Panelists including the parents of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin talked about reconciliation and turning personal suffering into power at the National and Racial Healing Town Hall at the Duke Energy Convention Center on Wednesday during the Children’s Defense Fund National Conference.
Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, broke down in tears as he told the story of how his son saved his life by dragging him out of their condo and calling 911 after Tracy had been badly burned in a grease fire.
“My child is my hero,” Tracy Martin said. “He saved my life. Not to be there to save his is troublesome to me.”
Trayvon Martin was shot and killed on Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla. by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.
Trayvon, who was black, was unarmed and shot by the white and Hispanic Zimmerman after Zimmerman pursued him in defiance of a request by a police dispatcher. Zimmerman claims the shooting was in self-defense.
Zimmerman is out on $1 million bail while awaiting trial on a charge of second degree murder.
“Nothing anyone can do will bring Trayvon back,” Tracy Martin said. “You have to take that negative and turn it into a positive. We chose to keep our son's name alive and not let his death be in vain.”
The town hall-style meeting was kicked off by poet and author Maya Angelou. She urged the hundreds of people in attendance, mostly young and black, to demand justice for Trayvon — referring to Zimmerman as “the brute” — but “that means we don’t become poisoned by hate.”
Angelou wasn’t the only one who urged against hate.
Black historian and civil rights activist Vincent Harding, who celebrated his 81st birthday on Wednesday, issued a challenge to the youth in attendance:
“Are you ready to fight for the healing of George Zimmerman and all the George Zimmermans of America? Are you up to that?” he asked.
“This country has no chance unless they are healed.”
The panel was made up of social activists, many of whom had lost friends and family to violence or bigotry, but whose pain prompted activism instead of retaliation — panelists such as The Rev. Ronald and Kim Odom, who lost a son to gun violence but volunteer in intervention and outreach programs; Clemmie Greenlee, a former prostitute and gang member who formed a peacemaking organization to work with gang members after her son was killed; and Ndume Olatushani, a former prisoner who was released in June after 19 years on death row after being falsely convicted of murdering a Tennessee shopkeeper.
The younger members of the audience were encouraged to ask questions after the panel presentation. Teenagers and young adults from as far as Tennessee, North Carolina and Minnesota asked questions about dismantling the system of racial oppression, overcoming odds stacked against young minorities and having society see past an old felony conviction.
The panelists all tried to offer encouragement, while urging the younger generation to continue to try to fight to make things better.
“When you look at the odds, it’s so horrific for a young minority American, you say ‘why even try, why even bother?’ ” said Benjamin Crump, a civil rights attorney who is representing Trayvon’s mother Sabryna Fulton. “But the reason you try and you bother, there is so many examples where we beat the odds every day and nobody even know about it or talked about it.”
“It goes back to you and saying, ‘I am going to make something of myself. I don’t care about the statistics, I don’t care about the odds.’ … You say, ‘well, if it’s one out of a million, I’m going to be that one.’”