Is that Trayvon Martin Sitting Next to You?

February 13, 2013 at 10:56 AM

Since the Trayvon Martin case has become a national and global focus, I have not entered a single boardroom where the circumstances of his death have not significantly impacted someone’s life beyond the town of Sanford, FL. After Trayvon’s fatal shooting by George Zimmerman on February 26, 2012, the airwaves were filled with breaking news coverage and the streets flooded with protesters and parents who lost their own Black children in similar situations.

The case sparked a racial disparities dialogue. ABC News reporters shared their experiences with racial profiling and their attempts to dismantle oppression. Anderson Cooper followed a survey that revealed the ugly truth of how race factors into our judgment of good or bad through photographs, even without any interaction. The research found that 70 percent of the children survey takers responded negatively to the people of color in the photos.

After that tragic day, images of Trayvon and Zimmerman were everywhere. Reports revealing the inequities people of color experience within the justice system began to dominate mainstream media. And a public awareness took hold of the vast number of incidents throughout our nation in which racial profiling has led to the senseless deaths of innocent, young Black citizens, especially Black males.

Sign Up for E-News

●In March 2012, a 19-year-old Black man was allegedly shot to death by police in Pasadena, CA

●In Sept 2011, a 29-year-old Black mother in St. Louis, MO, allegedly died due to gross negligence while in police custody after being arrested for refusing to leave an emergency room

●In August 1955, a 14-year-old Black boy in Money, MI, was murdered after reportedly flirting with a white woman

Trayvon Martin would have turned 18 years old this month, Black History month. What this heavy loss has taught us is that we simply cannot afford to be episodic in our efforts to address the legacy of race and race relations in America. Is it any coincident that Black individuals from all walks of life in various states and cities across the country share the same experiences--of women clutching their purses or of people locking their doors when they pass by? In my opinion, this chronicle of reality is all too common and widespread to be mere coincident.

Trayvon Martin works at our offices. He attends our schools. He visits our community centers. He bows his head at our place of worship. He shops at the local bodega, and yes, he walks along our streets throughout the state of New Jersey.

I have heard a mother’s concern for the life of her son and seen the heartbreak of the compelling need to tell her son (or daughter) that there are people in this world that don’t like them. It was a conversation she never wanted to have, but felt there were no other options.

Zimmerman pulled the trigger of the gun, but prejudice was his motivation. The cycle of prejudice uninterrupted ultimately led to the death of Trayvon. Let’s not be naïve; if prejudice exists in an individual, it exists in groups, within institutions, and throughout an entire society. Zimmerman never practiced “purity of motive.” Trayvon was never given a chance to be his authentic self in the eyes of Zimmerman. He was a stereotype that Zimmerman bought into and that he was convinced was nothing but the truth. My heart goes out to the family of Trayvon Martin as they pursue their efforts to make sure the world knows and understands the value of their son’s life even in his death. My heart goes out to the family of George Zimmerman as they struggle to understand how their son’s vision of young Black men wearing hoodies tragically ended the life of another human being. Today, I can hardly pass a person of any race, gender, nationality, body type, sexual orientation, religion, age, and/or ability status wearing a hoodie and not think of Trayvon Martin.

Since 1995, I decided to dedicate my career to taking a proactive approach to addressing the “unfinished business” of America with human relations and diversity matters. I encounter the intersections of cultural differences on a daily bias as I work with schools, community organizations, faith groups, and corporations. As the President and CEO of the American Conference on Diversity, I will continue to make sure that we work with our Board of Trustees and community partners to provide quality programs and services that work with youth and adults to break the cycle of prejudice.

The work of the American Conference on Diversity is to empower our participants to take individual and collective responsibility to become agents of change that prevent bias and prejudice from limiting access and/or denying anyone space at the table to fully partake in the rich cultural wealth of our society locally, nationally, and globally. New Jersey is ranked among the most diverse states in the country and also among the most with active hate groups. The American Conference on Diversity programs engage individuals in some of the most thought-provoking educational experiences in their lives. The willingness to confront our personal bias is in our readiness to value and respect human dignity. It is our goal to increase awareness of the harmful impact of racism and all forms of discrimination and the power among us to change. We all have a role in understanding how prejudice is infused throughout society--and we also have the shared responsibility to end this vicious cycle.

The messages George Zimmerman received about young Black men who are perceived to be like Trayvon Martin wasn’t a message he asked for and it certainly wasn’t the message Trayvon’s parents passed on to their son. Each day we get more than 15,000 messages from some form of communication and this is not limited to emails and texting. So the next time you sit in front of your computer, pick up your phone, watch a movie, go shopping, take a stroll through town, engage in eye contact with another person, or sit on your couch watching your favorite television show, consider the messages you receive about yourself and those who are different from you. Take note of who you don’t see or the voices you don’t hear. Remember that silence speaks very loudly.  Don’t fill the voids in your life about others, their culture, religion, etc. with stereotypes.

Elizabeth Williams-Riley is the President and CEO of the American Conference on Diversity, a nonprofit organization dedicated to valuing diversity, educating leaders, and promoting respect in schools, organizations, workplaces, and communities since 1948. For more on the American Conference on Diversity, visit



 The Guest Column is our readers' opportunity to write about a given issue or topic in an in-depth and educational manner.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

TAP Into Another Town's News:

Sign Up for E-News

Berkeley Heights

Norris McLaughlin & Marcus Welcomes Chief Operating Officer 

December 6, 2016

BRIDGEWATER, NJ –  The Bridgewater-based law firm Norris McLaughlin & Marcus, P.A., is pleased to welcome Richard J. Levy as its Chief Operating Officer. Levy brings decades of management experience, most recently as the CEO of Myelin Health. 

“On behalf of Norris McLaughlin & Marcus, we are pleased to welcome Rich to our management team as our ...

Speaker Ryan Signs Lance Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. --- Congressman Leonard Lance (NJ-07), Vice Chair of the Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade Subcommittee, today joined U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan as he signed off on Lance’s  Consumer Review Fairness Act.  Lance’s consumer protection legislation passed both the House and U.S. Senate and now heads to President Obama.  The legislation will allow ...

Registration Begins Next Week for Indoor Riding Lessons at Lord Stirling Stable in Basking Ridge

BASKING RIDGE, NJ – Winter weather doesn't have to mean the end of horseback riding for equestrians in Basking Ridge and nearby. The Somerset County Park Commission has announced that registration will begin next Saturday, Dec. 10, for a 10-week session of Winter Horseback Riding Classes at Lord Stirling Stable, 256 S. Maple Ave. in Basking Ridge.

Lessons are ...

Holiday Specials for Personal Training

Stay active this winter and get in shape for the spring!  Whether you are looking for a meaningful gift or a way to get healthy, the Summit Area YMCA has a variety of options that will be sure to help you and your family reach your goals this winter season! Take advantage of our holiday personal training specials available at both the Summit YMCA and Berkeley Heights YMCA to get healthy and ...

Our Town

December 5, 2016

To the Editor:

The past few years have brought on a numerous number of debates, the Redevelopment Act, new town hall, change in our downtown area, the Supreme Court ruling on COAH to name a few. Many of you know I do not agree with some of the above BUT I am only one person. I have learned to sit and study the different situations to understand them by researching.
The other thing that we ...

Letter to the Editor by Edmund Tom Maciejewski

Dear Editor,


In accordance with a ballot question that was passed in November 2005, Berkeley Heights switched from a Township Committee form to a Mayor-Council-Administrator form of government under the Faulkner Act or OMCL ( Optional Municipal Charter Law ).

There are 4 categories of municipalities under the Faulkner Act. The Mayor-Council-Administrator form that was chosen by ...

BH Town Council, Where's the Zero?

To the editor: 

In a recent Mayor’s Roundtable, the town council mentioned that Berkeley Heights uses zero-based budgeting. The Nov 17, 2016 stream of the Mayor's Roundtable explained the budgeting process and made it clear that Berkeley Heights is not using ZBB by any definition of the term.  

Our council used to have five or six budget review meetings to publicly go ...

Beckerman’s Theory of Everything

Any armchair theoretical physicist knows that Stephen Hawking has pursued a lifelong quest to come up with a Theory of Everything. This all-encompassing theory would tie together general relativity (large scale and high mass galaxies, stars, etc), quantum theory (quantum mechanics, quarks, atoms, subatomic particles), and Newtonian physics (gravity on small bodies, gas laws, electromagnetism) to ...

The Mayor's Roundtable November Edition

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Mayor's Round Table is a monthly show hosted by Dr. Donald DeFabio, who sits with Mayor Robert Woodruff to talk about current issues that affect the township as well as answer questions submitted by citizens. 

Included in this episode are discussions regarding the next step to creating a Peppertown Park committee; Board of Education ...

Shannon's six week transformation story

Shannon just finished her 6 Week Transformation, here were her results: 

Dropped 2 Pant sizes
Energy Level went from a 2 to a 9
Confidence level from a 5 to a 9

She was very happy and satisfied with these results, but the best result was taking her focus off the scale! For years Shannon only measured her success for her health by weight loss.

When we sat down in the ...

Upcoming Events


Tue, December 6, 5:00 AM

Summit YMCA, Summit

Give Back & Help a Local Animal Shelter

Giving Back


Tue, December 6, 5:00 AM

Summit YMCA, Summit

Merry Fitness – A Program To Get You Through The ...

Health & Wellness

Tue, December 6, 9:00 AM

Union County College, Cranford

Intermediate QuickBooks


Tue, December 6, 12:00 PM

Berkeley Heights YMCA, Berkeley Heights

Enhance Fitness

Health & Wellness


Tue, December 6, 12:30 PM

Summit YMCA, Summit

Mah Jongg

Arts & Entertainment

Tue, December 6, 6:00 PM

Union County College, Cranford

CompTIA Network+ Certification


Which is Best: Lump Sum or Pension Annuity?

Is a lump sum offer from an employer a better choice than a pension annuity for life? The former provides an immediate up-front amount (say $300,000), but the pension annuity gives you a stream of payments for life (example: $1,350 per month). A number of employers dangle a lump sum offer to employees in part to remove future liabilities from their balance sheets. It’s tempting for ...

Chris Brown Named President at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New Jersey Properties

Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New Jersey Properties is proud to announce the appointment of Chris Brown to President of the 21-office real estate brokerage headquartered in Somerset, New Jersey. Previously serving as Executive Vice President and General Sales Manager, Brown is a member of the company’s ownership team along with Bill Keleher, Seymour and Nancy Litwin, and Steve Janett.

Local Students Lend a Hand at Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Gov. Livingston seniors Hannah Probst and Gillian Mitreuter walk in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade for the second yea.. Last year they were a part of the 'All star' baseball clown group and this year they were a part of the first ever Girl Scout float group.

"It was such an honor walking with the Girl Scout's inaugural float as we were both Girl Scouts ...