I Owe My Career To You, Trayvon.

The story that started it all.

In 2012, posting on your Facebook wall was about as close as most people got to being a blogger. The term “content creator” had yet to enter the zeitgeist. Social media was still mostly a way to connect with friends and relatives. It had yet to be corrupted by the crushing weight of capitalism, but the seeds of polarizing political discourse and ego tripping “creator tools” that led to depression, addiction and real-world violence disguised as “legitimate political discourse” had been planted.

When I graduated from Riverside High School in 2008, I was on track to be a computer science major. In hindsight, I’m glad I got out of the cult when I did. High school history teacher is the career path I landed on when I enrolled at Durham Technical Community College two years later. But it was in American Literature 201 that I discovered my passion for writing, and the tragic case of Trayvon Martin that inspired my career in journalism as I wrestled with what it meant to be Black in America, which I wrote about in 2020. I moved away from ranting on my Facebook wall (can’t believe that’s still in vogue), to starting a Blogger, to a Tumblr, to a WordPress, to a Squarespace, to a Ghost, all in pursuit of finding my voice to honor a young man who could no longer share his own.

Today would’ve been Trayvon Martin’s 27th birthday. I forget that he was barely younger than I was at the time of his death. Reflecting on this unfortunate anniversary, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would’ve been as compelled to pick up the proverbial pen as a 21-year-old in 2022 compared to back then? Young adults were far less inundated with distractions and had far fewer unproductive escape routes for their boredom. Appointment television was still a regular part of my media digest in 2012 (shout out SportsCenter and Gossip Girl). Streaming television, social media mobile apps, and the allure of the capital c “Conversation” online weren’t at our fingertips. Moments like Trayvon Martin lasted longer in the public discourse. Now, they dissolve in the flood of information overflowing from our devices.

2020 is a unique counterexample. The confluence of COVID-19 and the presidential election had already raised tensions when people snapped after the murder of George Floyd Jr., causing uprisings across the country in protest of police brutality. Video evidence, which spread like wildfire across social media, played a significant role in the fervor of the protests and the final result of the Derek Chauvin murder conviction.

Surely, there are people who were inspired by the injustice they witnessed, whether in-person, in the news, or through viral clips on social media, to take action. So are we too distracted to be inspired, or are we just tired? Yes. Many of us seek out apps and services as a respite to distract from the ills of the world, only to find that the screens merely numb us, not heal, slowly eroding our capacity to engage, making us only passive observers of more and more fleeting moments instead of active participants.

With the 10th anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death approaching, I’m reminded why I started down this path: to not just observe, but to engage in search of understanding. To strive valiantly, and come short again and again…to do the deeds with great enthusiasm, and spend myself in a worthy cause.

I want to send a special thank you to my grandparents, Michael and Wendy Laidlaw. They were my earliest supporters when my journey as a writer first began and always push me to expect more from myself and ask the questions that lead to more questions.