This is what justice looks like.
If every single one of us did what Shawn did–examine our own motivations and actions–we could alter the whole system. We could make a place that’s safe for everyone. It doesn’t take much, really, to begin. We don’t have to start with protest marches. If you’re at that point, then by all means, go ahead and join in the activism. That’s needed too. But maybe you are someone who needs to start smaller. Maybe you just need to start by noticing. Shawn writes,
I probably wouldn’t have noticed these boys before. Probably would have just drove [sic] on by. But it will be a long time before I see a young black man walking down the street and don’t notice, a long time before I don’t think of Trayvon Martin.
That’s one thing that has changed for me, too. When I was at the store the other day, I was in a long line. Ahead of me was a grandmother and a five-year-old boy. As we waited, I chatted with his grandma about little boys and girls and how wonderful they are. The little boy was sitting in the cart behind a giant box. He peeked around it and grinned at me. I told him I thought the box was the best part, and he agreed. Then he showed me his teeth and said he had two brand-new ones; he asked if I liked them, and I assured him that I did. Like many kids his age, he was completely irresistible in his cuteness, concerned only with being a “big kid” and as yet untainted by the world. He wasn’t yet worried that a white lady might not like him, might not be a safe person for him to talk to in the store, might judge him or avoid him based on the color of his skin. To him, I was just the nice woman who liked his grown-up teeth. After they left, I couldn’t help thinking about the young man he will one day become and the survival skills he will need.
That’s not the world he should have to live in.
Little boys should be able to grow into men without worrying that the clothes they wear could brand them as being “suspicious” or “hiding something.” They should be able to walk home from the store or a friend’s house without being stopped and questioned by police. They should be able to express their grief over a court ruling without people assuming the next step is rioting and violence.
Like Shawn, I notice more now. I’ve had a tendency to believe that as long as I was doing my best to not be a jerk, I was doing okay. It’s not quite enough, though, because avoidance of negative behaviors and beliefs isn’t the same as exhibiting positive ones. My interactions with the little boy at the store made me consider that. Engaging him in conversation, looking into his eyes, I saw him; I understood a little bit about what he likes (being big and talking and making boxes into hiding spaces). I don’t want to forget that moment, because the minute I forget, I allow myself not to notice people. I allow myself to go back to not being a jerk instead of actively being kind and loving. I fail to ask what it’s like to live in someone else’s shoes.
I don’t want to forget about Trayvon Martin, either.
What would it take for you to really notice people and to think about them differently from the way you did before? Would it take talking to them and learning about what they like, what they know, and what they hope for? Would it take seeing their potential to do amazing things? Shawn recounts the story of a local young man making a heroic rescue. His closing paragraph contains the following sentence:
I’ve never driven past a young black man on the street and thought, He could be a hero.
What about you? Have you ever had that thought pass through your mind? I can’t help wondering how the world would be different if every time we saw a young person–any young person, regardless of who that person is–we saw that person’s capacity for goodness and heroism.
When that day comes, surely we will see true justice.