March 25, 2012

Be intolerant of intolerance

On Friday, thousands of students walked out of school in the US, many joining a Million Hoodie March to stand in honor of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old student killed in Florida one month ago, possibly a victim of the controversial "Stand Your Ground" law.

President Obama spoke in a personal manner saying, "If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon." His words elevated the racially charged incident to the presidential campaign level prompting the GOP candidates to also speak of the tragedy.

Yesterday on Optilink, a member-run listserve of Optimist International, a lone voice commented that the slaying made him very sad because Trayvon volunteered six days a week with his Optimist Club. I had seen that in a similar report in USA Today and if one searches for that information today they will see dozens of news sources have picked up the report that Trayvon's father is active in the Miramar Optimist Club and that Trayvon played football with the program until he aged out. He still gave time to the program by working in the concession stand.

One would think that knowing that this young man was a product of an Optimist Club project would make the incident more personal to Optimist Club members around the world. No one else, not even I, have added a comment to the Trayvon Martin thread in the forum. Is it death we fear? Are we afraid to comment on a racially charged incident? Is there concern that as individuals we don't know enough to make a comment?

How very sad of all of us. If it were a child with cancer, I can think of at least a half dozen people that would chimed in with a story, a quote, or a call to action.

Evil prevails when good people do nothing. This paraphrased quotation is apropos for the situation. There is an elephant in the room and if we are too afraid to speak of problems like guns,diversity and intolerance, they will persist.

There is no doubt that published tapes of the 911 call about the Trayvon Martin incident reveal the intolerance of the caller and shooter. He profiled young Trayvon based on his skin color and while we may never know the actual reason he felt he needed to shoot, there is little doubt that the caller pursued a situation after he was told to stop.

A young man has died and whatever the circumstance that makes me sad; it shouldn't happen. I hope that by participating in an Optimist Club, I can affect such tragedies. It would seem to me that the call to action for this situation must be directed to the adult members of our clubs. We cannot look the other way. Helping the kids on the football field or with a club program means very little if we fail to monitor our behaviors in other situations.

You can begin to change your behavior in small ways. For instance, the next time someone tells an inappropriate joke, say something. Calling foul when someone tells a racist joke may not make you the  most popular Optimist Club member in the room, but it will make you one of the most ethical.

The time has come to make a stand: we must be intolerant of intolerance.

Photo credit: Time Magazine
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