I’ve taken on many assignments as a writer, mostly music-related events. I’ve covered happenings on the Hill in my native Washington, approaching my work with professionalism and seriousness. Traveling to the city of Sanford on Monday, however, may have been one of most-transformative assignments I’ve had as a writer. I was on hand at the Trayvon Martin March For Justice led by Baltimore pastor Dr. Jamal Bryant, and I walked away from the event inspired by the unity I witnessed.
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Arriving around noon in Orlando, I made my way to downtown Sanford and was shocked by the lack of visible unity for Trayvon. I expected to see posters, shirts, and the like but none were present. Sanford is a small working-class, tree-lined town that has some areas suffering with blight. While it did seem like many other towns I’ve visited in the past, there was something in the air that day.
It was a month since the death of Trayvon at the hands of armed volunteer neighborhood watch enforcer George Zimmerman. Dr. Bryant’s rally was to begin at tiny Centennial Park at 4 p.m., an area nestled by churches and neatly kept homes. The crowd began to trickle in slowly, with some wearing the shirts and carrying the signs I hoped to see earlier. Wanting to be a bigger part of the action, I made my way to the main drag in downtown Sanford, a little nervous at all of the police presence and media throng.
I didn’t see one Black officer out of the dozens that were on the detail. The one cop of color doing traffic control after the event openly voiced his displeasure of the assignment within my earshot, although I pretended to be reading a paper. The crush of the crowd was nearly overwhelming at times, yet everyone was friendly and unified in protest against the Sanford city administration.
There were several beautiful moments that I tried my best to document, but I was overcome with emotion at times. Fathers kissing their sons on the forehead. Mothers doting on their daughters lovingly. Families gathering on blankets and in the gazebo. Children flying kites in Fort Mellon Park all with the huge blue lake right behind them. Even with the somber circumstances that led to the rally, there existed nothing but joy and gratitude among the attendees.
Emotions ran high as Trayvon’s parents addressed the crowd inside the civic center along with the Rev. Al Sharpton, Dr. Jamal Bryant, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and other invited speakers. All who spoke did so with conviction and prideful fearlessness, but nothing reached the level of father Tracey Martin’s passionate plea for justice. Grown men dabbed their eyes, gripping their children harder, as Tracey’s powerful voice boomed over loudspeakers in the park. When Trayvon’s mom, Sybrina, began to speak, her quivering voice brought even the strongest person to tears.
The revelry moved from the civic center to the park and continued just as the sun was setting just before 8 p.m. Strangers hugged one another, young people assisted the elderly, and little Black boys and girls were more astute than anyone in the country would give them credit for regarding what brought them to the rally. I took a good amount of photos, but after a while, I just sat still and tried to appreciate what I was a part of. I drove back to my hotel in Orlando in complete silence, trying my best to remember every face and every conversation.
I came back to the Washington area Tuesday night, encouraged that my people are galvanized. I pray we continue down this unified path. I know I walked away changed, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. There are many more stories of worth similar to Trayvon’s, and I hope to get the opportunity to tell some of them.
Sanford did Trayvon Martin proud on Monday. I hope I can do the same for the brother too.