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
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1938 GMT (0338 HKT)
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 04: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walks the sidelines prior to the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on September 4, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Martha Pease says the NFL commissioner shouldn't be judge and jury on player wrongdoing.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
It's time for a much needed public reckoning over U.S. use of torture, argues Donald P. Gregg.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1225 GMT (2025 HKT)
Peter Bergen says UK officials know the identity of the man who killed U.S. journalists and a British aid worker.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1128 GMT (1928 HKT)
Joe Torre and Esta Soler say much has been achieved since a landmark anti-violence law was passed.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1241 GMT (2041 HKT)
Jane Stoever: Society must grapple with a culture in which 1 in 3 teen girls and women suffer partner violence.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2211 GMT (0611 HKT)
Bill Clinton's speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president in 1992 went through 22 drafts. But he always insisted on including a call to service.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2218 GMT (0618 HKT)
Joe Amon asks: What turns a few cases of disease into thousands?
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1721 GMT (0121 HKT)
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2231 GMT (0631 HKT)
Analysts weigh in on the president's plans for addressing the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1327 GMT (2127 HKT)
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT