Dear Treyvon,

12 08 2020

How does an old White guy like me even begin to write a letter to a young Black teen like you? Eight years ago the worlds in which we lived truly were Black and White, and even if we had an opportunity to meet, our words would have likely been few.

But today my words are many, and I write to apologize. I write to you as a way to lament, to grieve, and to simply let you know how very sorry I am . . . for everything!

Treyvon to this day, it is your murder that continues to motivate so much of my living. You are the reason my life has changed, and the reason I continue to seek to become a better ally to the people of color that God has placed in my life. In loving them, I hope that I am loving you, and even if in just a small way, I pray I am atoning for our nation’s taking of your life. My blindness to your experiences as a Black person in America is the reason you are no longer here. And sadly, that blindness, and the blindness of so many other people like me, has allowed the taking of other Black lives to continue: Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Philondo Castille, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and the list goes on and on and on.

Your murder, eight and a half years ago this month, on February 26, 2012, came at a point in my life when I had just begun listening to the voices of people who I had long ignored: Black voices, full of pain, anger, frustration, and fear; but at the same time voices full of more kindness, grace, understanding, and even love, than people like me deserve. Those voices helped me begin to explore my blindness, and after your death they forced me to deal with my complicity, and the complicity of my church and my country, in your murder.

I had never been to a protest before, but that night eight years ago, standing on a local college campus, candle burning brightly and tears flowing freely, I remember struggling to make sense of what happened to you. Up until then, my anger had been directed towards your murderer. It was towards a police department that had neglected to take appropriate action and arrest the one who had taken your life; and towards a state that continued to put laws like “stand your ground” on the books, knowing that they would only be used to oppress the already marginalized and oppressed. My anger was towards a nation that allowed guns to be placed in the hands of law-enforcement wannabees with distorted views of ‘law and order’; and towards all those red-necked racists who lived in places like rural Florida.

I couldn’t get your picture out of my mind; and I couldn’t get the words of your mother out of my head. “My son is your son!” she told the world. But while I understood what she was saying, her words weren’t really true for me. They may have been true for other Black parents, but they were never true for White parents like me! My sons were never treated as you were treated. They wore hoodies all the time. Whenever I wanted them to look their best, I would tell them to put on a collared shirt – a demand that they still laugh about today. When they went to school or church I wanted them to look respectable! But that wasn’t because if they didn’t, their lives might be threatened. White people don’t have to worry about those kinds of things. My sons put on hoodies all the time and no one ever thought that made them appear ‘suspicious.’

So I was angry with everyone and everything: people, systems, churches, police departments, politicians, the media, and anyone else I could possibly blame for what happened to you. But looking back, that protest, that vigil that sought to honor your life, began changing things for me. In what I think was less than an hour, all of my anger began to shift. And I now realize that it was being redirected from all those other people and places, to me. I was beginning to see that I was just as responsible for your murder as anyone else; and if anything was ever going to change in this country, I needed to acknowledge that.

I wish I could blame my cluelessness as to what had been happening to Black people in America for so long, on the lack of social media, or even the failure of the news media. But in reality, that wasn’t the problem. I was the problem. I wasn’t paying attention.  I didn’t want to see the racism that was all around me.  I didn’t want to think about the possibility that my own racist thoughts had become so internalize that I couldn’t even recognize them – so natural that I didn’t even know they were there. I thought your death was their fault, not mine.

That’s how bad things were for me. American racism was. . . is . . . so systemic, that I failed to realize that it was in the very air that I was breathing, in the very water that all of us Americans were drinking. My life was saturated with racism and I didn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t, see it! And while today, eight years later, I’m growing, that doesn’t change the fact that it cost you your life . . . you and millions of other Black men and boys, women and girls. It’s been going on for 400 years, and that reality should haunt every one of us.

So I’m writing to to apologize . . . for everything, but especially for my apathetic indifference to the state of race relations in our country. I’m sorry for all the times I didn’t speak up when someone in my family used inappropriate language when talking about Black people. I’m sorry for all the times I used language born in racist thought and practice, without thinking about what stereotypes I was perpetuating or what inaccuracies I was advancing. I’m sorry I sought an education that was so skewed and biased, so historically inaccurate, and so . . . White. I’m sorry that for so long I ministered in ways that failed to acknowledge America’s original sin, and that I never tackled the subject of racism from the pulpit. And I’m sorry that even now, I still remain unsure of how to either use my privilege to seek change, or appropriately surrender that privilege altogether. I’m so very sorry Treyvon, for all of it.

Rest in peace son. But also, rest in power. Rest in the knowledge that your name is still being spoken, and by people you never knew. Rest in the knowledge that the shortness of your life and the evil of your death have not been forgotten. Rest in the knowledge that whenever I eat a Skittle I am reminded of you, and the life that I need to be pursuing. Rest in both peace and in power, as I and countless other White people, finally being to wake up and learn to better live into the words of Frederick Douglas that your mom shared in the Paramount Network’s documentary on your murder. We’ve all prayed about this stuff long enough. Now it’s time to take action.

In the words of John Lewis, it’s time to seek good trouble!

Your life mattered, Treyvon. Sadly, it mattered more than you will ever know. And this old White guy is grateful for you.

Thank you, and I’m sorry. Love, Bob


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2 responses

12 08 2020
David B. Edmunds

Bob, I am moved because I so identify with your words, your sorrow, and your repentance. Thanks for your vulnerability!

12 08 2020
Bob Melone

Thanks Dave! Appreciate the encouragement.

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