Sybrina Fulton leads panel discussion at Whiddon –Rogers Education Center
In the wake of Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman Verdict
By Charles Moseley
On July 13, 2013 a jury comprised of six women ,five white and one non-white Hispanic, found George Zimmerman not guilty of second degree murder in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in a Seminole Circuit Court in San-ford, Fla. on July 13, 2013; millions of people across America wondered aloud whether justice had been served.
The reaction to the Zimmerman verdict reverberated across the country leaving many African American youth displaying an outpouring of emotions ranging from total shock to righteous indignation. Some law enforcement officials pre-pared for a rash of violent pro-test, but rather than take to the streets in a display of violence, many young people opted to organize peaceful demonstrations.
Still others took to social media to vent their frustration and to show their support for the Martin family.
The series of events surrounding the shooting death of Trayvon Martin reverberated throughout the youth of African Americans.
These widespread sentiments among young African Americans ran the gamut of emotions so much so that school Principal Dr. David Watkins along with fellow administrators and teachers from Whiddon-Rogers Education Center in Fort Lauderdale, decided to address the issues surrounding the case.
The school recently hosted a panel discussion led by Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin.
“One of the missed learning opportunities last spring was that the Zimmerman Verdict was rendered during the summer. It was the first time since the O.J. trial that a single case was so emotional for young people of color across the country. It was also the first time for me, as a parent of a Y2K youth, that kids had an emotional reaction to a trial. They may have heard about Emmit Teal, Jim Crow Laws, and The Civil Rights Movement from their grandparents and history books. They have heard about police brutality, Usef Hawkins, etc. through rap music. In many of these cases young people were on the front lines of change. But the Trayvon Martin verdict was the first time that I saw young people emotionally moved by the verdict. It was the first time I heard young people fear that their civil rights may be violated and they didn’t know what to do,” said Dr. Watkins.
“They returned to school upset and confused. We facilitated interdisciplinary units on the Bill of Rights, Stand Your Ground Law, and different historical civil rights cases. They were run by our Social Studies, Criminal Justice and Reading Departments. They also learned how to express concerns and challenge laws and lawmakers in an appropriate way. We decided to create a town hall meeting. We invited experts in the field of government, law enforcement, legal experts, clergy and elected officials,” added Watkins.
School Guidance Counselor Yvonne Greene moderated the panel discussion, which in ad-dition to Sybrina Fulton included State Representative Perry Thurston, Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Bobby Dubose, Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Frank Adderley, Assistant Police Chief Anthony Williams, Broward County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Colonel Keith Neely, Pastor Eddie Moise, Bethel A.M. E. Church-Pompano Beach, Reverend Dr. Clark Lazare, Light of Life Worship Center-Lauderhill, Chief Broward County Assistant State Attorney Maria Schneider, Broward County Chief Assistant Public Defender Gordon Weeks, and Guy Wheeler, CEO Guy A. Wheeler Group.
In honor of her son’s memory Sybrina Fulton chose to focus on encouraging the students to set goals in life. Fulton used her life and personal experiences and those of her son as examples. She said they too shared many of the same aspirations in life that many of the students attending the forum might have. She said that education was a vital tool that should be used to be successful in life.
”All my son wanted, were the simple things in life. How many of you want to go to the prom, just graduate from high school, or just take your senior pictures? See they don’t understand you guys and how simple you are. People don’t understand you. They think you guys are so complex be-cause we are living in a different society, a different generation. But that means nothing be-cause the same things that you are going through we went through. We’ve been there, done that. I’m not telling you what I heard. I’m not telling you what I read. I’m telling you about me.”
Student Naeehma Farrier posed the following question during the panel discussion.
“The Stand Your Ground Law was very prominent before this case went to trial but was not ultimately used as Zimmerman’s defense. What are your thoughts on this law and what is its future?”
“When it comes to the Stand Your Ground Law it was not used in this case from a technical legal aspect. From a personal aspect I feel this law is flawed. This law encourages vigilantism; it encourages young folks to go against the teaching of their parents-to flee from trouble. It is flawed from the beginning to the end. It should not have been passed and it needs to be repealed,” said Gordon Weeks, Broward County Assistant Chief Public Defender.
Student Davonte Logan asked the following question.
Now that the trial is over, where do we go from here as a community?
“Real change occurs when people who are not impacted by pain are just as angry as those who are.” I think as a community we need to go from just talking the talk to walking the walk. I think a lot of times we get so much into the emotional aspects that nothing is really carried out. I think we need to go from not just talking about civil rights but start talking about economics. If I had to start saying something to the kids today, I would say, own your own business. We need to get to the point where we own our own businesses. You need to learn to earn for yourself,” said business owner Guy Wheeler.