Over the past two months, rallies have been staged across the country in memory of Trayvon Martin, whose death in Florida at the hands of a neighborhood watch volunteer stirred the passions of the nation. Thousands of protesters — wearing hoodies, as Martin was when he was shot — have carried placards, chanted Martin’s name and sung songs from the civil rights era.
On Friday, J. Harrison Coleman, principal of Malcolm X Elementary in Southeast Washington, organized what she called “Trayvon Martin Day,” there, a gathering to remember the slain teenager and use his death as a teachable moment. There were no hoodies. Instead, the youngsters wore their red and black school uniforms. And there were no signs, chants or songs.
Still, the message from Harrison Coleman resembled that heard elsewhere: The violence has to end.
“I wanted to do something in recognition of Trayvon Martin,” Harrison Coleman said. “I wanted to capture this incident in order to bring about change. . . . This wasn’t about . . . dealing with who’s right or who’s wrong” in the case.
Martin, a black Florida teenager, was shot in February as he walked back from a convenience store toward a home in a gated community while wearing a hoodie to cover his head from the rain. Martin, who was unarmed, was carrying a bag of Skittles and a can of Arizona iced tea.
George Zimmerman, whose father is white and mother is Hispanic, said he killed the 17-year-old in self-defense after being punched in the nose and on the back of the head. Initially, Zimmerman was not arrested, but after an investigation by a state prosecutor, he was charged with second-degree murder.
Diane Woods, a special-education teacher and the school’s anti-bullying coordinator, said she thinks that the situation could have ended differently had Zimmerman walked away.
“A child lost his life,” Woods said. “It may not be a racial thing here. . . . And we see so much anger and aggression here. . . . It starts with hitting now, and it leads to more deaths when they get older. And that’s what we’re trying to avoid.”
The principal used Friday’s event to promote the school’s anti-bullying agenda. She said she also wants to teach the 260 students and their parents about social justice, constitutional rights and interactions with law enforcement.
The day, which included handing out cans of Arizona iced tea and packages of Skittles, was part of an ongoing effort by the school, known as “Let’s Keep Our Children Safe.”
Rateka Hawkins, whose daughter, Saniyah, 5, attends Malcolm X, said she was pleased that the school put together the forum, which included a discussion about resolving disagreements without resorting to violence.
Woods said that many of her students live in neighborhoods where fighting and shootings are the norm.
“The ‘If they hit you, him them back’ [idea] has been taught through many generations,” she said. “That needs to stop.”