After the Verdict: Hug Your Sons

My son is just developing a sense of morals. What can I tell him about the boy who did nothing wrong?

Generic image (Thinkstock)
Generic image (Thinkstock)

My son is a Brooklyn kid. He knows that grown-ups should never ask him for high-fives or pounds or anything else when Mamma is not close by. “Grown-ups should not approach kids for anything,” I tell him. So, how do I explain that a grown-up did follow a boy, a boy who looks so much like him? That this man scared the boy, fought the boy, killed the boy. How do I explain that this man who killed that boy is now free, that it was the boy who was put on trial, who was blamed for making the man follow him. How do I tell him this at age 4?

He is just developing a sense of right and wrong. So, what can I tell him about the boy who did nothing wrong? What can I say that makes sense to a 4-year-old?

It has already become time for us to have The Talk. But I have to develop a more sophisticated discourse about his safety. He needs to begin to know things now. But, the truth is, there is nothing we can say to our children to protect them from men like Zimmerman. There is nothing young Trayvon could have done differently. There is no playbook for how to handle gun-wielding men who profile boys, boys whose pockets are stuffed with candy.

I woke up in a state of mourning for Trayvon. I signed the NAACP Department of Justice petition asking for a civil rights trial. I shared the information about the peaceful rally planned for this afternoon in Union Square. I did things. But I could not shake the sadness, the heart-wrenching grief that poured into my soul and was filling me up like water in a well.

We do things, we black women, as we work through pain like this. We keep going. That is why we are still here. That is why we still exist. So many of us are already speaking out — in protest, via social media, in our homes — the words are all around us. Words of shock are turning into expressions of yearning — for justice. But also for safety, for our children’s lives.

Trayvon’s family is united, strong, and very very beautiful. We have all admired this mother and father so very much. They model the power and resilience that has become coded in our DNA, that those swirling ghosts imprinted in our biological material. It is this strength that I will pass on to our son. We meet them in our mourning clothes, and we honor them with our persistence, with our will to keep on living. To stay alive. To live.

When I chatted with my friend Stacey this morning, she told me to hug our son for her, and I did. I whispered into his ear, “This is from Auntie Stacey,” and I held him close.

“There’s a little cutie in my building named Apollo,” Stacey typed on Facebook before we stopped chatting. “He’s 6. The next time I see him, I’m going to give him a hug, too.”

“He’ll like that,” I typed back. “Kids like love.”

Eisa Nefertari Ulen is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based writer and the author of the novel Crystelle Mourning. She can be reached at and on Twitter.