The sun came out after a long day of rain Sunday evening, lighting the stained glass windows of Hill Top Missionary Baptist church in Riviera Beach, for a rally in memory of Trayvon Martin. Well past nightfall, Martin's father, Tracy Martin, spoke, but those present were still ablaze with quiet anger and resolve.
Organized by a collective of local ministers, a packed house listened to earth-shattering gospel music, and a series of speakers called for political mobilization and legal reform. The racially diverse, overwhelmingly black crowd included many young black men, in whose faces it was impossible not to see potential tragedies to come.
MUSIC: As the house filled up, an opening speaker called for the congregation's "prayer warriors" to take the stage. A benediction followed, all shouts of praise, a backing band riffing punctuation, and brought the room to its feet, arms raised in fervor, hand-made signs aloft: "Repeal Stand Your Ground," "No Justice No Peace." The choir broke into the recent gospel hit "After This (There Will Be Glory)." Late in the evening, in the concluding moments, with all speakers standing massed together on stage, a woman with a silk shawl, printed with Hebrew letters, stood in their midst and blew, wailed on a shofar, a Biblical echo. (This was an extremely Christian event, hardly a speaker failing to remind one and all that the ultimate answer is G-d's.)
MONEY: A hat was passed 'round for the Trayvon Martin Foundation. We don't know how much was raised, but the hat went 'round a long time. Ladies in their Sunday best reached deep in their purses. Others in streetwear and T-shirts ("Repeal Stand Your Ground," "Team Jesus") dug down in their jeans pockets.
POLITICS: Lots of politics but surprisingly few politicians. It's time to "Stand your ground at the polls," said WPB state Rep. Mark Pafford (the sole white man to speak, his oratory charmingly flat compared to the black preachers'). And speaker after speaker proposed the same basic points: Register to vote, go to the polls, serve on juries. Nonpartisan politics, to be clear -- maybe a single sneering reference to Gov. Rick Scott -- though only Democratic Party volunteers were present, with voter registration forms and info.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE: Florida's Stand Your Ground and self-defense laws were denounced. "Too complicated, too contradictory, and too confusing," said Bishop Harold Calvin Ray, of Redemptive Life Fellowship in West Palm Beach. "Make hell mad and Tallahassee nervous" and amend the law, he said (wise to the political impossibility, with our GOP Legislature, of full repeal).
BLACK YOUTH: "It's time to stop black-on-black crime," said Riviera Beach Mayor Rev. Thomas Masters, to great applause. (Black people don't need any lectures from reactionaries about the troubles of the African-American community, thank you very much.) Praising his city's people for not taking to the streets when George Zimmerman walked free, Masters announced he would meet with and try to spread the word to Riviera Beach gang leaders in the near future. The evening's hosts, the Rev. Griffin Davis Sr. and his son, Griffin Davis Jr., announced plans for an August youth summit that would include legal counseling. Several speakers gave shoutouts to the Dream Defenders, the young Floridians of color whose Tallahassee sit-in is now 14 days old.
TRACY MARTIN: Late, around 9:30, he comes to the podium, a weary-eyed man of stolid, full features. He speaks modestly, at a measured pace and in thoughtful tones. "I'm not a scholar with words," he tells the crowd. "I'm going to say what's in my heart. "Nothing we do can ease my pain, but we can ease the pain in this country," he says. "When it's dark at night, I go to my knees, and God tells me 'I've got Trayvon up here. Your work is down there.'" He recaps the action plan: Register. Vote. Educate. He recalls seeing an MLK/Trayvon Martin slogan on someone's T-shirt: Two Martins Gone Too Soon. "That Martin made a difference," he says. Let's make sure this Martin makes a difference too." He finishes, the evening ends, and the crowd files out to the strains of "We Shall Overcome."
Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.
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