| Jul 19, 2013
I believe this is a seminal moment in the African American community and I didn’t want to let it pass without saying something. One of my colleagues in the Black Church Studies Program, Scott Williamson, suggested that members of the BCS program write a group blog on the Trayvon Martin verdict. I think it’s a good idea. So this week and next week we are going to offer our thoughts on this decision and what it possibly signifies for this nation and the church. We believe that some wisdom and reflection will help folks as they seek ways to fight for justice and work for change. Here are three responses to the following twofold question.
Where were you when the verdict was read and how did it impact you, your family, friends, and or your church?
Debra J. Mumford, Frank H. Caldwell Associate Professor of Homiletics and Associate Dean, Louisville Seminary
When I heard the verdict, I had taught a course in Hopkinsville for the Commissioned Lay Pastor program and had just finished rehearsing the sermon I was going to preach the next day in Central City. I looked at Africa. She had this disgusted look on her face. I asked her what was wrong. She told me they found Zimmerman not guilty. I was not surprised. I was disappointed. But I was not surprised. The reality that in 2013, African Americans, in particular young men and boys, can be killed without consequence is unconscionable. We both have been watching the news daily to see what the reaction has been. The denial by many about the inherent racism at work in the current laws and judicial process is the most egregious aspect of the case. We decided we will contact our state representatives and encourage them to revisit (hopefully to repeal) Kentucky’s stand your ground law. We realize that is a long shot. But that is an action we can take. We should all do something. In addition we have been signing petitions such as those circulated by MoveOn.org requesting that the Justice Department open a civil rights case against George Zimmerman.
Kilen Gray, Dean of Students, Louisville Seminary and Pastor of New Mt. Zion Baptist Church
I was in Memphis, TN at a family member’s home with a host of family members and friends gathered as part of a weekend celebration for my mother’s 93rd birthday. All while we were partying and enjoying our time with each other, the television was turned on to CNN. Several of our family members were glued to the television awaiting the verdict. When the verdict was announced, it did not curtail our celebration, but it put a palpable damper in the atmosphere. There was a brief period of family members expressing their emotions about the verdict which ranged from slight disappointment to vociferous anger. As I checked my social network newsfeeds, the stream was alive with deep emotion, frustration, anger, resignation, depression and voicing the determination to become more civically engaged in the continued fight for justice for all. Since I was away from my church this past Sunday, I was not able to gauge the impact upon my congregation. I plan to assess their sentiments this coming Sunday.
Lewis Brogdon, Assistant Professor of New Testament and Black Church Studies, Louisville Seminary
I was picking up my 16-year old daughter from work when I got the notice on my phone that a verdict had been reached and would be announced shortly. I rushed to get her and when I arrived she got in the car and told me the verdict was “not guilty.” She said they were watching it on TV. A flood of emotions flowed through me. She told me how upset everybody was at work and she could tell how upset I was. The first words that came out of my mouth were “I can’t believe this! He killed that boy and got away with it.” There was a lot of silence in the car as we drove home. Occasionally I would break the silence repeating the phrase “I can’t believe this.” We got home and I immediately rushed to my bedroom to watch the news coverage for the next two plus hours.
After the shock began to subside, our first was response was a combination of awe and anger. There was an incredible amount of sheer disbelief that a boy who had just turned 17 can be profiled as a criminal because he was black, followed and possibly stalked by an adult male, forced to confront this man, shot through the chest, and the person who perpetrated such a crime would be found NOT GUILTY of any crime. I would say that my daughters who are 17 and 16, and I were the most upset. The anger that we felt was not an anger that makes you want to hurt somebody but rather what I call righteous indignation. It’s the kind of anger you feel when injustice is the order of the day. It’s the kind of anger you feel when you have feel you or your people have been wronged. We felt that there was something deeply wrong with what had just transpired and it made us mad. By the end of the night the anger began to subside and a profound sense of sadness set in. I can’t speak for my kids or my wife but I went to bed sad, too sad for tears. I was sad for the Martin family who were left with another devastating layer of grief to process. I was sad for all those who supported the Martin family and called for justice to be done in this situation. I was sad for the African American community as we were left with another example of America’s failure to reckon with the presence and power of racism. And I was sad because I have two sons. I don’t know what to say to them and am not confident that this country gives a damn about them.
I have been struck by the level and magnitude of grief I’ve witnessed in the African American community this week. The grief I felt in church this past Sunday was palpable. I could not even preach until we spent some time in prayer naming our many feelings and confessing the raw emotions and pain we were feeling. Heads nodded. Tears were shed. Then I took up the difficult task of preaching a sermon that brought some semblance of meaning and hope to the people assembled. I’ve also had multiple conversations with friends and read countless posts on Facebook by friends, colleagues, and community leaders who are deeply saddened by these events and what they signify for blacks. I may be wrong but I have not witnessed grief like this in a long time. There is something different and profound about this event and chapter in our history. I believe we’ll be talking about Trayvon Martin for years.