Although we have never met, I know Trayvon Martin.
He was only 17 years old, and I am nearly 30 years his senior; yet I've known him my entire life. For all intents and purposes, my late parents and grandparents, who died before Trayvon was ever born, also knew him well.
I was born and raised in North Buffalo, in a predominantly white neighborhood. As African-Americans, we were taught to be proud of our heritage and our ancestry, but keenly cognizant of the stereotypes that linger, regardless of our successes, our contributions or the lack thereof. I can recall numerous occasions when my family was subjected to prejudice and discrimination solely based on the color of our skin.
Although, most of my childhood memories are fond, I cannot deny the code of conduct that my parents regularly reminded us of. Not only were we instructed on how we should strive to be productive citizens, and always conduct ourselves respectfully and lawfully, but sadly, that we bore the burden of proving that we were as non-threatening and law-abiding as our white counterparts.
We were constantly reminded that although the law affords us equal opportunity and blind justice, there are still some in our community who consider us to be unworthy of opportunity and justice. We, as African-Americans, have been taught for generations the somber truth, that unwarranted or not, we are disproportionately the usual suspects of wrongdoings -- past, present and future.
As Americans, we are all endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Even if that minuscule piece of liberty simply includes strolling down a public street armed with a bag of candy and an iced tea. Even if that right to life includes attempting to flee a dangerous situation involving a predator with a mentality of biased vigilantism.
We have all seen Trayvon; unfortunately, our perception of him often differs significantly. The Trayvon I know is innocence lost, dreams dimmed forever and a legacy that is eternally stifled. He fondly reminds me of my brother, my father, my cousin, my uncle, my friend and my son. Others might see Trayvon as an outsider, and a threat to their security.
Ignorance is the enemy of all of us. It consummates fear and an unbridled reaction. We must all search our hearts and humanity to find a common thread that connects us as fellow human beings worthy of respect and dignity.
Unfortunately, knowing Trayvon also means knowing that the boogeyman does exist. George Zimmerman was Trayvon's boogeyman, materialized from the nightmare that our parents warned us about. That boogeyman not only stole the life of an innocent soul, but he reinforced his existence to those of us who hoped that he was fictional.
One day soon, I will have the daunting task of introducing my 5-year-old son to Trayvon. I will tell him about the Trayvon who will never be, the possibilities and the promise that will never surface. And in an attempt to keep my son safe and hopefully save his life, I will teach him, as my parents taught us, that but for the grace of God, we are Trayvon.
Millions of African-Americans in this country are subjected to an underlying hysteria and paranoia, which creates an undeserving prejudice that could lead to unwarranted ridicule, incarceration and even death.
Toni Vazquez, who lives in Williamsville, laments the senseless killing of Trayvon Martin.