It is impossible for members of the Historically Black College and University (HBCU) community to remain unmoved by the senseless and heinous murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in a gated community in Sanford, Florida, just outside Orlando on February 26.
The hundreds of thousands of those who came before us tearing down walls, breaking glass ceilings, jumping hurdles, picketing, marching, riding, sitting-in and sitting-down so that we can stand up, quite simply disallows indifference to this travesty of justice.
Reduced to a “John Doe,” Martin’s 140-pound unidentified body lay dead in the medical examiner’s office until the following day when a father’s search for his son ended with viewing a photograph of his dead son’s blood-stained mouth. Police paperwork kept his parents from receiving custody of his remains for two additional days. His accused killer is 28-year-old 250 pound George Zimmerman, whom Congresswoman Frederica Wilson dubbed a “renegade-want-to-be-policeman-neighborhood-watchman,” and who at this moment, is still free to walk the streets of his community, your community and mine.
Those are the facts in the matter. It may be politically incorrect to call Martin’s death a “murder” or to call Zimmerman a “killer,” but that doesn’t make it any less true.
Still, one needs an awful lot of mettle to rise from the floor of United States House of Representatives and give the address that Congresswoman Wilson of the 17th District of Florida gave on March 20. (Click here to see video)
But Congresswoman Wilson isn’t concerned about being the embodiment of a gentle-lady. Congresswoman Wilson is tired. From the lectern of the House floor her raspy voice rang out, “I am tired of burying young black boys. I am tired of watching them suffer at the hands of those who fear them and despise them. I am tired of comforting mothers, fathers, grandparents, sisters and brothers after such unnecessary and heinous crimes of violence.”
Once hailed, “the conscience of the Senate,” her courage is sadly uncommon, in a political environment where elected officials are more concerned with being politically correct than they are with standing up for what’s right.
Known for wearing vibrantly-colored outfits and sporting cowboy-styled hats inspired by her Bahamian grandmother, she is difficult to miss on the House floor. A veteran educator and former principal, Wilson was born in Miami’s Overtown community to Thirlee Smith and Beulah Finley. Reared in the family’s home in the heart of Liberty City, she and her two siblings looked on as their activist-parents led voter registration drives. Her brother, the late Thirlee Smith Jr. was the first full-time African-American reporter at The Miami Herald.
Even though activism runs in the family, Congresswoman Wilson’s commitment to fighting for the rights of others was undoubtedly influenced by the time she spent at Nashville, Tennessee’s oldest surviving institution of higher education, the historic Fisk University. As a Fisk co-ed during the height of city’s black college student-led nonviolent sit-in movement during the spring of 1960, Wilson’s contemporaries included “princess of the movement” Diane Nash and Marion Berry, the first president of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. A member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Fisk in 1963.
Wilson entered the workforce as an educational coordinator for the Head Start program and hasn’t stopped advocating since. After service as a school principal, she entered the political arena as a member of the Miami-Dade County School Board at the age of 50.
Since then, her clarion call continues to touch on issues of education and of immigrant rights. Having founded a mentorship program for at-risk male youth and personally taken them into her home, Wilson deeply felt the sting of death when 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson died of suffocation at the hands of guards at a military-styled boot-camp detention center in Panama, Florida in January 2006. Seven guards and a nurse were later acquitted of all charges related to Anderson’s death.
“Not one guard was sent to prison. Not one was even reprimanded,” railed Wilson. “In fact, after [the state of Florida] closed down every boot camp, many of the accused received promotions. Well, guess what? In Florida we have another Martin, Trayvon Martin.”
The death of this Martin hit even closer to home for Wilson. Trayvon Martin lived in her district and went to school within walking distance of her home. She has known his family for most of her life. She wants justice, and the recent involvement of the U.S. Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation has only strengthened her resolve.
“We still have to march and demonstrate, and write letters, and protest, and fight, and have prayer vigils, and sue, and sit-in, just to be heard. No more. No more Florida. No more America. No more hiding your criminal racial profiling by using self-defense to get away with murder.”
Yesterday, she returned to the House floor with a sign bearing Trayvon’s face, name and the number of days since his death without Zimmerman’s arrest. She has avowed to return to the floor everyday with sign until justice is served. (Click here to see video)
Students on HBCU campuses across the nation have already begun agitating for an arrest in the case. Florida A&M University students gained national attention for rallying in front of the Sanford’s Seminole County criminal courts building on Monday, and the efforts of Howard University School of Law students to fight against the criminalization of Martin who was wearing a hoodie when he was shot to death via their “Do we look suspicious?” campaign, went viral on the internet yesterday.
Spelman College alumna and Children’s Defense Fund President Marian Wright Edelman and Philander Smith College President Walter Kimbrough wore hoodies in support, as did I, and thousands of other HBCUers including Fisk alumnus David Boyd, whose infant son also wore a hoodie. HBCUers are standing up for Trayvon Martin not because we’re black, but because we are standing up for what is right. We are just now learning that Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton briefly attended Grambling State University, further cementing the HBCU community’s commitment to this cause.
Yes, Congresswoman Wilson. We are tired too.