Vigil for Trayvon Martin unites students of different ethnicities

Former NAACP Chairman Julian Bond shares a message of equality before vigil.

By Claudia Balthazar and Chelsea Royal
On April 1, 2012

Around Hofstra Hall, a typically quiet place at night, small lights shined as students gathered to remember Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old old from Florida whose death, possibly derived from racial profiling, has gained media exposure. Sponsored by three campus organizations, the Black Student Union, the Pride Network and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the vigil was not only for students to pay their respects to Martin, but to come together for common concern. According to this promotion for the event, the vigil was also a way for students to acknowledge the effects of profiling.

Hundreds of Hofstra students from different racial backgrounds, ethnicities and sexual orientations came out to light a candle for Martin.

"I liked the unity in this,"said Justin Barker, public relations chair of the Black Student Union. "Everyone came out for something positive although they came together because something negative occurred."

Posters with Martin's face and the words "He was shot dead because he was black" were placed around campus a week prior to the event. One poster was removed due to vandalism. Damahl Brathwaite, vice president of BSU, reported the defaced poster to Public Safety. He understands that people may not agree with the message the organization is bringing.

"We're not trying to play any victim, were just trying to get justice and equality,"said Brathwaite.

Nicolas Fils-Aime, a member of Hofstra's NAACP chapter wants to spread this awareness of justice and equality on Hofstra's campus, but also to people off the campus. He says the poster incident is not going to stop them from reaching their goal, and that the vigil for Martin has changed some students' views on diversity for the better. 

"Everyone came in with one perspective but left with a different one," said Fils-Aime.

Before the vigil, former NAACP Chairman Julian Bond talked about the slow progression of American perspectives from the Civil Rights movement to Obama's election to a packed audience with some students leaning on the walls to listen in.

Among many words of inspiration Bond spoke of his experiences in the past and how many things have changed. He mentioned at one point that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be happy to see that the President of the United States is biracial, but would be dismayed to see that his movement has slowed.

"People deserve rights, not because they're black or gay, but because they're people," said Bond. "They're American and we all have those rights."

Bond's message on equality inspired students in attendance like Jose Rivera, a board member of the Pride Network.

"I like that he supports equal rights for everyone,"said Rivera. "When he said 'if someone doesn't have the same rights that I have, then I would fight for them'that really put the movement [for equal rights] in perspective for me."

Hempstead resident and SUNY New Paltz Graduate, class of '78, Ronald McManus recalled the time when Bond came to speak at his graduation. He agrees that equality in America remains a slow process. 

"Now there's progress that has been made [ever since I first heard Bond speak]. However, the challenge of overcoming inequality remains," he said.

Video supplement of students' reactions to Trayvon Martin's death by Zach Mongillo.

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