The following prayer was offered by Rev. Fred Small of First Parish Cambridge UU this weekend:
Spirit of life,
God of many names and one abundant love:
we pray for all beings who suffer,
and especially this day for the families of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman.
Our hearts are broken by the loss of a young life
and the violence and fear that took it from us.
May no parent ever have to worry that their child
might not return from a trip to the candy store.
May we never accept a society
where parents must advise their children
that the color of their skin calls them to special caution.
And as we demand accountability,
may we also cultivate compassion.
In our constant struggle against racism
in all its forms and disguises,
may we seek healing and reconciliation,
remembering that in the Beloved Community,
justice and love are inseparable.
Comfort all who mourn and all who fear,
and inspire in us the love that casts out fear.
The message below went out on Friday, March 23, 2012 to Standing on the Side of Love supporters. You can sign-up for these emails here.
I wrote the prayer below in hopes that this weekend, those of us who find ourselves in congregation of any form—be it a rally, vigil, or worship service—might read these words, or be inspired to write your own heartfelt words to honor Trayvon and the power of this moment, which calls for dialogue on the many manifestations of racism in our country, and the need for education on the societal institutions in place that feed this racism.
A Prayer for Trayvon Martin
Most Merciful and Most Compassionate we are called to live boldly in compassion, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to not fear but to welcome the stranger. Yet we have failed and are struggling again, losing another child to violence and fear, losing ground living with love. For love flourishes in the safety of accountability, in the safety of each of us bearing responsibility, in the safety of mercy and restraint.
Out of grief we raise our hearts and our voices, out of grief for our children, our friends, our loved ones, our neighbors. Out of grief for Trayvon Martin we raise our hearts and our voices.
Out of fear we raise our hearts and our voices, out of fear for our children, our friends, our loved ones, our neighbors. Out of fear we raise our hearts and our voices, that hate and fear continue to roam our hearts and the land, spurring more violence.
Out of love we turn again with you and with each other seeking to not let fear and violence have the last word, seeking to remember the ones we have lost, seeking a restoration of accountability and responsibility for loving more boldly than we fear, more living more mercifully than we hate.
Comfort those of us who mourn and are afraid and especially bring us to comfort the grieving family and friends of Trayvon Martin. Strengthen us in bearing witness to the power of love to triumph over the power of fear, to lay down unjust laws. Guide our hearts, our words, and our deeds in creating true safe communities, where all are cherished, where strangers are made kin, where violence is put to rest by our becoming people of peace, people of the way of love.
You have given us the power to be the ones who end this violence, who answer our sorrow and our fear, who respond to the loss of another child by creating another way where love rules, where all of us are responsible to and for one another, where we are bold in turning away the demons of fear and welcoming the holy presence of mercy, peace, and steadfast love.
Post by Lyndsey R. Ellis, a St. Louis native who lives and writes in Oakland, California.
You’re a baby-faced 17-year-old talking to your sweetheart on the way back from the neighborhood convenience store. You have your brother’s favorite snacks, a bag of Skittles and an Iced Tea, jammed deep into your pockets. You’re excited to return to your father’s house and catch the rest of the NBA basketball game. A hoodie covers your head to shield you from the rain that falls over Sanford, a cozy suburb in Orlando, Florida.
You spot a man watching you. He appears to be on a cell phone as he steps out of his truck and marches your way. You’re surprised, disoriented, a little afraid.
You tell your girlfriend through the headset that’s fastened on your ear. She orders you to run, but you refuse and decide to walk faster instead. Your heartbeat quickens with every step and blood rushes to your face as you head in the opposite direction.
He’s gaining on you. His footsteps cloud your thoughts as you break into a sprint. You hear his high-pitched voice over your shoulders, but you aren’t yet able to make out his words.
It’s becoming too much. You turn towards your aggressor and confront him. The man keeps walking and responds, asking what’s your business in this area.
His hands are on you. Your hands are on him. The headset connecting you to your girlfriend falls away as you two crash to the wet ground.
In the midst of the commotion, you see a growing cluster of people–children, women, men, the elderly–step out from the comfort of their homes. They’re witnessing the scuffle between you and the man. They seem just as confused as you are, grabbing for answers in the tangle of grunts and moans that eventually escalate to screams.
The confusion you feel wears off, replaced by a helpless rage, an abominable fear. You and the man dig into each other as you become covered with sweat, mud, and soggy grass blades. There’s blood, but you’re not certain about who it’s coming from.
A glint of metal between the man’s fingers freezes you. The Earth stands still as your mind runs a million different places. Your mouth opens and closes and opens and closes, and your body is weak from the exertion, although you don’t hear yourself, not your own distinguishable peep in the mess of this struggle.
There’s a loud clap. You fold against your will and meet the pavement with your back. Droplets of rain slam into your eyes. The sky seems endless and takes your breath into its clouded bosom. Then, silence.
This probably doesn’t amount to half of what young Trayvon Martin experienced on the fateful night of Februry 26th, 2012. Even after his death, the screams still live, but this time, they come from the throats of angry, hurting people all over the country who are committed to seeing justice prevail for the teenager’s family.
The household names of Skittles and Arizona Iced Tea takes on a novel, dark meaning as national outrage brings back memories of Oscar Grant and Troy Davis, among other black men who’ve fallen victim to a miscarriage of justice. However, there’s a new, ugly twist. Absent is the police badge and the typical majority who thinks Martin should take some responsibility for the incident.
This time, most fingers are pointing the blame at George Zimmerman, the Hispanic neighborhood watchman who shot and killed Martin. Despite his claim that he used the gun in self-defense, a series of testimonies, ongoing investigations and chilling 911 tapes that lead most people to label Zimmerman as the aggressor, rather than the victim.
As new details emerge daily, the wrongful death of a young man remains at the heart of the matter. Those deeply affected by the news–churches, celebrities, civil rights organizations and typical citizens alike–are voicing their fury in protests, wearing black to public mourn Martin, and continuously questioning the actions of the Sanford Police Department, all while Zimmerman remains a free man.
The way things stand now don’t align with the notion of justice that America promotes. What it does is peel back yet another scab from the wounds of hyprocrisy and oppression that many black citizens have needlessly died for.
Don’t be fooled into thinking we’ve completely overcome the struggle. The fight against injustice remains at the forefront of this country’s problems. Simply put, it’s the same issue with a different face and a new series of circumstances. Let’s try to put an end to this pattern with love and unity.More >
Michelle Alexander, legal scholar and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, reflects on how the murder of Trayvon Martin is not an isolated event:
“We’ve got to get serious about consciousness-raising and organizing in our communities. We’ve got to move beyond these bursts of outrage in response to travesties of justice (think Troy Davis, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, and Trayvon Martin) and awaken to the reality that Jim Crow justice is alive and well. These aren’t isolated, disconnected events. Use this tragedy to start a broader conversation in your school, your place of worship, your workplace, or your community center, about what is necessary to end this new Jim Crow system — a system that our nation keeps pretending doesn’t really exist.”
Professor Alexander was one of the featured speakers at a PICO (People Improving Communities through Organizing) Clergy Conference in New Orleans that I attended this fall with UUA staff colleagues and other UU ministers. She spoke about how there are more African Americans under correctional control today – in prison or jail, on probation or parole – than were enslaved in 1850. Despite the fact that crime rates have fluctuated and are currently at historic lows, the number of African American men imprisoned has soared.
A large percentage of these men are denied the right to vote, serve on juries, and are subject to legal discrimination in employment, housing, and public benefits-just as their grandparents and great-grandparents were during the Jim Crow era. According to Alexander, “Our system of mass incarceration functions more like a caste system than a system of crime prevention or control.”
The shooting of Trayvon Martin is tragic evidence of the accuracy of Alexander’s analysis. The reason he was followed, questioned, and eventually shot and killed is because George Zimmerman’s response to Travyon Martin seems to be more consistent with maintaining a caste system, e.g. “What are you doing here?” than with preventing crime.
Consider these facts:
- George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watchman, followed, shot and killed Trayvon Martin- an unarmed, African American teenager with no criminal record.
- Zimmerman was carrying a 9 millimeter handgun while Martin was carrying a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea.
- Zimmerman weighs 250 pounds while Martin weighed 140.
- When Martin asked Zimmerman why he was following him, Zimmerman responded, “What are you doing here?”
We are outraged because it appears that the only reason Trayvon Martin was followed, shot, and killed by George Zimmerman was because he was a young African American male in a place that someone thought he had no right to be.
Let us move beyond outrage to action by signing on to this letter by Trayvon Martin’s parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, calling on Norman Wolfinger, Florida’s 18th District State’s Attorney, to investigate their son’s murder and prosecute George Zimmerman for the shooting and killing of Trayvon Martin.
Let us also heed Michelle Alexander’s call to broaden the conversation to our schools, our places of worship, our workplaces, and our families and friends about what is necessary to end this new Jim Crow system.
Michelle Alexander will be one of the featured speakers at the Unitarian Universalist Association Justice General Assembly in Phoenix, AZ this June.More >