Keepers of memory: Remembering Trayvon Martin

by Jamilah Sabur | February 28, 2018 9:29 am

Often I am permitted to return to a meadow as if it were a given property of the mind that certain bounds hold against chaos.

– Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow from The Opening of the Field, Robert Duncan, 1960

This year marks the sixth year since the death of Trayvon Martin, and I do not want us to forget. Six years and we find ourselves living in an America with a president who has been endorsed by white nationalists and a country more divided than ever.

It is painful to think that, for many people, Trayvon’s image is still perceived with dubiousness. That a black boy wearing a hoodie brings fear, instead of being recognized as a human being in need of refuge and protection. That he was just a kid. A kid who never received justice for his murder. It is deeply paralyzing, the reality of no justice. In the absence of justice, I keep searching for ways to keep Trayvon’s memory alive.

Landscape holds so much memory. The places, the land, the trees, the animals are keepers of memory, remembering the people and things that have passed by and lived.

The picture of Spanish moss at the beginning of this piece is from a trip to the mouth of the St. Johns River adjacent to The Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve in Jacksonville, Florida.

I was standing on a dirt path surrounded by the tangled leaves of tall grass and shrubs. Buzzing hummingbirds surrounded me. Looking ahead I saw glimmering flashes of water peaking through the grass leaves: the the mouth of the St. Johns river.

I looked up and saw the moss hanging from a tree, glowing with sunlight. I looked around and felt the memory kept alive by the life forms surrounding me. This tree with its moss has stood for hundreds of years.

The Timucua, aboriginal people who inhabited the land for centuries prior to the arrival of the French and Spanish, stood right where I stood and looked up and saw the moss glowing like this.

For me, making space in ourselves for the act of remembering the past feels just as necessary as our daily routines like eating and sleeping. This act of remembering is active, like the space of a theater. And this river both anchors and guides me. It is a way of seeing into the past. A flowing body interconnected through time to me.

I spent years exploring the desert landscape of Southern California. While exploring the desert, The thing I would worry about was the harshness of the landscape itself killing me.  Like my car breaking down in the heat and not being able to find water or refuge.

But negotiating my body through this Florida landscape, this place Trayvon and I both call home, I am constantly thinking about the harshness of human beings. A person could kill me. I have driven to sites in parts of Florida, and I am afraid to pull my car over or step out of the car to photograph and film. This is a state where some people proudly carry firearms openly.

Florida’s stand-your-ground law basically gives people a legal excuse to kill whom they fear. There is so much fear of others, mistrust sown by those seeking to divide. Thinking about what we have become, what we did to Trayvon, feels like sand slipping through my hands.

I feel an especially deep affinity for Trayvon. We went to the same middle school and high school and though many years apart, our bodies have moved through a coincidental place that must have shaped us in similar ways.

I am transported back to my own memories of inhabiting those spaces, developing rituals with friends, sharing secrets and pop-quiz answers. The process of adolescence, the self-consciousness that comes with it, the feeling of insecurity trying to a find an identity within the socio-economic tensions that were visible in the neighborhood—kids from the wealthy Golden Beach mixing with the “poor kids” on the county line.

We might have daydreamed in the same place and had the same thoughts. Did he daydream in the school cafeteria after school like I did getting in trouble for being late to school?

I imagine that we walked the same streets to school, hung out in the same places after school. I wonder if he ever got the chance to experience seeing a rare Florida gray fox as I did for the first time in the field near the high school. And to wonder if his love for aviation was ever heightened after seeing a burrowing owl gracefully gliding to her underground shelter, in the school’s fields. All around me, I feel his presence.

As I write, I am daydreaming about Trayvon, I’m envisioning talking to him, the same way I talk to my little nephew about my visit to the Timucua Preserve in Jacksonville to see the mouth of the St. Johns. All the young black children, brothers, and sisters, fathers, taken so abruptly. I carry this residue imbued with pain, overlapping with the residue of history–the primacy of experience as a black person. The act of remembrance feels supremely sacred and is what guides me. As black people we straddle so many different zones, but the zone of non-being, as revolutionary doctor and writer Frantz Fanon called it, is where we fight from, it is in this zone, we have found the strength to survive.

Trayvon Martin, at the age of 17-years old, became the martyr who birthed a new movement.

In the larger history of the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S.. Black Lives Matter has become a movement firmly rooted in altering the structural and legislative powers that breeds and feeds racism.

Trayvon is part of our past, part of the long lineage of black leaders in our history. Holding and honoring the past in our everyday thoughts gives us the strength to continue.

We must continue to remember.

And I remember Trayvon.

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