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126-mile Walk for Dignity to Sanford, rally at Trayvon Martin Memorial

By staff

Florida 126 mile 'Walk for Dignity'.

Sanford, FL – Defying rain, hateful counter-protesters and the Florida summer heat, more than 70 people on the 126-mile Walk for Dignity held a rally at the Trayvon Martin memorial in Sanford on July 27.

Protesters came from across Florida and other Southern states to demand the resignation of State Attorney Angela Corey and the immediate release of Marissa Alexander. Alexander is an African-American woman who got 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot in the air to fend off her abusive husband. Both Alexander and Zimmerman were prosecuted by Corey’s office.

The Walk for Dignity began on July 22 in Jacksonville, Florida. It spanned five days and passed through Saint Augustine, Bunnel and Daytona Beach before arriving in Sanford, where the Zimmerman trial took place.

“The march showed how we lead as a collective and how we can create systems to look out for each other as we walk our streets,” said Estefania Galvis, an activist who walked all five days to Sanford. “The people who walked are affected by the same oppressive system that put Marissa Alexander in prison. The people who walked identify Angela Corey as the representative of the judicial system incarcerating Black and Brown people. The long walk shows that we will do anything – march, scream, walk in the heat or rain – to demand justice, dignity and a new system for our communities.”

Organized by the Southern Movement Assembly, an alliance of activist groups around the South, and anchored by the Jacksonville-based New Jim Crow Movement, the walk brought together protesters from many states. Members from Project South, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Southerners on New Ground, the Ordinary People Society, the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, the Coalition for Justice for Trayvon Martin, Alternate Roots and several other organizations walked or joined the assembly along the way.

The Walk For Dignity arrived at the Hickory Avenue Church of God in Sanford, which opened their doors to the scores of protesters to sleep, eat and hold assemblies. Throughout the walk, many African American churches provided food, shelter and supplies to the walkers. In Saint Augustine at the end of the first day, the walkers stayed at Saint Mary’s Missionary Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. rallied with civil rights protesters against segregation in 1964.

The walkers spent the afternoon of July 27 going door-to-door in Sanford’s predominantly African American neighborhoods talking with the people about their struggles. Many spoke about their experiences with racist police officers, while others spoke about relatives victimized by the criminal injustice system. Organizers from the Southern Movement Assembly invited Sanford residents out to the church to speak with others about their experiences.

“It’s a new thing for me to get involved, and see what it takes to get organized,” said Moses Daniels, a longtime resident of Sanford, who came out to the assembly after an organizer invited him on his doorstep. “I see things going on in Sanford, and I hear us all talk about it, but when it comes to doing something – to stand our ground – I didn’t know what it takes to stop the attacks.”

After a short assembly about organizing to fight racism, activists gathered in front of the church to start a mile march into historic Goldsboro to the Trayvon Martin memorial. As the second city after Eatonville founded by African Americans in Florida, Goldsboro was stripped of its charter by whites in the Sanford city government in 1911. The City of Sanford eliminated the Black-owned businesses and institutions of Goldsboro as a part of expanding racist Jim Crow laws. In 1923, whites infamously burned a similar town, Rosewood, Florida, to the ground after African Americans attempted to defend their families from white vigilantes. Today, Goldsboro remains predominantly African American and strongly supports justice for Trayvon Martin.

As afternoon storm clouds rolled off Lake Monroe in Sanford, the protesters marched on undeterred. Activists held several banners, reading “Walk for Dignity – enough is enough!” and “We will not be erased,” with the latter bearing the images of Trayvon Martin, Marissa Alexander, Jordan Davis and other youth victimized by the criminal injustice system. Many Sanford residents came outside their homes to watch and then joined the protesters in the streets.

With about a half mile to go, rain began to pour. Despite booming thunder and a constant downpour, not a single protester left the march. Chants of “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Angela Corey’s got to go!” and “Free Marissa now!” grew louder as the march approached the Trayvon Martin memorial. The storm passed and protesters spoke about the significance of the long march. Several Sanford residents spoke about their experiences with racial profiling.

Although every protester was soaked, spirits were high. “We started together, and we finished together,” sang Aleta Alston-Toure, an organizer with the New Jim Crow Movement in Jacksonville. Alston-Toure led a freedom song from the South African anti-apartheid struggle, and others paid tribute to fallen African American leaders like Malcolm X and Ella Baker.

Staff from the Goldsboro Westside Historical Museum warmly received the marchers with shelter from the rain and food. The Trayvon Martin Memorial, a brick and marble formation located at the Museum, was moved from the actual location of Trayvon Martin’s death. Several racist Zimmerman supporters and local police sabotaged the memorial six times, but the African-American community in Sanford united to defend it. Eventually, it was moved to the Goldsboro Westside Historical Museum and cared for by staff.

Activists see the Walk for Dignity and the July 27 march as a starting point for the movement against racism and national oppression across the country, while residents in Sanford felt empowered by the outside support. There is a call for a national march in Washington D.C. on August 24.

“I’m hopeful about the freedom movement in Sanford and everywhere,” said Daniels. “You have to give the movement some structure, so it’s impressive to me to be a part of an organization that seeks to make change happen.”

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