Trayvon Martin was me, Ricardo Alonzo Summers in 1988. I lived in a neighborhood in Calvert County called Scientist Cliffs. Scientist Cliffs was established in the 1930s as a private, tony beach community by a handful of employees from the Department of Agriculture with very strict covenants as to who could purchase a home with in it's gates. Even the future Comptroller of Maryland Louis Goldstein was denied entry. This incident only inspired Mr. Goldstein to buy a huge majority of the land surrounding the neighborhood, preventing any potential for further development and eventually making him one of the largest land owners in the state of Maryland. Now the road that takes you to Scientist Cliffs is called the Louis Goldstein Memorial Highway. My parents, like so many, were captivated by the natural serenity and beauty of the tranquil homes located directly on the cliffs of the Chesapeake Bay and bought a home there.
One evening while walking on the beach listening to the "Sign of the Times" by Prince on my Walkman, I was confronted by the neighborhood watch. Up to that point, unbeknownst to me, the only dark skinned people that the residents of Scientist Cliffs had ever encountered were maids and laborers and definitely no one of color walking in the neighborhood after sundown. The two men of the neighborhood watch badgered me, asking, "Boy, where do you live?" I told them my address. They insisted that there was no way I lived there. "That's where the Talley's live!" Understanding what I believed was their confusion, I tried to clarify and explained to them that yes they were correct. My name was different from my parents' name because my mother had remarried and that Nelia and Ronald Talley are my parents. They were still puzzled and insisted that I was lying. It never occurred to me that the origin of their confusion was not based in the difference between my last name and that of my parents.
Growing up with family and friends that included every shade of the rainbow, at the time the opportunity had never arisen to make me aware and to point out to me that there was any difference between my skin of cinnamon and that of my parents, let alone anyone else. Fortunately or unfortunately, both of my parents have straight hair and pale skin that would never reveal their true identity. To an untrained eye they were like chameleons and had the ability to "pass" for anything but black. During the Iran Hostage Crisis, a group of men approached my father while he was pumping gas into his car demanding to know if he was Iranian.
And to the untrained eye they definitively were not my parents. I never knew that I would ever have to prove to be kinship to them, especially not at 16 years of age. I asked if we could walk up to the house and have my parents identify me as their son. When we arrived at my home, my parents were outraged the way any parents would be having the neighborhood watch handling their child like wild game caught on a hunt. Perhaps taking a cue from Mr. Goldstein, my parents put our house up for sale the next day, and we moved to a 60-acre farm just out side the gates of Scientist Cliffs. Now the trees, sky, land and the creatures of God would be our neighborhood watch. Lucky for me there were no guns involved in my interrogation for BWW (Black While Walking).
Praise be to God for those who through the divine hand of God's Grace live to tell. Let's ask ourselves as individuals, as a nation, as the citizens of the world, what kind of legacy could come from enduring this humiliation? What seed have we planted? What does this do to one's sense of self? What does this do to one's value or worth? What does this message convey to other countries around the world as we travel the globe as unofficial ambassadors representing the United States of America as to how to treat our citizens who look like Trayvon Martin, who look like me, who maybe look like you? Ask yourself how would you feel if the world was put on notice that you, your soul, your body was a second class citizen in your motherland and as such you could be subjected to being treated which ever way by the whims of your fellow citizens with indifference and without care. Remember: the history of our young republic has demonstrated that everyone will in time take their place at the whipping post.
To this day, 23 years later, this transgression has left a permanent scar, blemish, a cattle brand that has yet to be forgotten let alone has healed. Naturally the impact and effect on me as a young man, a citizen of the United States has never been up for contemplation or consideration. It is assumed that I will just go on without missing a beat and just grin and bare it as so many like me have done for centuries. To bow my head and eyes to the ground, with a nod in acknowledgment of knowing my "place" no eye contact and especially not in the direction of their precious women. The words echoing, reverberating in coils of my mind of "The Talk" that men who share my skin are given prior to the age of consent. Am I automatically expected to wash the slate clean and to trust those that share the same skin of my perpetrators? Now you tell me who looks "suspicious". But what of the perpetrators? These transgressions committed at their grimy hands never become a thought or concern that tugs at their soul or is replayed unsolicited and unconsciously on a continuous loop. No, their daily blase transgressions fall carelessly and effortlessly through the air to land and decay on the ground.
Today at 40 years old I live in Baltimore across from Johns Hopkins University in yet another tony neighborhood, encountering the same inappropriate behavior. After all those that look like me are "suspicious." Sad to say but in a neighborhood inhabited by the best and brightest minds in the world, this same ignorance has been fostered and allowed to permeate my daily life and for millions in this country like me this ignorance is a constant encroachment and threat to my liberty, my freedom and my pursuit of happiness, every second, minute, hour, day, month 24-7 till my soul and skin do part this earth.
Without allowing for the opportunity of recourse or remedy, could you quietly endure the daily trespasses and assaults witnessed an perpetrated by your fellow citizens, denigrating, impeding and eroding your conscience, your inalienable rights, your pursuit of happiness, your justice and not have your feathers ruffled? Or would you be beside yourself, outraged, wanting vindication, wanting the justice that you know is our birth right as citizens of the United States of America. My heart goes out to Trayvon Martin, his parents and all of the Trayvon Martins of the world and the parents of these young men. Trust and know that there by the Grace of God go I.
Ricardo A. Summers, Baltimore