After Trayvon: Acts of Kindness, Courage and Resistance

One year ago, unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin was shot to death by self-appointed neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman. A look at how people from all walks of life came together to support his family and call for justice.

By Jorge Rivas Feb 26, 2013

It’s been 365 days since George Zimmerman, the self-appointed sentry of his Sanford, Fla., gated community, tailed and then fatally shot Trayvon Martin, a black 17-year-old carrying little more than a cell phone, a bottle of iced tea and a pack of Skittles. 

The white 28-year-old of Peruvian descent had a long history of calling 911 to report the mundane (elementary schoolers playing in the street) and the racially charged (black males he suspected of burglary based on their appearance). And shortly before he confronted, fought with, and shot Trayvon to death, Zimmerman ignored a police dispatcher’s advice to stop following the teen in the gray hoodie. Yet Sanford police didn’t charge him with a crime, citing Florida’s 2005 "stand your ground" law.

In the immediate aftermath of their youngest son’s death, Trayvon’s dad, Tracy, and his mom, Sybrina Fulton, demanded that Sanford police arrest Zimmerman. The divorced couple went on to hold press conferences, do national interviews, attend rallies, and push petitions for state and federal intervention. Local authorities finally charged Zimmerman with second degree murder on April 11. 

Without the support of loved ones, co-workers and strangers, it’s unlikely that Trayvon’s parents would have had the time and resources to draw national attention to their son’s case, so-called stand your ground laws and racial profiling in general. Here, a dozen ways folks from all over the country came together to support Trayvon’s family:

Sybrina’s colleagues gave her $40,825 worth of their vacation time. Nearly 200 Miami-Dade County employees contributed their vacation days so that Sybrina, a 23-year veteran of the housing authority, could take eight months of paid leave to mourn and campaign for justice. Another 70 people donated off-days to Knight Evans, Trayvon’s aunt.


The public helped Tracy and Sybrina secure seasoned legal counsel. Through small donations to online fundraising sites such as WePay.comthe family raised about $100,000 and hired Tallahassee-based civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump. Crump has served as a public spokesman and strategist throughout the case. 


Trayvon’s schoolmates organized walkouts; others did the same.    Students at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School staged a number of walkouts, eventually inspiring neighboring Miami-Dade and Broward County school kids to demonstrate on the one-month anniversary of Trayvon’s death.


Professional athletes didn’t bite their tongues, either.
Despite potential backlash from conservative sports media and fans, The Miami Heat organization released the following statement and image:

"Our hearts go out to the family and loved ones of Trayvon Martin for their loss and for everyone involved in this terrible tragedy. We support our players and join them in hoping that their images and our logo can be part of the national dialogue and can help in our nation’s healing."


LeBron and Dwayne took their protest to the court.
In tribute to Trayvon, Heat superstars LeBron James and Dwayne Wade marked the sneakers they wore at their March 23 match with the Detroit Pistons. "This situation hit home for me because last Christmas, all my oldest son wanted as a gift was hoodies," Wade told The Associated Press. "So when I heard about this a week ago, I thought of my sons. I’m speaking up because I feel it’s necessary that we get past the stereotype of young, black men and especially with our youth." (James’s shoe at left; Wade’s at right)

(Rebecca Cook/REUTERS)


Women, men and children took to the streets…


…and thousands protested online, uploading portraits of themselves wearing hoodies.


Celebrities joined the online masses.

 (Images uploaded to Twitter; Eric Benet and Chaka Kahn photos from advocacy video.)

The hoodie hit Congress. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) was escorted from the House floor in March 2012 for wearing a gray hoodie and sunglasses during a rousing speech about the investigation into Trayvon’s killing.


Fla. Rep. Frederica Wilson read Zimmerman"Trayvon Martin was shot to death by a renegade-wannabe-policeman-neighborhood watchman," Wilson said on the House Floor on March 21, 2012. "Trayvon was just trying to live and reach 18." 


In honor of Trayvon, Howard University students made a video about the physical risks of unchecked racial bias. "Contrary to what America has led many to believe all young black males are not suspicious, we don’t deserve to be harassed, murdered, prosecuted or denied the protections of the justice system all because America thinks we are suspicious," said one Howard alumni as images of other black male students scroll through the screen.


The president claimed Trayvon. "My main message is to the parents: If I had a son he’d look like Trayvon. I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves," President Obama said at a press conference on March 23, 2012.


Despite their personal grief, Trayvon Martin’s mom and dad are using their platform to challenge kill at will laws. Tracy and Sybrina launched last October to "shine a light" on state stand your ground laws. Critics say these statues give people broad discretion to choose deadly force over retreat or non-lethal self defense when they perceive that they’re being threatened. Florida’s 2005 ‘stand your ground’ law will play a key role in Zimmerman’s upcoming trial.