Trayvon Martin case shows the need to stand up for our black sons

March 26, 2012

Justice for Trayvon Martin means more than arresting and trying George Zimmerman for his death ("License to kill," March 23). It means building communities where our black sons are free to walk the streets and be children, safe from the perception of neighbors and community members who believe that to be a young, black manchild is to be bad and to desire to bring harm to others. To focus on our black sons is not to say that our other sons and daughters are less important and less valuable. It is to be honest and to recognize the treacherous plight of young, black males from infancy through adulthood. We must stand our ground for our black sons and agree to engage with one another and to have the hard conversations about race, fairness, equity, justice, civility and the meaning of community. For these are all our children; and we will pay or profit for whatever they become.

Why must we stand?

Though Maryland is the wealthiest state in the country, all Maryland's children are not equal. Maryland is not exempt from the conditions that allowed the Trayvon Martin tragedy to occur. Our battle for equity for all of our children is not just against individuals, it is against established systems and institutions. Child-wellbeing indicators show disparities from infancy to adulthood. See Advocates for Children and Youth at for more information. There are health disparities in infant mortality and low-birthweight babies. There are educational disparities in academic achievement and disparate administering of school discipline policies such as suspensions, expulsions, and school-based arrests. There are child welfare system disparities that show children of color being removed from home at higher rates than their white counterparts. There are juvenile justice system disparities at every stage from arrest to placement to youth being tried as adults.

What can we do?

Take a stand in our communities. Speak out for children and justice on a regular basis. Team-up with other community members who feel the same way on an issue. Organize community conversations in our homes and neighborhood meeting places. Help out at local schools and youth programs. Attend PTA meetings and school board meetings. Vote and volunteer.

Let our elected officials hear our voices and our opinions. Call, write, email, fax, visit and follow our elected officials on Facebook and Twitter. Weigh in! Let them know that you are watching the decisions they make on behalf of children and families. Show them the benefits and harms of their decisions and policies.

Contact the media. Mass media plays a key role in what our neighbors and elected officials think and prioritize. We must engage reporters, editorial boards, senior executives and producers. Write letters to the editor and opinion pieces. Call out media outlets when they perpetuate discrimination and racism. Participate in advisory committees established by media organizations.

I am standing my ground for our black sons! Won't you join me?

Angela Conyers Johnese, Baltimore

The writer is the juvenile justice director at Advocates for Children and Youth and co-chair of the Pleasant Hope Baptist Church Social Justice Committee.

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