Los Angeles plays host to entertainment's biggest award shows; President Obama stops by the city to raise millions of dollars at celebrity homes; the rich, the famous and the want-to-be famous understand that L.A. is the place to be if you want to be seen. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that the handlers of the biggest story to capture the country's attention in 2012 would choose Los Angeles as the backdrop for their big announcement.
The Trayvon Martin family formally launched the Justice for Trayvon Martin Foundation on the stage of one of the nation's most prestigious churches -- The West Angeles Church of God in Christ. The night also marked the two month anniversary of the tragic killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin's death, at the hands of 28-year-old, self-appointed, community watchman George Zimmerman. For the first time, the advisors of Tracy Martin and Sabrina Fulton, the parents of Trayvon Martin, outlined the purpose for the newly established foundation on behalf of Trayvon. There had been three other rallies held in Los Angeles over the past two months wherein demonstrates marched and chanted for George Zimmerman's arrest.
However, since that time, Zimmerman has been charged with second degree murder and is currently out on $150,000 bail. Consequently, this rally's tone and agenda were very different from the previous Million Hoodie marches held around the country. The NAACP, National Action Network, Empowerment Movement and Rainbow Push Coalition co-sponsored the event and stated their support for the Justice for Trayvon Martin Foundation's mission. The mission of the foundation is for:
- Advocation for crime victims and their families of senseless crimes
- Educating young people on conflict resolution techniques
- Increasing public awareness against all forms of profiling
- Enacting Trayvon Martin legislation to prevent the inappropriate application of "stand your ground" principles
Reverend Al Sharpton, founder of the National Action Network and host of MSNBC's Politics Nation was the first speaker for the evening. Sharpton is more than 75 pounds lighter than when he marched for Rodney King, 20 years ago, but his passion for justice has not waned. His Baptist Preacher's cadence began and people rose to their feet as he shouted, "don't reduce us to violence, we are the victims of violence." Speaking as one who understands the Martins' plight, he said, "what people in pain need is justice" and he called for "soldiers who are ready for battle." Sharpton briefly talked of the foundation's goals and explained that a long-term commitment is needed to make effective changes to "stand your ground" laws. He also was responsible for asking the audience, the VIPs sitting on the stage, and the clergy assembled, for donations that would go directly to the Justice for Trayvon Martin Foundation.
The Nation of Islam gave $5,000, a couple of organizations gave $500, scores of people gave $100 and then the audience walked around the church to put their donations into large buckets. immediately following the collection of monies, Reverend Sharpton handed the filled buckets to the Martin family. He explained that all monies raised would be go to initiatives specifically outlined in the foundation's mission statement. He made it very clear that no money would go to the travel or personal expenses of the family.
Thereafter, many speakers would take that microphone, including Reverend Jessie Jackson, founder of the Rainbow Coalition, reality TV personality and minister Omarosa, NAACP President Ben Jealous, actor Boris Kudjo and actor Paul Rodriguez. Reverend Jackson, a slowed down version of his younger self, asked the question, "who is financing Zimmerman?" Jackson stated that CNN reported that the unemployed Zimmerman has over $200,000 in his account.
This information brought jeers from the crowd. Although he illustrated through audience participation, that most African-Americans in attendance knew someone who has been profiled, his message was one of inclusion. He said, "we have to stop all of the killing, of all of the people, all of the time." He took his seat to a standing ovation with the saying for which he is most famous: "Keep Hope Alive."
Boris Kodjoe, offered words on behalf of singer Chaka Kahn before he shared that he has a Trayvon at home; his 5-year-old son, Nicholas. His heartfelt testimony of how he might have to rethink how he teaches his sons to interact with strangers, connected with the audience that knows him more for his handsome looks, than his poignant words. Paul Rodriguez, a crowd favorite, shared his disappointment in the fact that Latino community leaders failed to support the rally. Rodriguez told the predominantely African-American audience that "we would be a lot stronger if we all stand together." He believes that Latinos benefit from the struggle and fight of African-Americans for equality and respect. He said that some Latinos would not come out to support the rally because Zimmerman is hispanic. He had the crowd in stitches when he stated, "I've been a Latino all of my life and I've never heard of a Latino Zimmerman." Rodriguez gave $300 to the foundation and pledged his continued support for all injustices experienced by Latinos and African-Americans.
The right side of the church was filled with family members of young people who have died senseless deaths at the hands of California police officers. Very impassioned speeches were made by two families, whose unarmed sons were killed by California police officers. The parents of Oscar Grant, an African-American young man who was fatally shot by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle in Oakland, California, on New Year's Day 2009, pledged their support to the Martin family. The parents and lawyer of Kendrec McDade, an unarmed young African-American man shot by Pasadena police after a caller stated that he had stolen his laptop and was carrying a weapon, used the platform to tell the audience their story. The caller lied about the McDade having a weapon, yet the Pasadena police claim that McDade was involved with the burglary. Still, they have yet to turn over important documents to the dismay of the angry family.
The crowd stayed for three hours to finally hear the honorees of the evening, Sabrina Fulton and Tracy Martin. They said that they draw their strength to continue this battle each and every day from the outpouring of support from thousands of people. They understand that their son is gone, but they must fight to make sure no one else's child is the next Trayvon Martin. The Martin family thanked the audience continually, as well as everyone who assisted in establishing the foundation and those who organized the rally.
When it was all over at approximately 9:00 p.m., the family and advisers moved to a private room. I spoke with Trayvon's mother, Sabrina. All of her energy was gone. She said, "thank you for everything." She was visibly overwhelmed by the willingness of strangers to take time out of their lives and support her and her family. She was genuinely appreciative for the tens of thousands of dollars raised for the launch of the foundation and managed to stay composed throughout the evening. She was happy and sad, enthused and exhausted; yet she was still standing. However, when her eyes locked with those of Dawn Haynes, the celebrity stylist who created a hoodie and t-shirt to raise money for the foundation, she could no longer hold back her tears and took a much-needed seat.
When she read the back of the hoodie which captures the last words Trayvon Martin's girlfriend heard him utter, "What are you following me for?," she became a mother who was still grieving her son's death. She and Haynes wept together as the night came to an end. The rally was over, but the fight still rages on for Trayvon Martin's family and their legion of supporters.