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On February 26, 2012, 17-year-old high school student Trayvon Martin was fatally shot while walking home from the store by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Zimmerman claimed self-defense. The case received national attention, garnering nationwide protests and a call to charge Zimmerman with murder. Charges were filed and after a lengthy public trial in July 2013, protected by Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law, Zimmerman was found not guilty of Martin’s murder. Both the killing and the verdict shocked the world. The pain hasn’t gone away, and today, on the fourth anniversary of Martin’s death, members of our staff reflect on his death, the events that happened afterward and how they feel today.
Then: Brokenhearted. As the then mother to a 7-year-old son, my firstborn and only child it was a brutal reminder of the world I would someday have to release him to. To make his own choices, walk in his own truth. It was a clear and pressing indication that I’d only have these early impressionable years of his life to teach him every instinctual survival skill he’d ever need to guide him for the rest of his life.
Now: Nervous. As the mother to a now strapping 11-year-old young man, my moments apart from him are haunted with anxiety. On cold or rainy days, I worry will his hooded sweater worn only to protect his head make him a target. Raising him on the power of prayer, integrity and respect it pains me to introduce him to the idea of fear. Fear of another man and fear of his blackness. Four years later, I pray for all of our sons and remain optimistic that in the next four years, my 15-year-old will be as vibrant and compassionate as he is today.
— Jennifer Davenport, ESSENCE Editorial
Then: At the time of the Trayvon shooting death I’d say that it wasn’t surprising to hear of a young man, who looked like me at that age or my own brothers, had been shot was not surprising. The country has a long history of Black people’s lives not being valued. Despite my purported “success” and education I know that as a Black man in this country I almost always fit the description. I’ve learned to expect racism and racial profiling although I’ll never accept it. And that’s why I was so saddened by a young man losing his life over a hoodie and some Skittles.
Now: Today, I feel numb. Since Trayvon there have been way too many more Trayvons, Mike Browns, Tamir Rices, Sandra Blands and the list goes on. I’m happy there are movements like #BlackLivesMatter but still pessimistic as to whether or not I’ll see true change in how my people are perceived in this country. Donald Trump’s lead in the polls doesn’t help to ease my concerns in that regard. But all I can do is live my life as best as possible and provide a good example of Blackness for my siblings and future children.
— Anslem Rocque, ESSENCE.com Digital Content Director
Then: I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. A young Black man gunned down by a gun wielding coward while just walking home, and yet the issue was somehow still up for “interpretation” or “debate.” As a journalist, I couldn’t stop asking myself how something like this could happen, it make national news and then there still be so many questions about “what really happened.” My husband wears hoodies on the weekends when he’s running to the store (often to get an iced tea, just like the one Trayvon was carrying the night he was gunned down in cold blood. He’s not a criminal. Travyon wasn’t either. Like everyone else, the news coverage disgusted me—yet I couldn’t stop watching because all I could think to myself was, how can everyone already know what’s happening and pretend that they don’t see? The verdict then shocked me to my core. I couldn’t remember ever feeling so disappointed in the world and our justice system.
Now: The change I keep praying for just won’t come. I feel like every time I turn on the news, another young Black man is gunned down and their killer let free. I’m not yet a mother, but I plan to be. Now, all I keep thinking is, please God don’t let me have a boy. I don’t know if I can ever truly keep him safe. I fear police more than ever before. I hate that I do because my cousin is sheriff and he tells me about all of the good that many cops still do for their communities. For now, I can just keep saying their names…Trayvon Martin…Sandra Bland…Eric Garner…Jordan Davis…Mike Brown…and hoping a change’s ‘gon come.
— Charli Penn, ESSENCE.com Lifestyle and Relationships Editor
Then: It was spring semester of my freshman year in college. I can remember sitting in sociology class and reading a headline on Twitter. Our entire class discussion quickly became about his unfortunate killing. At the time, I don’t think I fully understood the magnitude of his death. It didn’t hit me as a fathomable, realistic or tangible event. I would soon realize how powerful even in death, his legacy would be.
Now: Four years after his death—Mike Brown, Jordan Davis, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Quintonio LeGrier, LaQuan McDonald and so many others later–I am afraid. I am afraid for my nephew. I am afraid for my cousins. I am afraid for my unborn children. I’m afraid for myself. Because time has proved that Black men are not the only victims of brutality and violence, Black women are too.
— Lauren Porter, Editorial Intern
Then: I was thinking about how my younger brother loves hoodies. It’s one of his favorite things to wear. He also loves Skittles and the same ice tea and goes to the corner store often to get them. It terrified me, because my brother was Trayvon.
Now: In spite of all that has happened since, I may still feel scared but I feel less helpless. Trayvon’s death put larger eyes on the dangers young black men have always had to face. There are protests, hashtags, endless news stories that make national headlines, and people of all races holding these abusers of power accountable. Slowly but surely less and less people are getting away with it, and that gives me hope.
— Joslyn Winkfield, ESSENCE.com Photo Editor
Then: When Trayvon Martin was shot dead by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida, I immediately thought of my family members in the Orlando area. Were they next? How could America let this happen to such a young boy? Outrage seeped from every crevice of my body and, for the first time in my life I was hopeful that my future children (particularly sons) wouldn’t be subject to the senseless minds of careless police officers. I prayed hard for my family and every Black boy in America.
Now: These days, unarmed Black men dying at the hands of police officers is a regular occurrence, leaving me more fearful than ever before that America has become de-sensitized when we are left for dead. I’m also more mindful that Black men aren’t the only ones victimized—Sandra Bland taught me that I could also die any day, any moment and White America wouldn’t flinch. I’m thankful for the Black Lives Matter movement, but still, it isn’t enough. Black America is drowning fast.
— Deena Campbell ESSENCE.com Beauty Editor
Then: It took me a while to absorb this senseless slaughter and to grabble with the reality that there were actually Americans that supported George Zimmerman. Reading Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns helped me process the historical racism and crimes against African Americans that is Florida’s history.
Now: If the tragic death of Trayvon happened today I would not be as shocked as I was then. Thankfully, his death has not been in vain. There is now an awareness of the present-day traumas against Black bodies and a movement to actively examine and dismantle a system that failed Trayvon. I had the honor of meeting Sabrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother last summer at ESSENCE Festival. I was spellbound by her grace and commitment to continuing the legacy and work of her son.
— Charreah K. Jackson ESSENCE Lifestyle and Beauty Editor
Then: “Shock” is first word that comes to mind. I had questions, but more than questioning why an unarmed 17-year-old was regarded as a threat in his own neighborhood, I was confused—baffled, even. It was unnerving, even how they covered it in the news— villainizing him. It was a new kind of hurt for me to watch a slain teen’s death be pacified by the media. It was also surreal; I wasn’t sitting in history class learning about Emmett Till— I was sitting in my (integrated) college dorm room watching what would serve as the catalyst to what —on a micro-level—would become my generation’s “civil war,” unfold.
Now: In the wake of Trayvon, we’ve lost Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Grey and countless others. It feels like the system is making a mockery of Black life; maybe even hoping to pacify us to the tune of injustice. Reminding myself of those names always serves as a wake up call and a call to action: to act and be vocal about injustice, to be mindful—educating myself and others about basic human rights, and to focus on working towards tapping into that collective strength that Black America embodied and enforced during the Civil Rights era. I may not have known it then, but I certainly know now that Trayvon was the wake up call.
— Virginia Lowman, ESSENCE.com Assistant Beauty Editor
Then: I remember feeling so many different emotions when I heard about Trayvon. Fear, confusion, frustration and overall disbelief. I remember feeling cheated. I was in college, had a job, and felt like I was really contributing to society and working on doing more. So I kept finding myself wondering, how is it that so many Black people contribute to society on a day to day basis, do what we’re “supposed” to do, and the people that we love or that look like us can be shot dead for no reason other than the color of their skin? How?
Now: I’m older now and a little less confused about a lot of things, but I’m still trying to figure out how that whole scenario works. Sometimes I’m worried that I’ve become somewhat numb, and more angry then confused. This year I had a moment when I realized he would’ve been 21. It’s just not fair that he wasn’t able to celebrate that.
— Dominique Hobdy, ESSENCE.com Fashion Contributor