When he first heard the news of the not guilty verdict of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin last Saturday night, Olumide Ajileye said he was utterly confused, disgusted and disconsolate. But in the end, he said it compelled him to take those feelings and convert them into creating an event that brought together thousands of people to make a statement.
Ajileye, a 29-year-old graduate of the University of Central Florida in Orlando now pursuing a master’s degree in finance at DeVry University, said that was devastated by the verdict and wanted to find a way to gather like-minded people in Orlando, where he lives. He turned to his friends on social media to see if anyone knew of an outlet where he might take his feelings of devastation to the streets in order to convert it into some form of protest.
“Everyone said no, that they didn’t know of any marches or protests” Ajileye said, in an interview with BET.com. “And one of my friends told me that, instead of looking for one, I should plan to do it myself. So, I did.”
Indeed, by Wednesday, he had put together what was one of the largest post-verdict marches in Florida, taking place a mere 20 miles from the city of Sanford, where the Zimmerman trial was held ad where Trayvon Martin was shot and killed 17 months ago. The “No Justice, No Sleep March Against Gun Violence” was highlighted in the local newspapers and television and radio stations as a sign of the community’s anger with the verdict.
By Monday, he had decided to organize a demonstration in Orlando that would bring together people of all backgrounds who shared his disapproval with the Zimmerman verdict. He decided that participants should be able to hear speakers who would talk about what they saw of the injustice of the verdict and the need to revisit gun laws such as Florida’s controversial "stand your ground" law.
But the decision to organize a large demonstration, something he had not done before, sent Ajileye on a rapid-fire pilgrimage to spread the word. He used social media, had flyers printed and contacted people at local radio stations.
“To be honest, I had some concerns that there may be some violence and I considered not doing it,” he said. “I remember a pastor telling me once that when God wants you to do something, he will make things uncomfortable for you until you do it. So, that whole night, I didn’t sleep well. But I felt compelled to do it. I felt that it was really about being obedient and doing the task that I felt I was given.”
By Wednesday afternoon, Ajileye's effort paid off. A crowd of about 2,000 people assembled at Lake Eola Park in downtown Orlando for the demonstration. Together, they streamed toward the Orange County Courthouse, carrying signs and chanting. There were no incidents of violence and no arrests.
As demonstrations have popped up around the country, from Los Angeles and Oakland to New York, it is easy to forget that they are the outgrowth of the passion of people like Ajileye, who say they feel a burning need to do more than just sit home and complain about events.
“For me, the main thing was the fact that, like many young Black males, I’ve been in situations where I have been Trayvon Martin,” he said. “I grew up in Miami. I have had situations twice where I was just walking home from playing a basketball game at a neighborhood court and being stopped by the police.”
No matter what action he took, however, Ajileye said it could never reverse the verdict freeing George Zimmerman and it would never bring Trayvon Martin back to life.
“But what I know I can do – what we can do collectively – is to make a witness for combatting gun violence. It’s the least we can do.”
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(Photo: Jonathan Hicks/BET)