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Authentic Conversations


By July 16, 2013October 2nd, 20196 Comments

Justice for Trayvon Martin by Amber StephensI am heartsick. My heart is sick. And I doubt that it will get well any time soon.

The State just sanctioned the stalking and killing of a person simply because of the color of his skin. This is a common and simple story, a story as old as America. It started with the giving of typhoid-laden blankets to Native Americans, and continued with the treatment of the Chinese who built our railroads, the Lakota in the Wounded Knee Massacre, the Japanese incarcerated at Manzanar, the people who plant and pick our crops in toxic farmlands, and with Trayvon Martin. It is a long and storied saga, and it is time, way past time, for it to end.

I understand the calls for peace and calm. They make sense to me, and yet I am not peaceful, and I certainly am not calm. I’m sure that there will come a time when I am once again balanced, but this is not that time. Right now I am angry and grieving. I understand the impulse to pass along the pain I’m in – to strike out in my fury and despair.

What stays my hand? You do. My hand is stayed because I am interwoven into a community to which I am accountable, a community that is beloved to me. I am surrounded by people who expect better of me, so I stay my hand. But I understand the impulse.

I understand the impulse because I remember the cross burned on my family’s lawn. I remember seeing “Go Home Niggers” written on the front of my school. I remember what it feels like to get take-away from the back door of a restaurant because we were not allowed to come in the front nor stay inside and eat. I remember.

But this is not about me. What happened this weekend is not about George Zimmerman or Trayvon Martin, or the jury or the judge or the attorneys. What happened is not about individual choices. It is about a fundamentally and irrevocably flawed system that allows incidents like this to occur.

As I sit with the aftermath of the Zimmerman decision, I realize that I’m in an unexpected existential crisis about our legal system. I’ve lost a faith that I barely knew I had. The US legal system was designed to protect the interests of those who resemble its original creators. It was never designed for women or peoples of color, GLBT or poor and working class folks. It was not designed to protect or take care of me personally, nor anyone who resembles me in any way. I write this not to make anyone who does not resemble me wrong (nor to make me right) but to point out that our “legal” system was never designed to preserve our collective well-being.

So what to do? I am not an anarchist, nor am I willing to live without some common rules. I appreciate that we all agree to stop at red lights and go at green ones. I also understand that it won’t serve us for each person to make their own way – we are a collective bunch, we humans.

The legal system of the past and present no longer works. Our beloved sister Audre Lorde was wise when she reminded us that, “the master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house.” We will need systems that are designed from the heart – that address what’s best for everyone concerned, not only for those who hold and wield power. It is time (way past time) that we collectively engage in stepping aside from the old hidebound laws that bind, maim and kill so many of us. We need to create something fresh.

Mine is the Boomer generation. Our job was to deconstruct, to tear things down, and we’re almost done. I believe that the next generations’ jobs will be to design and build the structures and processes that will move us beyond the archaic and suppurating narrative that allows the Zimmerman-Martin saga to exist. I imagine that our young people could teach us a lot about what’s needed and possible now.

This will take courageous and bold leadership. Leadership from people who are brave enough to insist on taking new and uncharted paths.

I have great faith in the young people around me, and am taking my cues from them. I believe that the best thing I can offer the world is to give my unstinting support to those who are coming along after me. For those of us who only know the ways of the past, this will be a new stance. Perhaps we can call it “followship.” We can promise to offer guidance when asked, to get out of the way when it is time, and to stake our lives and collective future on the wisdom of those who will inherit the mess we’ve left behind.

My faith lies not in our current “legal” system. My faith lies in what will be collectively created, in the heart-centered systems that will emerge when we allow those with fresh eyes to lead. This is my prayer and my commitment.

From my heart to yours,


July 2013

Image Credit: Justice for Trayvon Martin Protest and March, LA City Hall (March 2012) by Amber Stephens.


  • Lisa Wallace says:

    Dear Akaya,

    I am deeply touched.

    I particularly appreciate that in the last few paragraphs you show us a vision for the future, gracefully describe the “gap” between now and that time, and express confidence in that future.

    Thank you.

  • Roey Thorpe says:

    Dear Akaya,

    I have felt so much since this incident happened and even more in the days leading up to and following the verdict. Your words are some of the most powerful I’ve read, because they capture the conflicting feelings of sadness, outrage, betrayal, and worry that I have been experiencing. Thank you so much for writing this.

    I, too, believe in the vision of younger people, and I am happy to join you in “followship.” Young people can envision a world that is harder for those of our generation, but they can do so because of the work that we have done and that our ancestors in social justice have done before us. We are a part of all the change to come, but recognizing that our role as leaders is sometimes about leading from support and mentorship rather than being out front, is so critical. Yet it feels natural to me as I get older and am so inspired by those coming up.

  • Cindy Tobias says:

    Dear Akaya,
    I have been raging ,crying and thinking with many beloveds over the past 5 days.Your writing brings more tears to my eyes! I just spent 2 weeks on a bus with 34 youth and 10 other adult mentors on a Freedom Riders 2013 tour from Detroit, MI through Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama. The young people on the bus with me were amazing. I have no doubt they are the very next people to figure out the critical piece that will dismantle the oppressive system we live under.

    With much love and respect,


  • Brian Hereford says:

    Dear Akaya,
    I too have been touched deeply by all that has occurred this past weekend. My heart is aching. I told my wife I was thankful that I am not able to see my students at this time because I am angry. I need time to vent. I too remember various forms of discrimination in my childhood and being profiled today. As a black male, and a teacher, it is my responsibility to guide, encourage, and most of all, model the behavior I feel reflect a good citizen and neighbor. One who is proud of who I am and my ancestry. Thank you for your honesty. Thank you for sharing what is truly from the heart.

    From your cousin with love,

    Brian Hereford

  • Akaya Windwood says:

    Thank you, dear Lisa, Roey, Cindy and Brian (cuz). I so appreciate your taking the time to write. This is such a tender time and I can’t tell you how much it means to be held by community. I just came back from a meeting of national civil rights leaders in New York, and it is clear that we need to be bold and take risks like never before if we are going to have sustained and substantive change. We’ll need us all- and I’m glad that there are so many of us. Thanks for your hearts, your words and your work.
    With love and respect,

  • Linda Guinee says:

    This is as beautiful a statement as could be made from what’s going on. Huge gratitude to you for lighting the way…

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