You've shared every article, worn your hoodie daily, attended rallies, donated multiple times to the Trayvon Martin Foundation and are left waiting... empty, angry and confused. I know the feeling.
In the days following my initial flurry of tweets about the verdict, I sat back, quietly reading some of the most beautiful, meaningful writing I have ever seen. Trayvon essays from teens, mothers, celebrities, journalists, pundits and even remarks from the President of the United States. Most moved me to tears. Many ended with a link to a petition. All left me, a former professional activist, feeling helpless.
As someone who was once asked to leave an event for saying to a politician "Fine, but what can we do about it?" over and over again until he answered, I am hardwired to search for practical action steps for everyday people. Without them, this critical dialogue about race that is now a "National Conversation" will be drowned out by hopelessness, futility and tomorrow's news.
I know and work with dozens of brilliant leaders who are developing a coherent national advocacy strategy and polished, well-produced campaigns to share with the world. But that takes time -- and right now, it doesn't feel like we have any to waste.
So in the meantime, here are some steps to help us all contribute to the movement beyond the moment:
1. GET A MESSAGE FOR THE STORY.
Many people concerned about justice have an authentic, deeply personal narrative around race. Trayvon's murder has allowed us the space to share it. We have verbally rehashed both the facts of the case and our own painful experiences every second of every day on every social media platform and in every conversation, in hopes that the very articulation of these injustices will move a nation. This collective story telling is not only cathartic, but is a very powerful tool for change.
Unfortunately, that's not enough. To have lasting impact, we must follow our stories with a message. As a communications trainer, I often ask my students one simple question after they passionately tell me about an issue or cause: So what? That is now the world's question to us. It's time to get specific with our answer.
Begin to form your own key message around racial and criminal justice. Don't just talk about Trayvon -- begin to learn about racial profiling, gun violence, and other issues related to this moment. Do you have a specific perspective on jury selection? On gun laws? On the media and race? What would your 3 talking points be on any one of these issues? What one or two pieces of data could you use to back up your opinion?
If you need help figuring out what to say and how to say it, check out OpportunityAgenda.org as a start. They have some really well researched advice on racial messages. In the age of social media, having a conversation about race isn't enough. Lets make it a productive one.
2.GET BUSY LOCALLY.
Trayvon's story became national, but at the core, he was a boy from Sanford, Florida. There are thousands of stories in cities all over America that mirror his. What are they where you live? Get familiar. Learn the names of other victims, police chiefs, prosecutors, governors, and laws. Then find out who is doing the work of justice there and jump in!
Take the time to connect with your local activist, volunteer and outreach groups, online or off. We don't have to wait for a President, a Pundit or a Preacher to give marching orders for the country. Reach out in your neighborhood and get started making your own community a safer place for our children in any way that you can. Doing so will be one of the most immediately fulfilling and significant actions of your life.
3.GET CONNECTED NATIONALLY.
I have never believed that national organizations are the only way -- or even the best way -- to make an impact, especially in today's tech-driven world. But as someone who has worked with and for many of them, I can tell you the critical role they play. Right now people are hard at work at those organizations -- many of whom you will never see on TV -- talking to legislators, writing sample talking points, filing suits, drafting sample legislation, taking care of the complicated, not-so-pretty details and creating the tools you need to work smart, not just hard. Get on the email lists of organizations like ColorofChange.org, NAACP, Team Impact and the League of Young Voters to stay informed and connected.
Many of us are compulsive get-involvers. If there's a hungry child, an unfair law, a sexist policy, an endangered natural resource or anything else that makes the world a worse place to live, we're on it, ready to give our time, attention and resources. But let's face it. We only have so much time for so many issues and there may not be any more major milestones around the Zimmerman ruling for a long while. No more BET special programming, no more Jay-Z and Beyonce tributes at concerts, and no more Anderson Cooper townhalls -- Where will this issue be then? And more importantly, where will you be?
For some, it cannot and will not be the #1 priority after this month. And that is ok. Let's not guilt every human being we know for not wearing a hoodie for the rest of their lives. We have to be honest about the emotional and time commitment that it takes to hold the banner for a real life movement and the number of movements we hold dear. But for others, this may be a turning point to commit to the issues of racial and criminal justice for the long haul and join the thousands of others that already have. Only you can answer the question of "Am I committed?". But now is certainly the time to ask.
Taking these four small steps will help move us out of a painful, endless Groundhog Day of outrage for Trayvon and into a mindset of longterm action for equality and justice for all.