It's a night I will never forget.
I was in college, celebrating a friend's 21st birthday. A round of toasts went up. Someone poured libations in memory of all our friends who had been killed or sent to prison. Then, a friend rose to toast one more of us surviving to the age of 21.
The notion that life had reduced my friend to believing it an accomplishment for one of us to merely breathe past 21 sent me reeling.
Our generation of black Americans was supposed to be the first not to be judged by our race or the color of our skin. Instead, we had come of age to find ourselves the most incarcerated on the planet and most murdered in the country.
"Grandma," I would ask days later, still searching for understanding: "What happened? How did things turn out like this?"
Her response was the crux of my speech to the 104th NAACP convention yesterday. She leaned in and spoke softly: "It's sad but it's simple: We got what we fought for, but we lost what we had."
Those words echo in my mind whenever I think about Trayvon Martin, and it's why I once again ask for your signature in his memory.
We are nearing one million supporters of our petition urging the Department of Justice to file federal charges, including civil rights charges, against George Zimmerman. Add your name today.
In my speech I reminded those in attendance to keep pushing forward, but to always take stock of what we have and not let it slip away. Because we won the right to send our kids to any school, but lost the right to assume they would be welcomed and loved in any school they went to. We won the right to be police officers, but lost the right to assume we would be safe in our communities.
Now, we must end the plague of gun violence, because 21st birthdays should be celebrations of life, not of escaping death.
And we fight to roll back "stand your ground" laws and pass powerful anti-racial profiling ordinances, and do whatever we must to finally end the wars that are killing so many children in our neighborhoods.
And we never stop fighting for justice for Trayvon. Your signature is but one voice, and one alone may not be noticed. But if the voices of hundreds, of thousands, of millions join together and speak as one, my friends, that cannot be ignored.
For Trayvon, and for all children who don't make it to their 21st birthday, help us reach one million signatures. Sign today. Help us send a clear message to the Department of Justice:
Benjamin Todd Jealous
President and CEO