Support for Trayvon Martin Expressed

More than 100 USF students participated in events to support Trayvon Martin and bring attention to the improper handling of the case.


Emmanuel Catalan (center), head of the Campus Democrats at USF’s Black Caucus, spoke at the group’s press conference Monday.


By Barbara Melendez

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (March 28, 2012) – In 80-degree-plus weather, it’s not easy to find people walking around the University of South Florida campus in hoodies – but there were a few scattered around on Monday. 


Some of the people in hoodies were observing the Million Hoodie March – a decentralized demonstration being held around the country in solidarity with those who are protesting the killing of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.


Sitting at one of the tables in the Marshall Student Center lobby with his friends, Darrell Coleman, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, wore his hoodie because, “It’s important to bring awareness to the whole situation,” he said. He said he has been stopped “many times” in his home town of Winter Garden, Florida.


“It’s not something you ever get used to,” he said, but he’s not surprised when it does happen. “As long as you know who you are, that’s what matters.”


Walking to class in the social sciences building, junior and sociology major Kayla Davis said she was wearing her hoodie because she has a personal connection to the case through a close friend – one of the people who would be speaking at the rally later in the day. Though disappointed that she wasn’t seeing more people in hoodies, she had been assured that many students she knew were planning to go home for their hoodies to wear at the demonstration scheduled for 6:30 p.m.


Standing in front of the library, sophomore Faysal Rifai, a biomedical science major, said he was “proud to wear a hoody for Trayvon Martin.”


Walking through the student services breezeway in her hoodie, Naomy Ambroise, a freshman in theatre arts said, “Even though this may not affect you personally, people should stand for a cause. You never know what can happen. If you don’t stand up for someone else, who is going to stand up for you?”


Waiting for the campus bus outside the Marshall Center in his hoodie, Edward McBride, a junior majoring in public health said, “This is one of the greatest cases of injustice I’ve ever seen. I’m floored that our judicial system is taking so long to do something about it. It’s time to stop being silent and to start doing something about it.” 


A small group of students, along with local media, attended the College Democrats at USF press conference Monday afternoon. The organization had hoped for a larger crowd, but it delivered its message of support for the Martin family and anger about how the case is being handled.


Colton Canton, the communications director for the group, served as the MC for the proceedings where Luis Silva, the organization’s president, led a moment of silence. Emmanuel Catalan, head of the group’s Black Caucus, explained that the purpose of the gathering was to help raise awareness. “I hope we got students to ask questions,” he said, and added, “It shouldn’t take a tragedy to get involved.”


Also in attendance were Joyce Hamilton, director of the Mid-Florida Regional American Civil Liberties Union, and community supporter Tequila Alfred.


Hamilton criticized the call from authorities from the city of Sanford and others for a “color-blind” investigation. “Justice should be blind. Investigators should not be,” she said, adding that it was the many voices raised in protest that were responsible for getting the case national attention. “Now we need real, honest, unbiased answers,” she said.


Alfred was invited to express her concerns as a local resident. The father of her bi-racial son is white and in law enforcement. She is fearful for both of them. Nonetheless, she said she didn’t see the Martin case as one about race, but rather “about right and wrong.”


Among the few spectators on hand, Rodrick Colbert, a graduate student in Instructional Technology and president of the University Film & Video Association @ USF, said that racial profiling of Black males by law enforcement is a common and daily occurrence throughout the United States, Tampa, and even on the USF campus. While he isn’t stopped often, he is “guaranteed to be followed for driving while Black,” in certain neighborhoods of Tampa and that the frequency of all-too-common uncomfortable situations seems to follow the length of his hair.


“If my hair is high, I guess I look nerdier, like Urkel, the prototypical safe Black man; when it is short, I seem to look more like a ‘typical dangerous black man,’” he said with a laugh.


Black Student Union members Jason Stephens and Ishamar Jean-Louis lead a discussion on the Trayvon Martin killing prior to a march to MLK Plaza.

The turnout for the Black Student Union gathering at the Marshall Student Center later in the afternoon was larger. It included a number of the people interviewed around campus earlier in the day. Davis, Ambroise and McBride proudly wore their hoodies, though Coleman had changed into a shirt and tie by that time. The meeting quickly grew to standing room only with more than 120 students.


The BSU discussion leaders Jason Stephens, a mechanical engineering student and Ishamar Jean-Louis, a major in special education, began with the subject of the Joseph Kony 2012 Internet phenomenon. Participants expressed a variety of thoughts and opinions, many questioning the validity of the film’s assertions and stating the need to think critically about everything on the Internet. This was followed by a discussion of the Trayvon Martin case which took up the rest of the meeting. 


Comments about feelings and reactions came from all quarters along with recounting the various elements of the shooting incident, and how they were being covered and discussed in the media.


Organizers showed a video clip of Geraldo Rivera on Fox TV where he said that Black and Latino youngsters shouldn’t wear hoodies or try to “look gangsta.” This drew groans and a strong reaction from the audience. One student remarked that there was “more to fear from men in suits and ties than kids in hoodies.”


From the Marshall Center the students walked en masse to Martin Luther King Plaza where they observed a moment of silence and sophomore Cornelius Williams, who knew Trayvon Martin personally, spoke about the child he knew and considered a member of his family. The demonstrators learned from the mass communications major that Martin was considering college and considering USF. He questioned whether justice can be found but is hopeful.


“I believe the essence of justice is the hope that out of tragedy can come hope,” he said. “It is the hope that right can come from wrong.”


Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563.