Strange Fruit: Black Boys in the Sunshine State

I have three great loves in life; black men, pizza, and football. Lucky for me they all complement each other nicely.

Often, when faced with life’s unsolvable questions, I find respite and refuge in one of my three loves. Kevin Hart has made me laugh to the point of tears, when tears and not laughter was what I needed most. And I have willfully and frequently found comfort in the doughy clutches of a greasy pie—the pepperoni stares back but doesn’t judge. So it seemed oddly appropriate that after the jury in the Michael Dunn trial was unable to reach a verdict on the count of first degree murder in the shooting of Jordan Davis, I turned to yet another emotional mainstay, football.

Trayvon and Tracy Martin

Trayvon and Tracy Martin

The murders of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis have added to the ongoing PR nightmare that is Florida’s judicial system. In addition to being home to Walt Disney World, and producing the bulk of the country’s orange and grapefruit juice, Florida has quickly become the poster child for stand-your-ground—the controversial self-defense law that loosely translated equates to, black boys are scary feel free to shoot them. Alas Florida is also home to something else, several of the country’s most reputable and profitable college football programs.

As current BCS National Champions, and ACC Atlantic Conference title holders, the Florida State Seminoles (FSU) rely heavily on the athletic prowess of young black men to build their program and remain at the top of their division. Standout alums include Deion Sanders, Charlie Ward, Derrick Brooks, Terrell Buckley, and 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. In total, seven of Florida’s 14 collegiate football programs compete in the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision. And, like FSU, each expend considerable time and resources scouting top high school talent across the country—talent that largely consists of African-American males.

The irony is obvious. The very same state that places so little value on the lives of young black men in one circumstance lauds, commodifies, and exploits them in another. So why not make it stop? Instead of waxing poetically about boycotting orange juice and Disney World, institute a punitive repercussion on the state of Florida that is both visible and remarkable. Stop playing football.

READ: Tropicana Bhd: Protestors threaten boycott over stand-your-ground

Black male high school students, those identified as top recruits nationally by college scouts, should refuse to commit to schools in Florida until stand-your-ground is taken off the books. Again, top recruits, the future “Neon Deions,” Antonio Cromarties, and E.J. Manuels of the world—players who help make programs. Expecting every young black male with a shot at a dream to snub their nose at destiny for the collective good may be asking too much. But for those who are talented enough to write their own ticket, those being courted by Auburn, Michigan State, South Carolina, and Alabama, the decision should be an easy one.

Detractors will shudder at the idea of jeopardizing potential football stardom, and access to a free education, in the name of civil rights. By this logic, the notion of turning down scholarship dollars, and the accompanying benefits, flies in the face of the very freedoms fought for during the height of the Civil Rights Era. I’d argue that the grass, education, and money are just as green at schools in other states with similarly competitive programs. Is it a risk? Certainly. Is it a sacrifice? Definitely. It pales in comparison, however, to the risks taken and sacrifices made by the heroes and martyrs of the 1950’s and 60’s. No one will be beaten, no homes will be firebombed, there will be no ‘Bloody Sunday’ because a student has bypassed Florida State. 

Jordan Davis with his mother Lucia McBath

Jordan Davis with his mother Lucia McBath

And while it’s true that stand-your-ground, and other comparable statutes, are on the books in several states. Those states have not allowed the murders of two unarmed black teenagers to go unanswered for in under 365 days. In 1955, Montgomery Alabama wasn’t the only city that upheld racial segregation laws in the Jim Crow South. Nonetheless, Rosa Parks still sat down.

Although Al Sharpton and Tom Joyner continue to march, I would like to publicly make a very obvious observation; the Civil Rights Movement is dead. LGBT advocates and Latinos are far more visible, organized, and vocal in terms of advancing their agendas and pushing for legislative change and equal treatment under the law.

READ: Al Sharpton leads protests at rally against Florida’s stand-your-ground law

As for individual black activists and pundits, they exist. But attach a hefty paycheck from a three letter network to their name, and suddenly progress takes a backseat to agenda setting and books sales.

Factually speaking younger generations of African-Americans are uninformed and disinterested in the means by which they inherited their creature comforts. Even educated and aspiring black Americans—those who are informed and aware—cringe when confronted with our burned and bloodied past. They dedicate a Facebook post or hashtagged tweet to the Jordan Davis’ of the world, some trite digital token of sentiment that satisfies their desire to acknowledge the issue publicly without examining it or taking a stance. Essentially, they flee from their responsibility to ensure that the rights afforded to them remain in place for their children. The assumption is that if they work hard enough, and don’t make waves, they will have a peaceable and fulfilling life—just like white people. The reality is their brown-skinned sons can’t wear hoodies in the rain.

Crippling Florida’s most lucrative football programs, putting an end to prospective collegiate dynasties and impacting the competitive futures of elite teams for years to come, is a far more visible tactic than any march and will have a larger influence on legislators and the public as a whole. Doing so via a strategic campaign, that makes use of media outlets and key allies, will garner greater interest and attention than any afternoon of Rockports and “Rock-a My Soul” could ever hope to.  

To those who believe this approach is extreme, or improbable, dedicate an afternoon of Google searches to black athletes. Start with Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Craig Hodges. Then search Arthur Ashe, Muhammad Ali, Paul Robeson, and Jackie Robinson. If you’re still not swayed, Google the 1965 AFL All-Star game.

Cowardice seldom saves lives, and on those rare occasions when it does, the havoc wreaked on the soul is so unbearable that death is often looked upon with envy. Burying your head in the sand does not absolve you from responsibility, nor does it make it any less likely that your son or daughter will be the next Trayvon Martin or Jordan Davis.

5 comments

  1. Thank you for this post! I appreciate reading a contemplative approach to a realistic and ever urgent problem threatening the already fragile future of Black youth. The passive means in which leaders, activists, and followers have attempted to attain whatever it is they think they are fighting for, provides a convenient excuse to exhibit complacency and subtle indifference when things actually remain the same. There are directionless leaders, activists, educators, and followers seeking something better than what we have, who appear to be lost on how, where, when, why, and who to do this with. Senior Black leaders and such appear to be out of touch partially and substantially with the dynamics of this new millennial population and generational culture. Thus, with their vast and comprehensive understanding of where we’ve been, where we are and why we have so far to go becomes virtually obsolete, as very few people can connect with the message that manifests from their efforts. On the other side, you have the generation of folk you mentioned, who are keenly aware of how to use the unique and multifaceted tools of today to transpire a movement but have no ties or desire for movement as, they are, as you asserted, “uninformed and disinterested in the means by which they inherited their creature comforts. Even educated and aspiring black Americans—those who are informed and aware—cringe when confronted with our burned and bloodied past.” Great piece! The beginning of our movement and the true first step towards revolution of the treatment of people in general, and Black people in this particular struggle, within this society, starts with conversation. Real conversation. Not b.s., side stepping over the elephant in the room conversation, but real, authentic, out and out, back and forth conversation. This article is part of that beginning, so just keep writing, remembering that your words can and will be apart of the change, if you will have it. A’se!

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful, kind and encouraging words. It’s our goal to continue to create and share content of this caliber, providing a platform for innovative and courageous writers/thinkers to address pressing and relevant topis. Thanks for reading and for sharing this piece with your audience.

  2. Reblogged this on EverythingShaquana.com and commented:
    Amazing piece, adding great depth and thought provoking questions and answers to the conversation about how to approach Florida’s onslaught of Black youth. All in all, the piece adds much greater significance to question of what to do and how to do it, as a means to saving the future for our youth.

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