Born Suspect

 <!– /* Font Definitions */ @font-face {font-family:"Times New Roman"; panose-1:0 2 2 6 3 5 4 5 2 3; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:50331648 0 0 0 1 0;} @font-face {font-family:Calibri; panose-1:0 2 15 5 2 2 2 4 3 2; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:50331648 0 0 0 1 0;} @font-face {font-family:"ヒラギノ角ゴ Pro W3"; mso-font-charset:78; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:16777216 0 117702657 0 131072 0;} @font-face {font-family:"Geeza Pro"; panose-1:0 2 0 4 0 0 0 0 0 0; mso-font-alt:"Times New Roman"; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:roman; mso-font-pitch:auto; mso-font-signature:0 0 0 0 0 0;} /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:""; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman";} table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-parent:""; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman";} p.Body1, li.Body1, div.Body1 {mso-style-name:"Body 1"; mso-style-parent:""; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; mso-outline-level:1; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; color:black;} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} — This past Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” Ben Jealous, head of the NAACP, described the feeling that many African-American men have of being “born suspect” by virtue of nothing more than the color of their skin. He  continued to say that as  a result parents in the Black community make sure to talk with their adolescent children, especially their sons, cautioning them to be sensitive about how their behavior might illicit suspicion at any time for no other reason than because they are Black! Failure to address this with their children only places them at risk of harm.
The shooting and death of Trayvon Martin has once again called attention to the subtle and underlying racism that is part and parcel of our experience as a nation. At any given time at Hillsides, 30 % of the youth we serve are African American and well over 70% of those we serve are people of color. When I consider the harm that any one of these youth might experience not necessarily because of their actions, but simply because of the color of their skin, I am left frightened for them and saddened that still in 2012, racism still haunts our communities.
I am embarrassed to say that as much as I understand that race is a factor in how we perceive people in various situations, I have underestimated what a significant threat it is to the safety and well-being of all people of color. It is unacceptable, that for the youth we serve,  in addition to the many traumas, hardships and challenges that they face, their race should be yet one more threat and yet it is!
It is not sufficient for us to ask our children to watch their backs and be mindful of their actions and the perceptions of other people. It is imperative that we call this issue for what it is—racism—and resolve not only to keep our children safe, but more importantly, by naming the challenge and work diligently to mitigate its impact.
Throughout the nation this week, groups are gathering to raise this issue, grow awareness and solicit a resolve to mitigate the impact of racism on our society. Taking the time to examine how stereotypes so easily influence our perceptions and actions is perhaps the first step in mitigating the impact of racism in our lives. Our efforts can not undo the tragedy of Trayvon Martin’s death, but they can help us create a safer and more wholesome society for all children and youth.

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