Two bullets have the potential to change the world. One pierced the heart of Trayvon Martin on a rainy night in Florida early last year; the other penetrated the head of Malala Yousafzai on Oct.9, 2012. Trayvon died the night he was shot, while Yousafzai recovered from critical condition to triumphantly address the United Nations last week. It is my hope that Ms. Yousafzai’s passionate speech can help transform the conversation about equality, justice and education. Let me explain.
Education is the universal equalizer. Providing high quality education for all the world’s children is a conversation the US and the rest of the world should have started long ago. This is especially true after horrific shootings to two innocent teenagers on different continents. However, I believe something positive can be achieved by studying what led to Martin’s death and what goals Malala has in life.
In both cases, the victims were profiled as troublemakers. Martin’s pursuer singled him out for his appearance, location and the color of his skin. Members of the Taliban shot Yousafzai in the head and neck when she was returning to her Pakistani home on a school bus. She was shot for publicly stating her views on the importance of education for girls. Neither Trayvon nor Yousafzai were real threats to the public, and neither deserved their fate.
Last week, at the United Nations Youth Assembly on “Malala Day,” Ms. Yousafzai, in a soft, powerful voice, delivered the speech I wish Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman could have heard prior to the night of Feb. 26, 2012. Her words should be a call to action to ensure all children have a chance to grow up and reach their full potential as adults. Heartbreakingly, Martin never will have that chance.
“So here I stand … one girl among many,” Yousafzai said. “I speak not for myself, but for all girls and boys. I raise my voice not so I can shout, but so that those without voice can be heard. Those who have fought for their rights; their right to live in peace; their right to be treated with dignity; their right to equality of opportunity; their right to be educated.
“I do not even hate the Taliban who shot me. Even if there is a gun in my hand and he stands in front of me, I would not shoot him. This is the compassion that I learned from Muhammad-the profit of mercy, Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha.
“This is the legacy of change that I have inherited from Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mohammad Ali Jinnah. This is the philosophy of non-violence that I have learnt from Gandhi Jee, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa…
“Dear brothers and sisters, we must not forget that millions of people are suffering from poverty, injustice and ignorance. We must not forget that millions of children are out of schools. We must not forget that our sisters and brothers are waiting for a bright peaceful future. So let us wage a global struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism and let us pick up our books and pens. They are the most powerful weapons.
“One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.”
Any action plan to address a more peaceful future and eliminate unnecessary shootings, we must address education first. It is the key to sharing the world’s resources and finding solutions to intractable problems, such as poverty, hunger, disease, hate, prejudice, illiteracy and the like.
This nexus of these two violent and hate-filled acts occurring to a 17-year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl must be used to alter the course of our future for the better. As Benjamin Crump, the Martin family’s attorney, said after the verdict was read in Sanford: “Trayvon Martin will forever remain in the annals of history next to Medgar Evans and Emmet Till as symbols for the fight for equal justice for all.”
Education is an antidote for hatred, prejudice, ignorance and inequality. Let us make it the number one priority going forward. This construct will honor the shortened life of Martin and underscore the value of Yousafzai’s words.
Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native.