With the senseless killing of Trayvon Martin, we once again find ourselves mourning a young Black spirit taken from us far too soon. As survivors, we are charged with honoring Martin and the countless others we’ve lost by standing strong, supporting one another and taking time to consider both our individual well-being and the collective well-being of our community.
At every turn in our lives, we learn that no matter our credentials, we are often treated as “less than” our white counterparts. Taught that we have to be twice as good to get comparable compensation. Treated as if we are at once both invisible and highly conspicuous—ignored when we are in need and profiled when we are simply proceeding.
That a self-appointed neighborhood patrolman targeted Martin because he looked “suspicious” speaks volumes about the experiences we have in communities across the country each and every day.
The trauma of racism is accompanied by post-traumatic stress disorder for many and a great, hidden sense of pain for most. For those who have been following the events that occurred after the killing of Martin last year, this weekend’s not guilty verdict has been particularly soul crushing—bringing all that pain, that Black pain,
to the surface. So how do we address our heartbreak? Here are some steps we can all take in the service of our individual and collective healing.
1) Look away. You may need to take a break from the TV/radio/Internet/newspaper in order to protect yourself. The Zimmerman verdict will undoubtedly dominate the airwaves for the foreseeable future; taking a pause from the 24-hour news cycle does not mean that you are less vested in justice for Martin, and it may be critical for your self-care.
2) Write about it. Start to keep a journal; pour your heart, feelings and emotions into it. Include powerful quotes, clippings from magazines and even pictures that help you express the range of your feelings, including anger. Read a blog post that summed up your feelings about Martin better than you can? Print out a copy and include it in your journal.
3) Let your feelings out. Unspoken grief and pain are toxic to our bodies and minds. They keep us from being our best selves. Men, women and children should all feel safe shedding tears when they come, and the senseless murder of a teen is certainly worth crying over.
4) Seek help. Consider reaching out to a professional counselor or therapist to help you process what you feel. There is no shame in getting help. I find that therapy is the gift that keeps on giving. It helps me to clarify my thoughts and process heartbreaking situations like this. Counseling can be a necessary lifeline. We cannot be or breathe properly if we don’t release the unresolved pain, wounds, scars and trauma of our childhoods. We cannot be all that God has called us to be.
5) Redefine “strength.” We often confuse being “strong” with being silent. True strength lies in knowing when to ask for help, when to let the tears flow and when you are overwhelmed. The death of Martin is one that has taken a great toll on our collective psyches; there’s no time for silence. Be strong enough to be proactive in healing your heart as you work to seek justice.
6) Get moving. Go to the gym or for a run or walk. Exercise releases tension and helps turn frustration into feeling constructive. A friend of mine just walked 10 miles to process her emotions about Martin. She left her house feeling angry and returned feeling renewed and resolved.
7) Shake a hand, make a friend. Make eye contact with someone passing by, smile and say “hello.” You may be the first person who made such a gesture toward them today. Many of us are walking around in need of love, support and communion with our fellow man, and tragedies make that even more critical.
8) Give back. Honor Martin’s memory by committing a few hours a week to volunteer with teens in your neighborhood. Affirm the worth of the young people in your community and let them know that they are valuable, loved and supported.
9) Fight the power. Channel your rage and anguish over the verdict effectively and get involved with local and national efforts to fight for justice for Martin. Participating in rallies and protests will allow you to connect with others who are feeling the same way as you, but don’t stop there. If you aren’t already, get politically engaged! Hold politicians accountable and help your friends and family do the same.
10) Say “I love you.” Tomorrow is never promised and there are two grieving parents in the spotlight who will never have the chance to put their arms around their beloved son again. In the midst of our anguish over the loss of a child most of us never met, we must remember to show love to the people in our lives right now while we can.
Terrie M. Williams is a mental health activist and the author of “Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting.” You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter @terriewilliams.