Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Obama, Trayvon, and a path to healing

By Donna Brazile, Special to CNN
July 19, 2013 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • President Obama commented on the case of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman
  • Brazile: Obama suggested approaches to moving forward on race relations
  • She says that in her youth, Dr. King inspired her and others with similar messages
  • Brazile: We can start by acting more kindly toward those with whom we disagree

Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking With Grease: Stirring the Pot in America." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000.

(CNN) -- I finished this column at 7 a.m. Friday morning, interrupting my vacation to write it. About six hours later, President Obama made an impromptu appearance in the White House briefing room, sharing in detail his thoughts and feelings about the verdict in the case of George Zimmerman, who was acquitted of killing Trayvon Martin.

In a deeply stirring moment, the president said, "Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago."

President Obama went on to talk about the historical context of the black experience, including the prejudice that he himself experienced as a young African-American man. He talked about the black community's need to acknowledge some of their internal problems and to search for solutions, not excuses. He talked about ways we could move forward on race relations.

Thinking out loud, he didn't preach, he didn't propose massive new government programs. He suggested approaches, ways of rethinking, appealed to the "better angels of our nature," and expressed confidence that the younger generation is "better than we were on these issues."

Perhaps it indicates shared experiences and expectations, but I found many of my thoughts anticipated his thoughts. And now, I have to examine what I wrote, make sure, as much as I can, that my words also move us toward "a more perfect union."

I go back to a formative event in my life -- the historic 1963 March on Washington where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his stirring "I Have a Dream" speech. Many of the original marchers are no longer with us. After 50 years, his words of hope, resolve and encouragement still echo with us.

"I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." Dr. King spoke not just of the future that should be, but the present that is. The Constitution and Declaration of Independence were, he said, promissory notes that had come due.

Trayvon Martin's parents break silence
Gingrich and Cutter on Zimmerman verdict

Dr. King acknowledged passions, the anger and frustration fueled by a hot summer and enflamed by indifference and misapprehension. Reiterating President Obama's prayer, I would remind those rallying in support of Trayvon Martin of Dr. King's words: "Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred...Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force."

After the Zimmerman verdict, President Obama issued a statement, saying, in part: "We should ask ourselves if we're doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this." His remarks today put us in the right direction.

Our first bi-racial president responded to calls that he "break his silence" and lead a "national dialogue on race." He said, no, because "when politicians try to organize conversations ... they end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have."

Rather, he said, we should talk in what I would call our "small places," within our families, places of worship, workplaces and community gatherings. Because in those places "there's a possibility that people are a little bit more honest, and at least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can."

I grew up in the once segregated South. I experienced forced integration during my formative school years. I lived the sacrifices, burdens and tears. I also lived the moments of understanding, of acknowledgment, of fellowship and success. I saw my parents and grandparents coming home beaten down -- and some of my friends beaten up. But I was also forbidden by them to hate anyone, and learned from them to love, respect and be tolerant of others.

Obama's groundbreaking speech about race -- his "More Perfect Union" speech in 2008 -- spoke about the balance and the struggle and the promise of mutuality inherent in the Constitution. He referenced it today. He sees himself, as president, a spokesman for all Americans. Both of his presidential campaigns were based on American diversity, its value and its power.

Power to the people.

So, where do we start? Person to person, neighborhood by neighborhood. We can start with the kind of self-examination the president suggests -- by looking at our knee-jerks, our stereotypes, our blame-game projections. We can start by acknowledging the progress we've made in the long march for equality under the law.

We can start by listening better. We can start by admitting we're not always right and that "I don't see it that way" aren't fighting words.

We can start by making opportunities for our youth a high priority, and by showing them -- by example -- how to work out differences, without ridiculing those who are different.

We can start by taking action -- action is the main thing. We can start by increasing, by a little, our acts of goodness and kindness, especially toward those with whom we disagree.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Donna Brazile.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT