Hey Tray

Shadows, Amanda Wisbeck

Hey Tray,

I know we’ve never talked, but I needed to reach out to someone. Someone that could understand what I’m feeling right now, what I’m going through. I’m sure you know the news by now. They got another one of us, bro. For real. This young boul named Jordan, down in Dallas. Got him leaving a party. My guy was 15. He was younger than you Tray, and you were 17. That’s some shit.

It’s crazy to think that you would be 22 today if you were still alive. Man, 22, the whole world would be before you. Who would you be man? What would you be doing? They say you could ball, that you could’ve played football in college. It’s crazy to think that you would only be a year older than me if you were still alive. If you were still alive. You should still be alive. I think about this when I’m in class. When I ride the bus. Damn. Sometimes the shit haunts me in my sleep. How? Why? Sometimes I look at you, Tray, and I see me.

I remember how the kids back at my high school at Springfield tried to justify it. I felt like I was your guardian, your defendant, your voice when you had none. The same shit they’re doing to Jordan now? They were doing it to you too. Well, with his hoodie, he looked sketchy. What makes a Black guy with his hood up sketchy? Well, he was out pretty late. What’s so wrong about going for a walk, getting some Skittles and a drink? Don’t y’all get to do that all the time, rolling up to Wawa at midnight like it won’t be there in the morning?  Well, he had weed in his system. He was up to no good.  Wait—since when is smoking no good? And don’t you smoke? Are you up to no good? Or are there just different rules for white and Black people?

Well, why was Trayvon running if he was innocent? You ever been scared for your life? (Probably not.) Wouldn’t you be scared if someone was following you?  Well, Zimmerman was acting in self-defense. Why does a gun have to be involved? (Why is this country so obsessed with guns??) How do you justify that? Where is the justice in that?

Trayvon, I remember when Ms. Diane wouldn’t let me walk home. I lived around the corner from her house and did her gardening since she could barely get around without the use of her motor scooter. Springfield is a “nice community”, and you never think some shit would go down there. I laughed at her concern. I didn’t get it. It was only 8 PM, and it was barely dark out. I didn’t get that he got you when it was 7:17 PM while you were on your way home too. I didn’t get that my hoodie and my skin color made me a target. I didn’t get that those in blue see you and me as Black. I’m not Maurice. You aren’t Trayvon. We’re both just Black. I didn’t know then what it meant to feel Black.

I wanted to hang around Chestnut Hill a few weeks later, I wanted to hang with my friends, to eat, to walk around for a bit. My mom gave me a firm no. I was pissed. Beyond pissed. I thought about going anyway. She said no, and said, if some shit pops off, your Black ass will be the first one they look at. And I said, no shit’s gonna go down, the rest of my friends do it all the time. She said, well, Trayvon probably thought the same damn thing. I still didn’t get it but that was the end of the conversation.

Trayvon I remember where I was when they let your murderer go free (I refuse to say his name). My friend J always throws a cookout at his place every year, so we all roll up to his crib for good food and a good time. It was the summer before our senior year of high school, so we were all into our feelings, and getting all nostalgic. The cookout was over, our bellies were full, we were watching a movie. Nobody told us the verdict was coming out that night. Until J’s parents came down quiet. They said to turn on the news. Peter was the only white kid left. He asked what was going to happen. Nobody answered him. J’s pop calmly told Peter “go home” and call when he made it back. Peter listened. J’s mom turned the channel to the news, and we all watched. Dead quiet in the room when they shared the verdict. Devin was the youngest, and he fell asleep looking at the coverage with us. J’s pop drove me home. He didn’t say much. He muttered about the crazy world we live in. I asked him, what’s gonna happen. He shook his head. I think then I finally got it. I think then I realized, us brothers, we all got a clock inside of us. Just ticking. Like any one of us at any moment in any given time at any place could be next.

Trayvon, sometimes I wonder when my time is. Did you know yours would be that night? If you did, why didn’t you do anything? And if you didn’t, what would you have done different? And would doing anything different have mattered anyway? Because maybe if it wasn’t Feb. 26, 2012, it would’ve been Feb. 28, 2013, or another day, another time. I thought my time was coming when I went out that night in Kansas City. Wearing my hood up because it was raining and forty-five degrees outside. Scared shitless because in looking for a place to eat near the hotel, I’m in an area where there’s a cop standing in the middle of every intersection. Where I’m the only Black body wherever I look around.

I thought my time was on Pomona’s campus. I was there for a conference, talking about race on liberal arts campuses for the weekend. I wanted to spend Friday night doing what college students do on a Friday night. There was a party a group of us wanted to go to that several other attendees of the conference were going to be at. There was a good group of us, maybe 8 or so brothers, including Andikan and Drew. Drew has been a real one, you know what I’m sayin?

Like from Day 1 since I been at Haverford. And Andikan was someone I met at the conference. A senior at Pomona. Someone who promised to show me around. That night, our group wasn’t up to nothing, I swear, just laughing, kickin it, being ourselves, you know how it is. And this cop, he just comes out of nowhere. He comes out of nowhere and just trails behind us. I know it’s a bad sign. My hair’s sticking up, and even though California has like zero humidity, I feel like there’s this heaviness to the air. You feel me? So we start to head into one of the dormitories and the cop stops us. He looks at Andikan. His blue eyes bounce between all of us. I swear my guy looks shook, like he’s never seen this many niggas in his life.  And so the officer asked to see some ID. You know what’s crazy? It’s a consortium. There’s 10,000 people on this fucking campus. There’s people homie hasn’t seen all around us, yet he stops us. So of course the cop hasn’t seen us around. I’m scared as shit. I reach slowly for my wallet, I’m not trying to make any sudden moves, because there’s no where to run and I’m not trying to have any shit pop off. But Andikan is hot. He’s like, I’m a student here, bro. The cop says to prove it. And so Andikan asks, why are you pressing us? Why are you pressing us? The group calms Andikan down. And so we all get mad quiet, and the officer looks over all of our ID. He doesn’t say shit either, just tells us to stay out of trouble and enjoy the night.

Even though we walk away, it isn’t over. The party’s dead and we head out. We see the cop again, hanging with a group of white students. And so Andikan says some shit, tells the cop that he best be checking their IDs too. Then one of the white guys takes his shirt off, says some shit like we better keep walking, or else he’ll kick all of our asses (my man was so serious, but he bumped his head for real if he thought he was gonna take all 8 of us). But the cop says nothing to him. He’s telling us to keep going. Like we were starting the trouble. And we’re telling the cop to check their ID. And Andikan is getting reading to square up. And then the cop reaches for his holster.

Drew’s pulling me and saying, we gotta get outta here, shit’s about to jump off. Except I’m hot too. And then Drew looks me in the eye. He says, your ass is about to be a T-shirt bro or a hashtag, we don’t need any of that. And then it got real for me, Tray, know what I’m saying? Like it all hit me at once. That’s how it happens. Like I’m so lucky, so blessed, that we all got out of there safe. We reported the cop, but who knows what came of it.

Trayvon, you know what’s fucked up? I didn’t know it was legal to kill you—kill me—in the street. Trayvon, most days I wish I never knew you. That’s facts bro. If I didn’t know you, or your name, it’d be like nothing ever happened. But then if it wasn’t your name, maybe it would be J’s name they’d be saying out in the street. Or if it isn’t J’s, then maybe it’s Lon’s. Or if it isn’t Lon’s we’d be saying Fatman’s, or Malik. Or mine. But maybe none of that matters. Because before your name, there was Emmitt Till. And after your name was Mike Brown. And just the other day, that other young brother I was telling you about, Jordan. Shot right in front of his brother and best friends. He was 15. They were leaving a party, and next thing you know, smoke is coming out boul’s head, and he’s slumped over in the passenger seat. And to a lot of people it’s just names. They hear one Black name, see one Black face, and they’ve seen em all. But all I see is love, man, it’s more than names, you feel? It’s my cousins, it’s my sisters, my uncles, it’s friends, it’s lives. Like, why is that hard to understand? How many more of us there has to be for them to get it? To stop killing us, to end this war. My hands are up, you know what I’m saying? What do they have against us, man?

Trayvon, can I call you brother? Because in many ways you are my brother. We’ve never met, we never will meet this side of life, but I love you like my brother. It’s deeper than skin. Yeah nigga, we both Black, but it’s deeper than that. Man, I feel like I knew you all my life. Did you know you would inspire millions, Tray? For real, like I’m sitting here in English classes talking about you, your names is in books, and in our hearts. But who wants to be famous for that? Instead of celebrating your life, we sit around and talk about your death, we go around saying Black Lives Matter and shit, like it’s some new stuff. But we shouldn’t have to be. How long do we have to be out in the streets? Like we gotta change the laws man. Understand?

Except that maybe that won’t be enough, because we saw with the Civil Rights movement, we saw with Emancipation, that changing laws don’t change shit, if you don’t start with changing people’s hearts.

Florida Memorial U gave you a degree. Gave you a degree the other day in aeronautical science because you wanted to fly. You got yours before I got mine man. I want to use mine to do something. Like talk about race in this country, to be a professor and a mentor to other brothers. Because you look around, and there aren’t a lot of us teaching, know what I’m saying? I want to invest back in our communities, to be there for other brothers, to let them know their lives matter. If there’s anything to learn from the senselessness of this country, from his death, from yours, it’s this: we can’t be silent; we won’t be silenced. Tray, in your death, you became something bigger than when those bullets took your life: you became a movement. And I promise till I meet you on that other side of life, to say your name, to share your story.

With love,

Maurice

About the Author

Maurice Rippel · Haverford College

Maurice Rippel graduated from Haverford College in 2019, majoring in English with a minor in Educational Studies. On campus, he was a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow and a recipient of the Watson Fellowship. He is currently travelling for 12 months, across four continents to explore the intersections of barbershops and storytelling. “Hey Tray” first appeared in Milkweed. 

About the Artist

Amanda Wisbeck · Cansius College

Amanda Wisbeck is a sophomore at Canisius College double-majoring in International Business and Environmental Studies. She is also on the women’s soccer team for Canisius. When she isn’t playing soccer, she is traveling. Amanda was born in Sweden but grew up in different countries around Asia. “Shadows” first appeared in Quadrangle. 

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