Exactly 129 miles separate my Ortega home from the Sanford community where 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed. Yet, the sorrow I feel has taken up residency in my heart.
Several years ago, I purchased a home in Ortega — a move that shocked many, including my parents, who knew Ortega to be an exclusive area for whites. I am black. Why would a black woman choose to move there? What if they harm you or your property? These are several questions my parents, who grew up during segregation, asked. I, following a divorce, chose to provide a safe, beautiful and thriving community to raise my son. Safe was defined as the absence of violence; beautiful included trees, parks and river views; thriving was property values and quality schools. These are considerations that parents — regardless of ethnicity — share when choosing a home. It’s a choice that I’m sure the Martins made for their children. Yet, regretfully, it wasn’t enough. Their choices didn’t prevent the single choice that George Zimmerman made on Feb. 26.
I now realize that none of my choices do, either. Mothers I know raising black males share lessons that we teach our sons. Regardless of age, geographic area or socioeconomic status, they’re the same. If you’re ever pulled over by a police officer, keep your hands on the steering wheel, do not seek to retrieve your driver’s license from your pocket or glove box. (Show and Tell: Rodney King). If you ever find yourself locked out of the house, don’t attempt to break in, but instead go to a neighbor’s. (Show and Tell: Henry Louis Gates). And don’t look suspicious or play foolishly when bringing in the garbage can or riding your bicycle through select neighborhoods (Show and Tell: Trayvon Martin).
So often, my son has met me with expressions of absurdity and questions — “You’ve got to be kidding me … why can’t I wear an Obama T-shirt to ride my bicycle?” The answer has never been simple … until now. My son and many others now understand these “ridiculous” fears.
It’s important for me to note that we have never felt threatened in our Ortega home. I’ve only been met with respect and consideration by my neighbors … even by the lady who stopped me during an afternoon stroll, to ask me if my car had broken down. It was evident that she was concerned but as equally surprised to learn that I have lived in the neighborhood for multiple years.
My parents taught me that “a man sees in the world what he carries in his heart.” Perhaps their fears were rooted in the injustices that they survived during their lives. Perhaps many of my fears are rooted from today’s injustices. While we may never know how Trayvon Martin saw the world, we do know that his life, although short, has influenced it.
If our hearts carried the same beliefs for humankind, the only ground on which we’d need to stand would be the insistence for a better world.
Oliver is president of O. Communications, a public relations firm, and a Jacksonville native.