How about some good news for a change. This past Fall, 2013, The Grio.com and Ebony Magazine formed a partnership to treat Rachel Jeantel to a trip to Manhattan, New York. Both the Grio and Ebony magazine teamed up to gift her with a total makeover. Their intent was to help her enter into her next stage of life which for now will be entering into an historically Black college or University of her choice on a full scholarship sponsored by the radio host, Tom Joyner. While Ms. Jeantel is in her last year at Miami Norland Senior High School, she has been working with tutors, a counselor and other consultants hired by the radio host, Tom Joyner to mentor her in preparation of meeting the goal of attending college. Ms. Jeantel knows that she is blessed and she comments, ” But for me, I’m taking this opportunity, and I’m hitting it hard.”
According to the Grio write up by Alexis Garrett Stodgill, dated November 7, 2013, Mariell Bubo, the Style Director of Ebony Magazine was excited to work on this project with Grio and to meet Rachel Jeantel. Mariell Bubo said she spent a full weekend in September looking through racks of clothes to find outfits for her and fortunately, Rachel has a flair for fashion and style. Ms. Bobo stated, “She’s super young, with all this vivaciousness and personality. We want to keep that, but translate it into ways that can work for her, for her new life as a student. We want to give her a look that’s going to translate from campus life, to any internships, or employment that she may be doing while she’s at school.” Ms. Jeantel had her hair which included hair extensions, make up and manicure done by the glamour team from Amy Couture Hair Salon, owned by Amoy Pitters. Ms. Pitters, hair stylist to the stars, said she was also looking forward to meeting the heroic Ms. Jeantel. After the total make over, she was invited as a guest to an exclusive dinner at The Cecil in Harlem which included stars such as MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry. Then she also posed for the fashion and commercial photographer, Keith Major in preparation for her glamour shots in the upcoming December/January Power 100 issue of Ebony magazine.
According to the news accounts, Rachel Jeantel is being treated by a counselor in order to deal with her feelings over the death of her friend, Trayvon Martin sponsored again by the radio talk host, Tom Joyner. She has a loyal compassionate fan base and as for all the social jeerers, she just ignores them. This young lady is going to do just fine and she is going to show all those naysayers and judgmental type folks what potential she has.
During the trial of George Zimmerman around July, 2013, Rachel Jeantel was supposed to be the star witness for the prosecution. This is when I first started to wonder if the Prosecution Team headed by the State Attorney Angela Corey were just going through the motions. I have never observed a high profile case of this nature in which the star witness had literally received no preparation by the Prosecution Team prior to taking the witness stand. This was a 19 year old, inexperienced witness who was being sent into the lions den to be devoured by the skilled, experienced defense attorney, Mark O’Mara whose job it was to make her very unlikeable to the jury. For those out there who say, “this couldn’t happen to me,” trust me, the defense attorney will find your particular weakness to use against you. One needs to be prepped to testify and this is the prosecutors job. In this case, there still is a lot of information that the public is not aware of that may have mediated their opinion of her. For example, the speech impediment that she exhibited was due to an under bite, a condition which requires surgery. Ms. Jeantel had already missed significant time from school due to a serious illness and she couldn’t afford to miss any more time to have this surgery. This is why she was still in school at age 19 with a 3.0 GPA prior to the shooting of Trayvon.
Rachel Jeantel was not the only prosecution witness who was thrown under the bus and not properly prepared before trial. Remember the dismal comments about Dr. Shiping Bao, the Medical Examiner who did the autopsy on Trayvon Martin. In a News One.com article in September 2013, the news was reported that he was fired by the State of Florida and that he hired the famous attorney, Willie Gary. Dr. Shiping Bao is Chinese and is totally unfamiliar with the U.S. Judicial system. He never previously testified as a witness. He has stated that he received absolutely no guidance by the prosecutor’s office as to his role as a witness. It is no wonder that a very intelligent person came off looking like a horrible witness.
During the July, 2013 George Zimmerman trial, I could not understand why my conservative, republican observers were not more focused on the search for the truth rather than focusing on someone’s superficial exterior. WHAT WAS MORE IMPORTANT? WOULD IT BE YOUR PRIORITY to further the cause of justice or to pass judgment on someone’s appearance? This key witness for the Prosecution, Rachel Jeantel was originally a reluctant witness. The Sanford police never even took the time to locate her, the last person to talk to Trayvon for over twenty minutes before he was shot. Trayvon’s Dad had to track her after he received Trayvon’s cell phone bills. Rachel kept making excuses for not coming forward or for not attending the funeral, not because she wasn’t suffering but because she was terrified of the public spotlight. She finally became involved because Trayvon’s Mom, Sybrina Fulton pleaded for her help on behalf of Trayvon. Trayvon’s Mom did not pass judgment on Rachel Jeantel’s appearance, difference in age or her speech impediment or anything else. Trayvon’s Mom was simply grateful Trayvon had someone kind to talk to during his last few minutes of life. During and after the trial there were many cruel comments made in cyber space about Trayvon’s friend, Rachel Jeantel’s appearance, lack of polish, demeanor, diction and her lack of truthfulness regarding her age and for having made an excuse for not attending her friend’s funeral. While she was testifying for many grueling hours on the witness stand for two days, she was sensitive, observant and smart enough to know full well the Defense Team was endeavering to make all of the above obvious in order to demean her value and her testimony.
Again as a grandmother, who has some experience with young people I see something very different from the above picture. I see a young woman who is shy, and feels awkward about her self appearance typical of many teenagers and for being older than Trayvon at 19 years old. We live in a culture in which people cannot look past outward appearances. Rachel speaks 3 languages, Spanish, Haitian Creole, and English. I like Trayvon’s Mom see someone who was a comfort to a young man in the minutes before he died. It speaks well for Trayvon Martin that he liked communicating with Rachel because of her heart and compassion and wasn’t influenced by appearances and vice versa. This is why Trayvon’s parents sought her out (not the police). Rachel coming forward to testify took tremendous courage because she wisely and correctly assessed what would happen and it was even worse than she could ever have imagined. She did not want to be in the limelight and came up with excuses, lies, ways to avoid coming forward because of this. In my mind, she exemplifies the virtues of honor, bravery and courage. Even though, she was terrified about stepping out of her comfort zone she jumped into the trenches to save her friend knowing the reality of the consequences. The Prosecution Team let Trayvon Martin and his family and Rachel Jeantel down, by not properly preparing her to be a star witness as is standard in high profile trials. It is very uncomfortable for an inexperienced 19 year old person to sit for hours in a witness stand being grilled by an experienced litigator. After her trial testimony,the ridicule and hateful comments she received were off the charts. Again, I am envisioning, Trayvon looking down from heaven and saying, “THERE GOES MY FRIEND RACHEL!” She has my back and thank you for being my friend…
For those who will bear witness to this more polished adult woman in the future, just remember, she was there the entire time. The fact that you could not see this during the trial is not a reflection on her but on the person who passed the negative judgment.
The blogs and comments from the right were relentless and mean spirited regarding the criticisms of Rachel Jeantel. For awhile CNN host Piers Morgan tried to mediate this on behalf of Rachel as he found her to be “one smart cookie”. He interviewed a friend and former classmate of Rachel, Deborah Fakanlu who said that Rachel was not intending to be disrespectful to the defense attorney. She said, ” I just felt like they were asking her a lot of questions and she didn’t know how to react to all of them.” In response to questions regarding Ms. Jeantel’s style of speaking, slang terminology and questionable colloquialisms, she simply answered, “that’s how we talk.”
When Piers Morgan first started discussing the negative tweets about Rachel Jeantel from the conservative radio talk host, Larry Elders, he responded that Mr. Morgan wasn’t ” doing her any favors by condescendingly trying to convince her that she was a victim.” He then questioned her intelligence with the statement, “this is a young lady who didn’t apply herself. She’s a 19 year old who’s still in high school. Instead of saying, young lady , take this as an opportunity to take stock of your life, you’ve treated her like she’s a victim.”
Piers Morgan attempted over and over again to stop Larry Elders from monopolizing the show with his tirades on all the problems with the Black community and family with questions like do you think Rachel Jeantel is stupid? He never got an answer to this question. Piers Morgan tried a different tactic by quoting some of Mr. Elder’s tweets such as: “would I like Rachel Jeantel to fly my plane,” and then asking why he would tweet this. Mr. Elder answered, “”I’ll tell you why I said that because after you interviewed her, you condescendingly went on television the next morning and called her ‘one smart cookie.’ Bull! Why don’t you hire her as a nanny. Let’s see how smart she is. It’s a condescending kind of thing that a lot of white people say to black people.”
Remember the movie, the “Blind Side” which was based on the true story of Michael Other who is now a successful lineman for the Baltimore Ravens. Originally he was like a Rachel Jeantel, a diamond in the rough. He had a good and gentle heart and lots of potential. However, as a homeless teenager who had been passed from one foster home to another and from the projects, he could not pass the most rudimentary reading or math test and most of you who were critical of Ms. Jeantel would have totally discounted him. Yet, there was a though Christian, Republican, Southern woman with a heart who looked beyond all the exterior stuff and saw something else and invested in him. Her friends were not very supportive but once she made up her mind, there was no changing it. She sounds like Tom Joyner because, she went and hired Miss Sue, a tutor who was a Democrat in the South! Then she decided she and her family were going to adopt this gentle “Big Mike.” By the time “Big Mike” graduated from a Christian high school, he was doing well academically and he was being heavily recruited by every major college football program in the country. He ended up attending “Ole Miss.” What the Tuohy family was not, was racist. You can be a conservative republican without being mean spirited. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO SOUND AND BEHAVE LIKE THE LARRY ELDERS OF THIS COUNTRY!!
UPDATE: Rachel Jeantel did graduate high school in June, 2014.
- theGrio.com and Ebony magazine team up to update Rachel Jeantel’s look from teen to collegiate (thegrio.com)
- Rachel Jeantel Fires Back At Lolo Jones For Madea Wisecrack (buzzfeed.com)