I imagine you taller now. I imagine you ready for college or the armed forces, or sulking because the world isn’t kind to those who are fresh out of high school. I imagine you annoyed that the economy sucks and that tuition is high and scholarship opportunities are limited and the paperwork is endless.
I imagine you unsure of your next steps and grateful for the anonymity that hoodies provide when you don’t feel like talking or being seen. I imagine you unafraid. I imagine you fearless. I imagine you scared of everything and hiding behind a scowl because hip-hop taught you that. It taught me, too. It taught most of us, ranging from vanilla latte-hued to unlit charcoal, which is why we still mourn you.
We are you. I was you.
Before I became this guy, a writer of marginal success who believes in the weight of words, I used to be Trayvon Martin.
I used to mug and grimace and stare people down and look silly while doing it because I was thin and not convincing. But Washington was brutal back then, and gangster rap was the soundtrack played on repeat. I wore my pants two sizes too big because we all did, and they hung loose on my frame because I, like other black boys, was playing man. I was playing tough. It was an actual grown black man who picked up on my thug impression and would call me “Tinactin: tough acting.”
Truth is, I was struggling to carry the weight of my blackness in rooms that didn’t seem to want it or me around. I had grown my hair out wild to have it braided. I wore a Polo hoodie most days with the hood up so it hid my earphones. I didn’t want any part of a world that didn’t seem to want me.
But I was also a closeted nerd who devoured books when my friends weren’t around. I would comb the bookshelves of my mother’s house, reading the back covers of her old college novels searching for something I didn’t find in the streets. Because my thug appearance and my bookish interests seemed to keep clashing, I was once thrown out of a bookstore in a suburb in Maryland after asking a white woman working there where I could find books by Donald Goines.
Years later I would lose the get-up. The jeans two sizes too big now sit nicely on my waist, but the weight and awkwardness of my blackness is still there. That is the benefit of living past the awkwardness of youth to get to the state of reflection, where a man can look back on the boy he once was and laugh.
Every American male born black, from the president to members of Congress to firefighters and postal workers, has at some point been you, Trayvon: defiant, proud, indignant and goofy, straddling the line between being a black man yet still a boy. The struggle is growth, and that is what is lost in your death.
Your parents have been robbed of the opportunity to see you blossom into the man who thinks some of the music he once loved doesn’t hold the same meaning. Or those expensive sneakers weren’t the best choice of how to spend his savings.
If Basquiat died at 17 the world would have lost a brilliant graffiti artist. Martin Luther King Jr. dead at 17, and he hasn’t even entered theology school. Malcolm X gone at 17, and we would have lost Malcolm Little. What is stolen in premature death is not just a life fully lived but a life fully actualized with regrets and age and the wisdom that comes from both.
Two years have passed since George Zimmerman imagined himself a savior. He imagined himself a police officer. He imagined himself justified when he approached you after being told to stand down. He imagined himself strong, and because he will not go away, he now imagines himself the victim.
I cannot imagine how your mom and dad feel when they hear that Zimmerman is free and painting and getting arrested for assaulting women and being set free and wanting to fight as a “celebrity.”
I know that George Zimmerman got off on second-degree murder charges, but I wonder if he can be charged with first-degree robbery, as the magnitude of what he stole from the world cannot be fully imagined.
Stephen A. Crockett Jr. is an associate editor at The Root.
© 2014, The Root