As the nation commemorates the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, the killing of another “Martin” is poised to galvanize the nation.
King’s death on April 4, 1968, birthed an entire generation of young people even more determined to work, rally and march, never allowing the gunman’s bullet to wipe out their hopes for a more equitable society. It seems only fitting that 44 years after King tragically lost his life, the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman is prompting new calls for justice.
Those who were alive when King died will never forget the day when the iconic civil rights leader was fatally gunned down by James Earl Ray outside the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. It was a heartbreaking moment for the country as the voice of its greatest champion for justice was silenced forever.
During King’s later years, he began to focus on economic inequities and the plight of a group he called “the nonviolent army of the poor.” Although the “Poor Peoples’ Campaign” pushed forward with marches on the National Mall, without King at the helm and a clear set of goals, they still chanted “I am somebody” and continued to fight.
Fueled by the belief that Trayvon Martin was only guilty of walking while Black, people from all walks of life are demanding that the system treats this case with fairness. Last Sunday, thousands of marchers including celebrities, athletes and community leaders converged in Miami in one of the most impressive rallies to date.
In much the same way that King-era marches gave voice to the voiceless, the Trayvon Martin rallies are attempting to use this as a teachable time to shine light on the lingering effects of racial profiling, prejudice, questionable policies and a system that neglects to serve all of its citizens equally.
The question is whether this Trayvon Martin moment will simply fizzle out or will it energize a modern day civil rights movement similar to the one that followed the death of Dr. King? While many will pause to remember King’s legacy during this time, I wonder if the same spirit of activism will enliven us today after the killing of the other Martin: Trayvon Martin.
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(Photo: UPI/HO/Landov; Vernon Matthews/Commercial Appeal/Landov)