Discussion touched on issues of race and the ongoing struggle for social justice.
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (April 02, 2015) —
A diverse and passionate audience of nearly 200 students attended the “Know Justice, Know Peace” symposium at the University of Miami’s Student Activities Center Wednesday, listening to a panel discussion and voicing their concerns on topics that addressed race, social justice, police conduct, and the concept of the American dream.
Moderated by David Ikard, director of Africana Studies and professor of English in UM's College of Arts and Sciences, and co-sponsored by UM’s Africana Studies Program and the Division of Student Affairs, the discussion acknowledged students’ ability to take a stand against racism, particularly when their personal experiences are deeply rooted in social injustices.
Panelist Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin and co-founder of the Trayvon Martin Foundation, called for universal training in basic human rights for all police officers. She argued that certain mindsets and stereotypes need to be overcome, which requires a change in attitude of the police force.
UM Professor David Ikard, left, moderates the “Know Justice, Know Peace” panel discussion, which included, from left, activist Johnetta “Netta” Elzie, writer and author Jelani Cobb, Sybrina Fulton, and Pittsburgh rapper Jasiri X.
“We have an issue with our police officers,” Fulton said. “If you don’t know, watch the news. Our young people need to learn their rights, but not so they can challenge the police. You can’t fight the fight on the street. Do not challenge the police at the scene, in the moment.”
Three years have passed since Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American from Miami Gardens, was fatally shot by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. Martin had gone to a convenience store to purchase candy and juice and was returning to the townhouse of his father’s fiancée when Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, confronted him. An altercation ensued, and Martin was shot in the chest.
Sanford Police did not charge Zimmerman, who is a white Hispanic, at the time of the shooting, but he was eventually charged and tried in the teenager’s death. A jury acquitted him in July 2013.
Many times during Wednesday’s panel discussion, Fulton disclosed that her strength comes from her children. She has weathered three years of the storm surrounding racial injustices and constantly encourages her other son, Jahvaris, to avoid confrontation. She stressed that the Justice Department investigation into Trayvon’s death showed 71 seconds that were unaccounted for.
“You need to make it home alive, so you can tell your side of the story,” Fulton said. “I didn’t sign up for this. I didn’t want this. I would not have sacrificed my son.”
Fulton now dedicates her time to advocate for crime victims and their families through her work with the Trayvon Martin Foundation, established in March 2012.
Other panelists included Johnetta “Netta” Elzie, a 25-year-old activist from St. Louis; Jelani Cobb, an American writer and author and associate professor of history and director of the Institute for African-American Studies at the University of Connecticut; and Jasiri X, a Pittsburgh rapper who released a video for a song called “Trayvon” in May 2012. The video recounts the night Martin was killed.
“I see a lot of people who have a consciousness, and feel they have a responsibility to those who came before us and those who come after us,” Cobb said early in the program.
The current movement surrounding recent events, from the protests on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, to the scandal surrounding the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity at the University of Oklahoma, is led by individuals looking to change the system.
Elzie agreed. “White America can’t write our story, because we’re all willing to tell it.”
Megan Ondrizek can be reached at 305-284-3667.
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