I spent my Saturday surrounded by African Americans and these are the people who were in those rooms—a retired Navy Admiral and pilot, a doctor, moms, teachers, entrepreneurs, a millionaire, Navy and Marine Corps officers, musicians, technical experts, and writers. None of us have ever been to jail! Not only that—people need to forget the stereotypes and what they see on television—there are many African Americans, just like those who I fellowshipped with on Saturday, thriving all over the country and it has been that way for quite some time. I’m taking this opportunity to educate people like that anchorwoman.
Her one statement, along with the confessions of Juror B37, speaks to the heart of the case. She, the anchorwoman, is a white woman who has misperceived notions about Black people in America. The defense was successful in convincing a jury of five white women (and one juror who was not ethnically identified) that a Black teenager or a Black man is a threat. How hard the defense had to work to do that is anyone’s guess. My point is: The perception is wrong, and incorrect perceptions lead to incorrect actions.
It was after midnight before I feel asleep. I said a prayer and trusted that God would give me comfort in the morning. For this moment, I was so glad that I was not home attending my own church. I needed to attend a church that was not going to be silent on this issue. I needed to attend a church that understands this is indeed a hard time…we need to wrestle with our issues and allow this case to open dialog and hopefully produce change—at least among Christian communities and within the church. This is not something to be easily overlooked.
On Sunday morning, we entered to doors of the historic Alfred Street Baptist Church. And on that Sunday, like every Sunday before it, Black men and Black women raised their voices in praise and jubilant shouts to Yahweh, their healer, savior, and deliver. Dr. Howard-John Wesley, the African American pastor and father of two black boys, took to the pulpit to deliver the powerful message, “When the Verdict Hurts.” The verdict did hurt and Christ is still king, and that’s the reminder and comfort that I needed on this Sunday.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Rev. 2:7).”
How do we carry the weight of an unjust verdict?
On tomorrow, I share my reflections on “where do we go from here.”
© Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2013