Last weekend, we all heard and saw what happens when we decide we know someone before we really know him. A young man is dead (Trayvon Martin). Another man is forever marked as a racist and a killer (George Zimmerman). And a whole country is divided over what went wrong and who is responsible.
So Monday morning, I woke up and went to breakfast with a young dream-filled man. He is a rising 7th grade student. He is African American. Our paths crossed at the Kennesaw Teen Center. When I posted up on him in our first basketball game, he laughed at my Boston Celtics gym shorts and nicknamed me “Larry Bird.”
His regular mentor couldn’t be with him this week so I was the substitute. Over the course of chocolate pancakes, eggs and a milkshake . . . yes, we ate the breakfast of champions . . . we talked about schoolwork, basketball, football, colleges and cars. We left girls for the regular mentor . . . good luck with that LJ.
Then as breakfast was about to end, he asked me the question. Mr. Dale, have you heard about the Trayvon Martin case? As I said “yes,” I could see that he had more questions than I had answers. And I knew this was going to be an important dialogue. So I asked him what he thought about it.
Amazingly, this young man knew why George Zimmerman wasn’t convicted. He understood about the burden of proof. And he understood that George Zimmerman hadn’t broken the laws as they were written. But he was upset that a young teenager was dead. The burden of proof and the laws didn’t matter. A young man was dead. That mattered.
My mentee and I both knew that even if Trayvon was doing something wrong and no one is saying he was . . . he didn’t deserve the death penalty for whatever he was doing that day. So my mentee told me that the President needed to take care of this. The President needed to fix this.
And that led us to a discussion about how the legislative branch, the executive branch and the judicial branch have equal powers. We had a simple conclusion. We are all responsible. We all must work together. No one person can fix our collective problems. Even if we put George Zimmerman to death which neither my mentee nor I thought was a reasonable solution, that would not fix the problem.
The problem is fear. We fear those different than ourselves. We fear those with views that aren’t exactly our own. We don’t know how to stay in our car and wait for help when we need it most. Instead we jump out of the car and race to conclusions. And then when folks are hurt we don’t want to take responsibility.
We all profile. Teenagers are really good at it. Clothes, haircuts, friends . . . they define someone. Adults are more seasoned at it. Cars, houses, jobs . . . they define someone. We do it in our business dealings. Memberships, titles, salaries . . . they define someone. We do it in our churches. Denominations, baptisms, rituals . . . they define someone. Our leaders do it to get our votes. Party affiliations, party lines, party favors . . . they define someone. We even do it in our families. Education choices, hometown choices, marriage choices . . . they define someone.
So we left our breakfast spot and went across the street and got a cookie crumble mocha Frappuccino with whipped cream. We stayed in the car a little longer and talked about what it meant to trust others, rely on others and be willing to die for someone instead of kill them. We talked about that model for society. The one where we invest in each other and get to know one another before we jump out of the car and profile someone.
Both my mentee and I have been profiled in life and we are tired of it . . . he as a young black man . . . me as an old white man. The profilers assume we are both something we are not. We are simply human beings with dreams and aspirations. We don’t want to live in fear of the profilers . . . he for the color of his skin . . . me for the color of my heart.
Please stay in the car. Get to know us first before you jump out and go racing down the street. You might actually enjoy the mocha Frappuccino with whipped cream. We did.