February is Black History Month. In 1926 historian Carter G. Woodson set aside the second week in February to honor Black achievement because it coincided with the February birthdays of Abraham Lincoln, whose Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves (kinda, sorta), and Frederick Douglass, the great orator and abolitionist. Of course, February 14 marks Valentine’s Day, a feast celebrating a Christian martyr that has morphed into a celebration of romance. And Rosa Parks was also born in February.
The Universe has guided me to remember February is also the month of Trayvon Martin. Trayvon, who entered the world on February 5, 1995, and then tragically, shockingly, senselessly, left it on February 26, 2012. A 17-year-old boy in a gray hoodie carrying a bag of Skittles. Gone.
How to reconcile these seemingly disparate markers in time celebrating Blackness and love and the life of a Black boy — Black History Month, Valentine’s Day, Rosa Parks and Trayvon Martin — all falling within the second month of the year?
I believe they are uniquely bonded, interconnected, as are we all. The life and death of Trayvon Benjamin Martin, and the acquittal of his murderer, inspired the hashtag #blacklivesmatter and a movement. In remembering Trayvon, we are called to reflect on the journey that brought us to this point in time, a place of rebirth and transformation. We remember 1619. We remember the contradictions inherent in America’s founding, namely the cry for liberty and justice — but only for a particular gender and race. We remember Dr. King and his message, which was not one of platitudes and pacification, as some might have us believe. Bernice King frequently writes how her father’s message has been coopted and misrepresented by those who would deny Black people their civil rights, their humanity.
And by “us,” I am not just referencing those who are African American like me, or female, like me. Whose ancestors were dragged across the Middle Passage. Who are still being denied the right to vote, 58 years after the passing of the landmark Civil Rights Act. I am calling upon all those who walk and talk and breathe and have a beating heart, regardless of race, sex or religious affiliation, to listen to the call — and to answer it.
In the Baptist church of my childhood, we engaged in call-and-response. As Reverend Luther McGraw of New Bethel in Venice delivered The Word, we would shout, “Well, well!” Or“Tell it!” And my favorite: “Preach!” This dynamic vocal exchange is beautifully captured in Say Amen, Somebody, a 1982 documentary film about gospel music that captivated me. I felt this same ecstasy when watching the seminal 2018 documentary about Aretha Franklin’s recording of Amazing Grace, the most successful gospel album of all time, and Henry Louis Gates’ 2021 PBS documentary, The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This is Our Song, based upon a book of the same name.
Echoing Reverend McGraw’s cadences was the drum. When Black people were enslaved in America, they played the drum to entertain, but also to communicate messages over long distances. Slaveholders promptly banned it once they realized the percussive lifeline it represented.
Today, I hear the call in the names of individuals like Trayvon Martin and George Floyd and Amir Locke, who was shot to death by the police a few weeks ago. When I first created an Instagram account, I posted bright yellow squares capturing in white letters the names of those I wanted to “hold in love and light.” Among them, Tamir Rice, another Blackboy gunned down by white supremacy, Sandra Bland, who would have turned 35 on February 7, and Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian refugee whose lifeless body on a beach was captured in a photograph that broke wide open the hearts of people across the globe.
The names and causes have become a constant drumming in my ears as they flood newsfeeds. So many lives dashed! In the end, these three words best capture those who most need to be held. “All of humanity.” Let us bathe everyone in love and light. Let us hear the call and respond. “All of humanity” needs all us.
The Interfaith Update is produced by the Santa Monica Area Interfaith Council.