Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Obama, Trayvon, and a path to healing

By Donna Brazile, Special to CNN
updated 6:39 PM EDT, Fri July 19, 2013
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
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 1:34 PM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Sun August 17, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
updated 5:46 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
updated 6:26 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
updated 4:24 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
updated 6:56 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
updated 4:35 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
updated 7:08 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Mary Allen says because of new research and her own therapy, she no longer carries around the fear of her mother, which had turned into a generalized fear of everything
updated 3:59 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Gilbert Gottfried says the comedian was most at home on the comedy club stage, where he was generous to his fellow stand-up performers
updated 4:54 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Iris Baez, whose son was killed by an illegal police chokehold, says there must be zero tolerance for police who fatally shoot or otherwise kill unarmed people such as Michael Brown
updated 8:46 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Maria Cardona says as he seeks a path to the presidency, the Kentucky Senator is running from his past stated positions. But voters are not stupid--and they know how to use the internet
updated 10:19 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Gene Seymour says the shock at the actor and comedian's death comes from its utter implausibility. For many of us over the last 40 years or so, Robin Williams was an irresistible force of nature that nothing could stop.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Soledad O'Brien says the story of two veterans told in a documentary airing on CNN shows the challenges resulting from post-traumatic stress
updated 11:25 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT