Justice for Trayvon rally St Pete
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07/22/13 Samuel Johnson
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On the lawn of the Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg Friday evening more than a hundred Trayvon Martin sympathizers gathered. Like thousands of people all across the country this weekend they came together peacefully and without incident. Activists demanded awareness of systemic racism as well as unity.

A summer downpour threatened the rally but it started on time. The keynote speakers addressed the seated and standing crowd from under a tent canopy. Alicia Daniels, a minister and a keynote speaker, said the death of Trayvon Martin generated a conversation with her sons which she might never have had.

”Generally on the whole we in the black community; we don't teach our children racism or the things that have happen by way of race. Which is not good either because the still need to know their history; the still need to know the people that died on the front lines for them to enjoy the things that they enjoy. But we try not to talk about it because we are trying to move away from it. But when things like this happen it brings it back. You know, it opens the wounds when it brings it back. So, they (my children) did tell me they've dealt with it (racism).”



Trayvon Martin Rally in St. Pete

The Christian Church often plays a pivotal role in civil rights issues. Of the four keynote speakers two were ministers. Michael Bryant, pastor at One Church, highlighted the need for meaningful dialogue to overcome what he sees as American systemic racism. He said the jury selection of the George Zimmerman trial made that evident.

”Sanford is very rich with the same culture. I was very very disheartened that it was not more of a mixed...I mean it was not a jury of Trayvon's peers...when you hear some juror refer to Zimmerman as 'Georgie' and Trayvon as 'that boy'. Come on. Who's sitting on...Who can you imagine sitting on the front porch eating that apple pie?”

Stimulating a sense of community and solidarity both locally and nationally was another theme of the rally. Keisha Bell, and attorney and keynote speaker, said education and just making new friends promotes unity and overcomes otherwise harmful assumptions.

”Just to make a friend. Somebody who doesn't look like them. And anyway it doesn't have to be limited to the color of somebody's skin because that in itself is an assumption that just because her and I might share a similar skin type that we believe the same way. And that really isn't true. It's not true with black people; it's not true with black people; it's not true with Hispanic people. But that is a message that constantly tossed out in this country.”

Not all black awareness and advocacy groups are lockstep with each other when it concerns racial issues. Chimurenga Waller, spokesperson for the International Peoples Democratic Uhuru Movement, said black empowerment is the key to justice.

”If you start your analysis at what happened to Trayvon Martin it presumes that everything was okay before that. And we can't make that assumption. We believe it's about black people getting power...it's bigger than Trayvon Martin as I said. We have to fight for power to empower black people so we can have total liberation. Nothing short of that is going to get us peace; get us justice. Nothing short of total liberation will do that.”

There was a handful of white folks, other than the press, who attended the rally. Eric Ruben, a longtime rights activist in St Pete, said the tragic death of Trayvon Martin could finally bring whites and blacks to the discussion table.

”It's a tipping point or not. I don't know? I mean, it's another...unfortunately it's another death. One of thousands every week. Fortunately this one will not go unnoticed and hopefully it will bring people together to discuss the question of racism in this country. Which, unfortunately, the divide between the whites and blacks is huge. Although most white America doesn't believe so.”

Volunteers with their clipboards full of voter registration forms were mingling in the crowd. One of the candidates that might help is Anthony Cates who is campaigning for mayor of St. Petersburg. He was the only candidate running for mayor at the rally. Cates said bringing people together is a large plank in his mayoral platform, BUT, quality early education is more important.

”I plan on implementing a program, CPI, which is child prevention and intervention...to get them (children) at an early age. I spoke with the police chief, Chuck Harmon, and he's more than willing to back me up on that. I spoke with Drr. (Michael) Grego , which is the superintendent of Pinellas schools. So that we can get this program implemented into the school systems at an early age and to where that would be sustained year after year after year; so it won't be forgotten. And, of course, with that being said we won't have children being arrested out of school. And every child will have the same playing field.”

There were other marches and rallies in Tampa and St. Petersburg on Saturday.

Tuesday at 7 p.m., Justice for Trayvon supporters will rally in front of the police station on 22nd Street in East Tampa.

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