Commentary: Trayvon Martin’s 18th Birthday Is a Moment for Reflection

The unarmed Martin was, by most accounts, a typical teenager when his life was cut down in a killing that has become a national controversy.

Posted: 02/05/2013 01:34 PM EST
Trayvon Martin

This would have been Trayvon Martin’s 18th birthday.

By now, he would have been making decisions about what college he would attend. He would have been giving prolonged, in-depth consideration to his senior prom. He might even have debated with friends the merits of the Ravens or the 49ers in the recent Super Bowl. He would be planning his summer activities. He would have been celebrating a milestone birthday with his family members.

He was a lover of sports who even went skiing. He volunteered alongside his father with a youth program in Miami that runs sports programs. He was extremely close to his father, who coached Trayvon’s football team. He and his mother shared a special bond.

He was, by all accounts, a typical teenager. He had ambitions and dreams. He enjoyed cracking jokes with friends. Like other teenagers, he was not perfect and had occasions to be reprimanded. But he loved his family, had a well-formed concept of right and wrong, spoke respectfully to his elders and sought to make his parents proud of him.

In the whirlwind of hoodie marches, heated discussions about racial profiling and "Stand Your Ground" laws on television news programs and courtroom maneuvers in Florida, it is easy to overlook the fact Trayvon Martin was, in many ways, a typical 17-year-old when he was shot and killed in a dark, gated community nearly a year ago.

In the coming trial of George Zimmerman, the former neighborhood watch volunteer who killed the unarmed Trayvon, the defense will undoubtedly strive to cast all manner of aspersions on the character of this teenager. Already, Zimmerman’s legal team has worked to unearth Trayvon’s Twitter and Facebook messages, hoping to cast the youth as some sort of undesirable menace.

In the months to come, there will be in-depth analysis of the events of that dark evening in Sanford, Florida. Lawyers for Zimmerman, who is insisting that he was accosted by the teenager and that he shot Trayvon in self-defense, will seek to highlight unflattering testimony. He will be portrayed as a young man whose speech at times was far from that of a choir boy.

But the tragedy of Trayvon’s death at age 17 is rooted in his ordinariness. He was robbed of his ability to explore the world more fully, to learn from his mistakes, to shape his character and to pursue his passions. He was, quite simply, prevented from living a full, highly human life. And his birthday should be a time for a nation to lament the loss of so many young people in unspeakable acts of violence. It should also be a moment where Americans redouble their resolve to ensure that such horrific acts come to an end.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Courtesy of Martin Family)

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