The James Jones Conversation Hour: The Trayvon Martin tragedy

Div. 45 reflects on Trayvon Martin case during APA convention.

By Luis A. Vazquez, PhD

It was evident that those who showed up to share their feelings and express their ideas had hopes that one outcome of the hour long conversation would be to develop ideas and/or strategies that could be shared with the APA leadership and/or the broader APA membership. Participants with different perspectives from a multitude of communities came together to discuss and examine the issues of systemic bias, discrimination and racism that were raised as a result of the Trayvon Martin tragedy. We were interested in finding ways that psychology and/or psychologists might be able to contribute to the violence prevention debate and prevent further violence against children and adults of color. 

All of us took care to listen to each other with respect and empathy, as some of us shared how the Trayvon Martin tragedy impacted our everyday lives, whether through expression of anger, frustration and sadness, describing behaviors that might better protect children and adults of color, and letting each other know that we all mattered to one another. This tragic event reminded us of an all too familiar history of violence and the experiences of fear that children of color continue to face in a society that perpetuates systemic bias, prejudices and racism. Yet, there was a strong sense that the responsibility for change belonged to us all, regardless of color. The meeting was the beginning of us coming together in the face of the tragic loss of another child of color.

Throughout the meeting, there were tears of frustration and sadness, expressions of fear for our children and anger for such a de-humanizing experience of tragedy. When looking around the room, you could feel a sense of hope. There was also a sense of faith that all of us in that room truly wanted to change the world and make it a place without racism, bias and fear for children of color. 

There seemed to be so much more that we wanted and needed to share, but time constraints did not permit for a longer discussion. The sharing of our experiences and ideas led to approximately 6 initiatives that were submitted to various boards, committees and members, with the ultimate goal of presenting these initiatives to the broader APA membership. I would like to share one of the 6 initiatives that were shared with great compassion.

The participants recommended the development of a series of educational resources on how to socialize children, adolescents, young adults and elders about perpetrators, survivors and victims of the systemic bias and racism perpetrated through laws, such as the “Stand your ground Law.” It was often stated in the group that this responsibility belongs to “all” of us in order for our society to change. An example that was given was that of “The Talk.” 

Several participants of color briefly shared how their parents had “The Talk” with them at a very young age. “The Talk” included a discussion of caution and the survivor skills needed to cope in a racist society and population that would judge you based on the color of your skin and the way you dress. “The Talk” relayed the message that people were judged through biases based on pre-conceived notions that have been passed on from generation to generation in attempts to define who people of color are in society. Participants believed that “The Talk” should be educational and that a course should be developed on how to present “The Talk” from different points of views (perpetrators and survivor’s/victims) with all children, adolescents and elders. The participants felt strongly about this recommendation due to the reality that we currently face, and have faced for many years. With “The Talk” there may be testimonials, literature and a humanization of the reality of the experiences of children, adolescents and adults of color in U.S. society.

I want to thank all of you that attended the James Jones Conversation Hour and had the courage to share with each other. I felt honored and humbled that you all allowed me to serve as a facilitator among such leaders that were present at the meeting. I believe that we shared some good ideas that need to be acted upon. There were many of us willing to volunteer our time to such efforts.