Trayvon Martin: That could have been me

March 29, 2012

Trayvon Martin was me, Ricardo Alonzo Summers in 1988. I lived in a neighborhood in Calvert County called Scientist Cliffs. Scientist Cliffs was established in the 1930s as a private, tony beach community by a handful of employees from the Department of Agriculture with very strict covenants as to who could purchase a home with in it's gates. Even the future Comptroller of Maryland Louis Goldstein was denied entry. This incident only inspired Mr. Goldstein to buy a huge majority of the land surrounding the neighborhood, preventing any potential for further development and eventually making him one of the largest land owners in the state of Maryland. Now the road that takes you to Scientist Cliffs is called the Louis Goldstein Memorial Highway. My parents, like so many, were captivated by the natural serenity and beauty of the tranquil homes located directly on the cliffs of the Chesapeake Bay and bought a home there.

One evening while walking on the beach listening to the "Sign of the Times" by Prince on my Walkman, I was confronted by the neighborhood watch. Up to that point, unbeknownst to me, the only dark skinned people that the residents of Scientist Cliffs had ever encountered were maids and laborers and definitely no one of color walking in the neighborhood after sundown. The two men of the neighborhood watch badgered me, asking, "Boy, where do you live?" I told them my address. They insisted that there was no way I lived there. "That's where the Talley's live!" Understanding what I believed was their confusion, I tried to clarify and explained to them that yes they were correct. My name was different from my parents' name because my mother had remarried and that Nelia and Ronald Talley are my parents. They were still puzzled and insisted that I was lying. It never occurred to me that the origin of their confusion was not based in the difference between my last name and that of my parents.

Growing up with family and friends that included every shade of the rainbow, at the time the opportunity had never arisen to make me aware and to point out to me that there was any difference between my skin of cinnamon and that of my parents, let alone anyone else. Fortunately or unfortunately, both of my parents have straight hair and pale skin that would never reveal their true identity. To an untrained eye they were like chameleons and had the ability to "pass" for anything but black. During the Iran Hostage Crisis, a group of men approached my father while he was pumping gas into his car demanding to know if he was Iranian.

And to the untrained eye they definitively were not my parents. I never knew that I would ever have to prove to be kinship to them, especially not at 16 years of age. I asked if we could walk up to the house and have my parents identify me as their son. When we arrived at my home, my parents were outraged the way any parents would be having the neighborhood watch handling their child like wild game caught on a hunt. Perhaps taking a cue from Mr. Goldstein, my parents put our house up for sale the next day, and we moved to a 60-acre farm just out side the gates of Scientist Cliffs. Now the trees, sky, land and the creatures of God would be our neighborhood watch. Lucky for me there were no guns involved in my interrogation for BWW (Black While Walking).

Praise be to God for those who through the divine hand of God's Grace live to tell. Let's ask ourselves as individuals, as a nation, as the citizens of the world, what kind of legacy could come from enduring this humiliation? What seed have we planted? What does this do to one's sense of self? What does this do to one's value or worth? What does this message convey to other countries around the world as we travel the globe as unofficial ambassadors representing the United States of America as to how to treat our citizens who look like Trayvon Martin, who look like me, who maybe look like you? Ask yourself how would you feel if the world was put on notice that you, your soul, your body was a second class citizen in your motherland and as such you could be subjected to being treated which ever way by the whims of your fellow citizens with indifference and without care. Remember: the history of our young republic has demonstrated that everyone will in time take their place at the whipping post.

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