Students and members of the Orlando community participated in a march and candlelight vigil in honor of Trayvon Martin on Thursday at the UCF Orlando campus.
The event occurred five days after George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed Martin last year, was acquitted of manslaughter and second-degree murder charges.
Members of UCF’s Delta Sigma Theta chapter, Mu Iota, collaborated with the organization Dream Defenders to host the event, which combined a vigil and a rally open to students and community members.
“The purpose of the event this evening is not to heal the wounds; it’s not going to relieve any of the anger; but the purpose … is to hopefully ignite a light that can be used as a sign of hope for the next generation to come,” Tashauna Williams, chapter president of Mu Iota, said.
The event began with Williams’ opening remarks followed by a song from the UCF Gospel Choir and a prayer.
“I feel like this is something that’s very positive to engage in, just to show that it’s not something that’s just going to be swept under the rug,” junior nursing student Catherina Vernon said.
The choir sang “Total Praise” as candles were lit, and the crowd then had a moment of silence.
“We’re going to be marching to Memory Mall and back … holding our banners and signs and trying to get the attention of the UCF community and wake them up,” Williams said.
The crowd of approximately 200 people was led through the John T. Washington Center and around campus while chants were said and songs were sung. It then entered the Student Union, where participants extinguished their candles and gathered around the school seal to listen to the event’s guest speakers.
Shayan Modarres, who was on the legal team for the Martin family, spoke to the marchers about the best ways to react to the Zimmerman verdict, such as registering to vote.
“The best advice I can give all of you is to not fight the past but just build the future,” Modarres said. “You can’t dwell on it; this is not about George Zimmerman … this is much bigger than him.”
Modarres spoke of the power of a motivated group, using the example of how Twitter users squashed juror B-37’s attempt to land a book deal about the trial.
“Be active, be loud, have your voices heard. We can have events like this every weekend if we have to, but we need to be involved; we can’t get tired; we can’t grow weary,” he said.
The Martin family’s lawyer Natalie Jackson was the second speaker to the marchers, and spoke to motivate the crowd about what it could do presently.
“I know you guys want to do something now, right? You don’t want to wait to vote; let me tell you what you can do now,” she said.
Jackson encouraged students to call the governor’s office for a special legislative session to repeal the “Stand Your Ground” law, which is something that members of Dream Defenders have been petitioning for by occupying Florida Governor Rick Scott’s office since Tuesday.
“I’ve been hearing on the media that ‘Stand Your Ground’ was not part of this case. Incorrect,” Jackson said. “Page 12 of the jury instructions; ‘Stand Your Ground’ was an instruction that was included in the jury instructions.
“If there’s a law that is so confusing that the police can’t get it right, that the jury can’t get it right, that law has to go,” she said.
The crowd was then led back to the John T. Washington Center where the petition for the controversial law’s repeal could be signed.
“I believe it turned out really successful,” Joshua McConnell, president of the UCF Dream Defenders chapter and an international relations senior, said. “The two speakers that we had were very powerful; they empowered the youth; they made sure that they know that their voices actually count towards actually having systematic change occur here in the United States.”
“During the chant, I really felt empowered,” McConnell said. “That’s the same kind of energy I want to give my fellow students and my fellow young people, just to have that sense of empowerment.”
Also a member of Dream Defenders, sociology senior Heather Bryan cites the event as an example of what Dream Defenders wants to do at UCF.
“I think it’s amazing to be able to mobilize our campus for an event like this and get the turnout that we got,” she said.
“It gets me really emotional and it feels really powerful, like being around all these people,” Bryan said. “We’re all here for the same reason and we’re all ready to fight for the same fight, and I just think it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced.”
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