Trayvon Martin’s father, Tracy Martin, addressed the inaugural hearing of the Congressional Caucus on Black Men and Boys Wednesday, promising to continue to work on behalf of his son and other “black and brown boys” in America.
“I vow to do everything in my power not to give up the fight for him, not only to fight for Trayvon, but to fight for so many other black and brown boys of this country,” he said.
The hearing, titled “The Status of Black Males: Ensuring Our Boys Mature into Strong Men,” was the first for the Caucus formed in March by Washington D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Rep. Danny Davis of Illinois.
Martin pointed to President Obama’s Friday remarks on his son’s story as a key catalyst for a national dialogue about young African-Americans in America.
“It’s moments and comments such as the president made, that, you know, it sparks the conversation in every household over the dinner table,” he said. “And that conversation is what can we do as parents, what can we do as men, what can we do as fathers, what can we do as mentors, to stop this from happening to your child. And I think that’s where the conversation begins.”
“We’ve taken that negative energy and we’re trying to turn it into a positive,” he continued. “A lot of people will tell you that nothing positive can come out of death but I disagree and I disagree wholeheartedly because it is what we can do tomorrow as a nation, as a people, to stop someone else’s child from being killed.”
“There’s nothing we can do to bring Trayvon back, but if there’s something we can do as a foundation to help other families from going through this, then we’re here,” he added.
Later, during questioning, Martin talked about his desire to see his son’s legacy help lead to a positive outcome.
“When I’m dead and gone, I would like to see that Trayvon Martin’s name attached to some type of statute or amendment that says you can’t simply profile our children, shoot them in the heart, kill them, and say that you were defending yourself.”
“With everything I have left in me, we’re going to try to make sure that his name won’t be dragged through the mud, that his legacy will be that Trayvon helped bridge the gap of America,” he added later.
Although Holmes Norton said that the timing of the Caucus’s inaugural hearing, less than two weeks after the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, was coincidental, she still credited Martin’s story with renewing a focus on the plight of African-American boys in America.
“The loss of 17 -year-old Trayvon has focused attention on black males as nothing else has in decades,” Holmes Norton said.
Miami Rep. Fredrica Wilson agreed.
“There’s nothing more important that could be happening today in this nation than what is happening in this room,” she said.
“Trayvon will go down in history as the martyr who brought to the forefront the causes, the struggles, the suffering of African-American boys,” she added later.
Former Congressman and NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, Georgetown University professor and msnbc contributor Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, and Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans David J. Johns also gave testimony at the event.
Johns spoke at length about the need for access to quality early childhood education, echoing the president’s call for expanded programs.
“We cannot solve the employment or education crises facing black boys and men without ensuring they have access to high quality early education,” he said.
“Access to high-quality early education for African-American boys especially can be the difference between a pathway that leads to the White House, and one that leads to the jailhouse,” he said.
Dyson spoke about the suspicion with which black people are perceived.
“Our humanity has been questioned and our intelligence has been questioned,” he said. “As a result of that, black teens inherit a culture where the suspicion and skepticism about their humanity and their intelligence are part and parcel of what we deal with daily.”
He spoke about African-American girls and women as well, contending that the Zimmerman verdict might have turned out differently if Rachel Jeantel had been trusted by the jury. Jeantel was the young women who spoke to Martin on the phone just before he was shot. She was a key witness for the prosecution and was cross-examined intensely by the defense. Her manner of speaking and presentation were widely dissected and criticized in ways that reflected issues of race and class.
Mfume, a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, shared his own emotional story, recounting the first time he was ever called the N-word, shortly after the Emmett Till murder.
He spoke of how “blessed” he was to have achieved all he did despite being raised in poverty, and testified to his commitment to helping the next generation of black men.
“Until the day I die, I’m going to make my body a bridge so that somebody can run across it,” he said to applause from many in the room, including Tracy Martin.
“We reaffirm that we have no other obligation in life except to try to make it better for the group coming behind us,” he added. “And we reaffirm that we’ve got to do that working with women, working with organizations, working in our community and standing up as men.”