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Trayvon Martin’s mother and Russell Simmons’ political director both spoke on the profiling of black youth during Monday’s Six O’Clock Series program titled “He Has a Name.”
The Ohio Room was packed with hundreds of Indiana University of Pennsylvania students, members of the community and local middle and high school students, who had to drag chairs out of a storage closet just to have a place to sit.
Dr. Carolyn Princes, director of the IUP African American Cultural Center, introduced the program and dedicated it to Martin Luther King Jr. as part of IUP Black History Month.
The first speaker was Michael Skolnik, editor-in-chief of GlobalGrind.com and political director to Russell Simmons.
He told the crowd how he learned of this issue. In 2009, he received a video of the death of Derrion Albert, a black 16-year-old killed during a fight, and started to consider how the deaths of black children like Derrion were treated.
He brought up well-known white child murder victims, noting that many were still in the news while “when black kids die, they’re a statistic.”
While the pain of every parent is the same, he said, society reacts differently when the child who dies is white.
“And if anyone is wondering, I’m white,” he said.
He started encouraging various musical artists on Twitter at the time to tweet “Derrion Albert. He has a name” until it trended. He did the same for other black children who were killed, including Trayvon Martin.
“The simplest thing you can do is just remember their names,” he said.
He then invited Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin and co-founder of the Trayvon Martin Foundation, to speak.
She started by showing a picture of herself, Trayvon and her other son, Jahvaris.
“I have one in heaven that I’m still fighting for and one on earth that I’m still fighting for,” she said.
“It’s not just about the hoodie,” she said. “Please understand that.”
Anderson Cooper told her during an interview that he wears a hoodie on the way to work every day in New York but had never been seen as suspicious, she said.
Fulton said then that the real reason Trayvon was seen as suspicious was that he was black, which wasn’t under his control.
She said that while her son was not perfect, no one is. She then asked the audience if that was a reason to judge a person by their skin color.
She said that her son’s death was a catalyst for change.
“He woke a nation up,” she said.
Fulton said she didn’t know about the “stand your ground” law that allowed Zimmerman, Trayvon’s shooter, to claim his actions were not against the law.
As Skolnik later explained, the “stand your ground” law allows a person to shoot in self-defense even if they have a way of running away, while previous self-defense laws only allowed a person to shoot if they had no way of “retreating” from a situation.
Pennsylvania is one of the states that passed “stand your ground” laws.
When asked by a student if this law created “open season” on black youth, Fulton said, “Absolutely.”
Because of this, she urged the audience to know local laws and to register as voters.
The Trayvon Martin Foundation, which Fulton and her husband co-founded, is involved in increasing voter registration.
In response to a question about George Zimmerman, she said, “We don’t really waste our time with what he does.”
The crowd applauded, and many members said they enjoyed the program.
“Oh, I thought it was wonderful. We’re from the same town, and I’m so pleased with how she’s carried herself,” said Henry Lewis (graduate, student affairs in higher education).