Tracy Martin sat before members of the newly formed Congressional Caucus on Black Men and Boys on Wednesday afternoon and told them about his son Trayvon, the 17-year-old who was shot and killed in Florida last year by a neighborhood watch volunteer in a gated community. Martin said that Trayvon was his hero, a child who came into the world and saved his life. He's frustrated that he wasn't there to save his son's life on the night of Feb. 26, 2012.
Martin said that even though the man who fired the gun, George Zimmerman, was found not guilty by a jury earlier this month, he will continue to fight to preserve his son's reputation and legacy. Zimmerman has said that he shot the unarmed teenager in self-defense during a fight.
And Martin thanked President Obama -- whom he called "the most influential man on the planet" -- for addressing Trayvon's death last week in comments that especially resonated in the black community.
"It sparks the conversation in every household, over the dinner table, and that conversation is: What can we do as parents? What can we do as men? What can we do as fathers? What can we do as mentors to stop this from happening to your child," Martin said. "And I think that's where the conversation begins."
Following Zimmerman's acquittal earlier this month, protests spontaneously popped up in major cities across the country. It has prompted discussions about gun rights and stand-your-ground laws, but also about racial profiling and the challenges facing young black men.
"The loss of 17-year-old Trayvon has focused attention on black males as nothing else has in decades," said Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), a co-chair of the caucus. "Overlaying the disappointment of African Americans in the verdict and in this crime are the many issues that Trayvon's death brings into sharp focus."
For more than 90 minutes, members of the caucus -- along with dozens of people who packed into the hearing room and an overflow room as well -- listened to Martin and four other black men who spoke about many of these issues. The challenges often start before birth, they said, and follow black males throughout their lives. They discussed poverty, early education, childcare costs, racial profiling, stiff penalties for nonviolent drug offenses, higher education, student loans and the impact of hip hop music and hoodie sweatshirts on the perceptions of black men. Some called on Obama to address race more often. At times, those gathered in the room would verbally agree or applaud.
"The question is: Do we revisit this in 20 years? Is this a 22-year, Rodney King reactivation?" said Kweisi Mfume, a former Maryland congressman and former president of the NAACP who spoke at the hearing. "We can't keep revisiting this. We cannot do that."