Monday, March 26, 2012

We’ve come a long way, but we’re not there yet


It’s been nearly 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” 
The “I Have a Dream” speech laid out a dramatic vision calling for not only racial equality, but an end to discrimination.
We’ve come a long way since, but we’re not all the way there yet. Every day people are still judged by the color of their skin, the flow of their walk and the style of their clothes. 
I’m lucky enough to work at night when no one comes into the office. The day shift has to look presentable to the public, but I have no such requirement, so some days I may not be as polished as others. I wear what’s comfortable and warm — or cool, depending on the weather.
I wear hats — a lot. I have many friends who have most likely never seen me without a hat on. Oftentimes, I coordinate my outfit for the day based on what hat I want to wear. The primary reason I wear them is because I like them. But there’s another deeper reason. When I was much younger, I was told that no one that wears a hat amounts to anything. That sounded like a challenge to me. I’ve worn a hat ever since.
I wore a hooded sweatshirt to work on Monday. It’s not uncommon for me to wear a hoodie to work — especially on days when the high reaches a mere 38 degrees. 
I don’t usually wear my clothing as a statement, but Monday was different. I wore my hoodie as a sign of solidarity with Trayvon Martin and those like him who have been labeled by society to be thugs and hoodlums, in large part because of their hooded sweatshirts.
Monday night I went to a vigil for Trayvon, the 17-year-old high school student who was shot and killed on Feb. 26 by George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain. Martin’s biggest offense from what I’ve gleaned from media reports over the last month: He wore a hoodie.
I was one of about 100 people at the vigil, candles lit, sitting silent, listening to Mark Sanders, pastor of Refuge Temple of Christ in Lockport as he quoted King himself and said, “I don’t remember when it became a crime to wear a certain piece of clothing.”
Sanders pointed out that while this all may have been new to some of us, for many in the crowd it was a long-dealt-with issue. 
Sanders said, “I don’t have all the details. I just know that something stinks.”
I don’t have all the details on the slaying of Trayvon Martin either, but I will tell you that I believe it was a slaying. From what I can piece together, he was hunted down and shot — primarily for wearing a hoodie. And being black.
We’ve come a long way since 1963. We’re not there yet, but outpourings like the one I saw on Monday night are helping us to get there.