Dear Mr. Zimmerman
Dear Mr. Zimmerman,
I never thought I would be a kid person. I was never one of those children that pretended to be a mother. I didn’t dream of weddings, plan baby names, and I rarely even babysat actual children. I was the youngest child and I spent more time being coddled than I ever spent thinking about parenting.
How I became a parent is a story much too long for this letter (but a great one) so I’ll just say it was very surprising. The way I started working with children on a daily basis resulted from reasons that are much easier to explain. I needed money. I found myself with a college degree in sociology and no realistic ideas of how to use it. I worked with young adults in a college setting that although were technically over the age of 18 had no business calling themselves adults. I realized that just because the law declares a person competent to make decisions at a certain age the body doesn’t always cooperate. I made up for my lack of babysitting with a new found job watching hundreds of “adult” children.
I went on, again in a search for money, to act as a tutor for refugee children who were new to this country. I experienced how strangely different these children were from the ones I’d met and yet how strikingly familiar too. They played different games, spoke different languages, cracked different jokes but they still just wanted a friend, a smile and some sugar. I voyaged as far as Kenya to test this theory out and still found it to be true. I believe that quest for sugar was what brought Trayvon Martin into your life, was it not?
Onward in my quest for a career and now supporting my own two kids I became a public librarian. First a teen specialist who spent hours every day entertaining the unpleasable. Listening to gossip. Squelching adrenaline. Curbing flirtations. Mediating scuffles. It wasn’t always me they wanted a smile from or to call their friend, but I never met a single one that didn’t except my free offerings of sugar. Eventually I went on to work with younger children in the library setting but I always miss the spontaneity and humor of teens.
For the last eight years of my life not a day has gone by that I haven’t worked closely with children in some capacity. Although I don’t consider myself anywhere near an expert on children (does such a thing truly exist?!) I do consider myself someone who has come a long way in learning about them. I’ve learned that they often times don’t make sense. We want to be able to rationalize and justify every thing they do when the reality is most the time they don’t even know why they behave a certain way. I’ve learned that they do stupid things. Really stupid things. Unfathomable stupid things. Yet, I didn’t really need to be around kids to know this to be true. I should have known this from my own experience growing up and the long list of stupidity that accompanied it. I’ve also learned that they are dealt unbelievable burdens. Even those with the best of lives struggle with challenges daily that I wouldn’t ever want to relive. Can you remember how difficult it was to be your best self before you really even knew who “you” were? I remember.
I’m sure you know that there are scientific reasons why kids act in these ways. There are parts of their brains that simply put just don’t function yet. They are impulsive and illogical. They need a friend to guide them. They are emotional and disruptive. They need a smile to calm them. They are restless and impatient. They need to walk to the gas station to burn off some energy and refuel with some sugar. It’s amazing that any of us make it to adulthood! If it weren’t for the grace of adults who remember how difficult the journey was, none of us would be here.
The best part of working with kids is that I’ve discovered wrapped under layers of rotten peels, they house a sweetness that can’t be found anywhere else. A bright outlook on life and enough optimism to fill their otherwise empty heads. They bask in naivety and it has never looked more beautiful.
Mr. Zimmerman, I understand that you are going to be a free man now. I wanted to write to you about my experience with children and what I’ve learned from them because I gather that you have never had the privilege to work with children? I assume that you have never had a child cry on your shoulder after being bullied at school. Or had one confide in you their deepest secret. I’m guessing you have forgotten how difficult it is to make that transition between childhood and adulthood and how many mistakes must be made along the way. Do you remember that we learn best from failure? I think you have forgotten those adults who showed you grace during your journey.
I am hoping in your freedom you can remember my advice about what children really need. Those simple concepts of a smile, a friend and some sugar. I am hoping that you can because I am terrified of what has happened due to your lack of understanding these basic ideas about kids. Myself, and half of our nation, are haunted by how far off you were in your tactics. How you approached a child in the rain who you thought might be up to no good. How you were wrong, but there is no way to take back your discretion. How you could have asked him if he needed a ride. How that would have been the friendly thing to do. How you could have smiled knowing it would have calmed his nerves. How you gave him nothing close to a smile. How you could have seen the sugar stashed in his hand and known his motives were pure. How instead you shot him.
How he will never get a chance to offer back the grace we all need while growing up. How you messed up the one chance you had. How we’ve never stopped crying since.
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