By Arelis R. Hernandez, The Orlando Sentinel –
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — More than 40 days after a South Florida teenager was shot to death in Sanford, Fla., college students are trekking 40 miles over three days to keep Trayvon Martin’s name at the forefront of the nation’s consciousness.
“The job is unfinished,” Florida A&M University alumnus Phillip Agnew said Saturday.
Agnew was joined by about 40 current and former college students from Florida State University, University of Florida, Tallahassee Community College and FAMU.
Their march began Friday in Daytona Beach and is expected to end in Sanford Sunday.
They call themselves the “Dream Defenders,” a coalition of student leaders and experienced organizers hoping to inspire a generation of youth to engage in a conversation about the issues surrounding the 17-year-old’s death and set the foundation for a movement.
“This is the catalyst to give young people the motivation to act,” said Stephen Green, a sophomore at Morehouse College in Atlanta. “We are the ones with the energy to keep this going.”
Green said he has been involved in the mobilization efforts since the first community meeting after Trayvon’s death at the Allen AME Chapel in Sanford, where residents sought answers about the shooting and subsequent response from city police.
International outrage was sparked after then-Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee said his detectives did not have enough evidence to arrest Neighborhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman, who told police he acted in self-defense when he shot Trayvon Feb.26.
A special prosecutor is investigating.
Ciara Taylor, a 23-year-old FAMU senior, said students outraged by the lack of arrest in the case met together on campus and constructed a plan of action.
“If I have a chance to fight injustice, I’m going to take it,” Taylor said. “We want to make a statement.”
Soon, students on other campuses reached out to one another through the Florida Alliance for Student Action and plans for a march on the weekend after the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. emerged, said FSU senior Michael Sampson.
Their message, they say, is one of racial harmony.
“People have rushed to conclusions, but there are issues that go beyond George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin,” Agnew said, as he walked through the brush on the shoulder of U.S. Highway 92 in DeLand. “It’s about a young man in a hoodie that was seen as a criminal. People are realizing that racial profiling is a real problem.”
The students have received considerable support from local authorities. Law enforcement escorted the group to keep them safe as they walked nearly a dozen miles followed by supporters in cars.
Local clergy offered their facilities to give the marchers a place to sleep for the night.
“We are so proud of their passion and what they are trying to do,” said the Rev. Nathan Mugala of Allen Chapel AME church in Daytona Beach, who opened his fellowship hall to the marchers. “It’s good to see the young people speaking out.”
“We claim to be a post-racial society and we’re not. It’s a revealing truth,” said retiree Christe Ashley of DeLand, who joined the students after learning of the march on Facebook. “I admire these students.”
Upon reaching Sanford, the Dream Defenders plan on staging an act of nonviolent civil disobedience at 7 p.m. Sunday, but they did not offer details.