The father of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin promised Wednesday to use his son's legacy to promote societal and legal empowerment of African-American males, speaking during the inaugural hearing of the Congressional Caucus on Black Men and Boys.
Speaking deliberately, only for a few minutes and apparently without a prepared statement, Tracy Martin said he hoped his son's death would prompt the African-American community to reflect on "what can we do as parents, what can we do as fathers, what can we do as mentors to stop this from happening to your child."
"A lot of people will tell you that nothing positive can come out of death, and I disagree wholeheartedly," Martin said. He later added: "Fifty years from now, when I'm dead and gone, I would like to see that the Trayvon Martin name is attached to some statute or amendment that you can't profile someone, shoot them in the heart, and say you just defended yourself."
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., who cochairs the new caucus with Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., said she called the hearing to help "seek a society that does not define black men and boys but allows African-American males to define themselves as individuals."
David J. Johns, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, Georgetown University professor Michael Eric Dyson, and NAACP President Kweisi Mfume also testified about challenges facing black males during different life stages.
Johns spoke about the difficulties facing a black male in childhood and the importance of high-quality early education; Dyson followed with a discussion of problems encountered during adolescence, while urging President Obama to "be unafraid" to discuss race more openly; and Mfume concluded by speaking to pitfalls found in adulthood.
Mfume, a former Democratic congressman from Maryland, choked back tears during his testimony when he reflected on his childhood growing up in a "very different America."
"A lot has changed since then. One thing that hasn't changed is the color of my skin," Mfume said, adding that racial stereotyping "is, unfortunately, why we are all here today."
Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, last year. Zimmerman, who claimed he acted in self-defense, was found not guilty of second-degree murder earlier this month after a high-profile trial that sparked a national discussion on race in America, prompting a response from President Obama last week.
This article appears in the July 25, 2013, edition of NJ Daily.