GUEST BLOG: The Terrorist and Me

The views expressed below are not necessarily that of Rob Fortes or the Fortes View but completely of Trent Ramsey, guest blogger.

First off, four things:

# 1: Rolling Stone is a rockstar magazine. It may want to be a news media magazine, and it may have some great news articles, but ultimately, it is a rockstar magazine.

# 2: I am angry that Jahar Tsarnaev was put on the cover of a rockstar magazine.

# 3: I am angry that a Florida jury did not convict George Zimmerman of, in the very least, manslaughter.

# 4: I know more about Jahar Tsarnaev’s life than I do Trayvon Martin’s. And I am angry about that.

Let me begin by explaining myself. I am from the South, grew up in Alabama, lived there my whole life until my family and I relocated to Boston about six years ago. Admittedly, I was very liberal for the South. My friends and I joked that we were tiny blue dots in a sea of red on the electoral map. However, regardless of labels and such, I deeply love the South, and I mourn its lack of progressiveness in everything from poor education to laws that benefit the wealthy and hold down the poor and marginal. All of that said, the South is made up of people who will always fight for what is right and noble, and in every town and city, there are people, regardless of their views, who believe that to love their neighbor is the best thing to do—the South just sometimes has a hard time of the definition of “neighbor.” But this article isn’t a commentary on the South. And this paragraph is what goes on in my mind daily as I wrestle with my roots and who I am as a person.

After relocating to the Boston area, I worked for many years as director of the Area 4 Youth Center in Cambridge. Area 4 is a great community, with a large immigrant population and many families living in poverty, but fighting to survive to give their families a good life. Area 4 is merely aROLLING-STONE-TSARNAEV-570ten blocks from Harvard Square but a world away in terms of wealth. While working in Area 4, a teenager who attended Cambridge Rindge and Latin came to the youth center for an art and activism workshop we were offering. That teenager, a well-liked and pleasant student, was Jahar Tsarnaev. I knew him for 6 weeks and he was one of my favorite students in the workshop. Everything that you have read and heard was true. Before he became a terrorist, he was a great kid. He was funny, kind, had great ideas, and pitched in with the group. He stayed after one night for several hours to help our lead youth worker spray paint t-shirts for a silent protest they were holding the following day.

But one thing has become very clear to me, and let me repeat that statement: He was a great kid BEFORE he became a terrorist. Rather than figure out a helpful way to make his voice be heard, he chose violence. Rather than reaching out to people and contributing to change in our society and our world, he chose murder. Rather than being a part of the solution, Jahar chose to become the worst part of the problem.

Is it sad that he was a great kid who turned to terrorism? Yes. Is it sad that he had so much potential? Yes. But I knew Jahar. He was a smart kid. He was a good looking kid with lots of friends and opportunities. And he made his decision. His brother was overbearing. Yes. People failed him along the way. Yes. But ultimately, he made really bad decisions. And as the result of his anger, he killed an 8 year old boy and two women. And hurt hundreds of other people. Because of his anger.

And he is the one that Rolling Stone chooses to put on the cover of their rockstar magazine.

I would rather they have put Trayvon Martin on the cover. I would like to have read in Rolling Stone about Trayvon’s upbringing, and have heard from his friends and his mother and his coaches about the potential that he had before he was gunned down on that rainy February TrayvonMartinHoodednight. I would like to read about what Trayvon liked to do, and what he wanted to be when he grew up. And what his parents wanted for his life to be like, and the sacrifices that they made to give him a better life.

Instead what I hear about Trayvon is that he liked to smoke pot. And that he got into fights in school. And that he probably fought back when he was accosted by an angry man one night in February in Florida. And how, for some reason, that made it okay for a man twice his age to shoot him and kill him.

I am so interested to see who is on the cover of Rolling Stones magazine next month. I know it won’t be Trayvon Martin.

C. Trent Ramsey was the founder and executive director of YouthServe in Birmingham, Alabama for 11 years before moving to Boston. He currently works with charter schools and nonprofits in Massachusetts. He can be found @trent4gr8schls.