On the pain of mothers

I’ve had a restless night, unable to sleep after the recent verdict related to the killing of Trayvon Martin. I am in the throes of Ramadan, a time of fasting and intensified if not radical reflection for Muslims. Every thought or emotion is magnified a hundredfold in this holy month.
I was making dua (supplication, informal prayer) with my seven-year-old son after evening prayer last night, and I mentioned Trayvon’s family in my dua.
My son asked me innocently, breaking into my dua: “Mama, who is this boy you keep talking about and what happened to him?”

I realized I had the privilege to not tell him this story. He is the son of a white Muslim convert father and South Asian American mother. He will indeed face some challenges in his life due to this identity. I also thought though, of the hundreds of Mamas with young beautiful African American sons, they’ve had to tell this story a hundred times, explain it and now with the recent verdict it gets to feel even more unsafe. And boys as little as my son, and even younger will hear, see and feel this story played out around them.

This is the piece of it all that haunts me: Trayvon was a child. Whatever your beliefs about this case, he was a kid in high school. We, as a society, lost a boy who was walking home doing what a child should have the right to do: walk freely in our streets without being harmed.

What happens when a society cannot keep this sacred contract to protect lives, with its most vulnerable members, when kids are not safe and we vindicate their killing? What has happened to our individual and collective souls? What is the blemish on our communal conscience? I want to think about what as a community we have been able to suppress in our basic humanity to let this killing of kids happen. Where is the moral courage we must model for our children; what are we teaching them when violent behavior becomes nearly customary in the way our society functions everyday? How far are we dehumanizing others and dehumanizing ourselves by allowing for this to happen in our streets? And what have I done to be complicit in allowing this to perpetuate?

Tell, me, what do I tell my children about this story?
Najeeba Syeed-Miller is a professor at Claremont School of Theology and director of the Center for Global Peacebuilding. She is recognized as a leader in peacebuilding and twice received the Jon Anson Ford Award for reducing violence in schools and in the area of interracial gang conflicts and was named Southern California Mediation Association’s “Peacemaker of the Year” in 2007.

This piece was originally published on her blog.

Photo credit: Werth Media

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