Young, black and speaking out after the Trayvon Martin case
‘America, I still love you’
Ayinde and his friends pressed through the crowd on a summer evening, passing out folded slips of paper with urgent messages written by hand.
Just six days had passed since Zimmerman’s acquittal. Their shock remained fresh.
“I was walking to the car with my [slam] teammates,” Eric recalls. “We had just finished eating. It took me a minute to realize what happened. Then I thought that could have been me or somebody I know. . . . That could have been me. That is not an exaggeration.”
Now he and Ayinde and Jachuku and Kosi were joining dozens of others for a march through the streets of Northwest Washington.
“This is Hush, a silent demonstration,” read the missives that teens had handwritten after running out of printer ink. “This goes beyond Trayvon, beyond Zimmerman and beyond the justice system. Tonight we hold ourselves accountable for our complacency in the face of the injustices happening every day. A person’s race should not be a death sentence, and we must stand our ground against laws that are not protecting all of us.”
Jachuku raised a sign written in blue crayon: “We have power.” Another teen carried a poster sarcastically declaring: “I’M DISPOSABLE.”
A protest organizer stood on tiptoes and whistled for the demonstrators to gather. “We will not stop,” she declared. “Why? Because someone got gunned down at 17 years old and nothing was done about it.”
They folded into the march as it flowed down 14th Street, cutting across Meridian Hill Park, also known as Malcolm X Park, onto 16th Street, arriving just before dark at the gates of the White House.
When the Hush demonstrators reached 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. — where a black man occupies the Oval Office for the first time in U.S. history — Ayinde locked arms with Eric, who locked arms with Jachuku.
As the protests wound down, Eric thought about how people of color have been treated historically. “Racism can’t be destroyed by trying to act colorblind,” he says. “The solution to racism is to embrace our differences.”
Outside the White House gates, he broke away to perform one of his poems in which he likened himself to “a child soldier in a war that he did not start” and detailed the ugly scars left by the country’s “abusive relationship” with its minorities. But the poem ended with a pledge of devotion:
“ . . . you would think,
there was no more love here and —
there shouldn’t be any more love here,
but contrary to popular belief,
America — I still love you,
America, I still love you,
America! I still love . . .”
The crowd raised candles and snapped fingers in applause. The light glowed around the White House.
Eric, Ayinde and Jachuku left to meet up with Eric’s father, Eric Powell Sr., who had followed the march in his car. Powell suggested that the teenagers wait in the lobby of a plush hotel at 16th and K streets while he shuttled two protesters back to the starting point in Columbia Heights. He’d be back quickly, he told the teens. They walked into the lobby, and Powell got into his car.
Then he paused and thought, “Let me go check on them for a moment.” He returned to the lobby just as the boys were headed for the door. They had already been asked to leave.
If you are the parent of a teenager who is black, what has been your experience raising your child in the Washington area? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org, including your name and city, and we might share your story with others.