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Hundreds march in Grand Rapids for MLK Day, mother of Trayvon Martin speaks

By Tom Burke

Grand Rapids, MI – More than 1000 students and community members marched in the streets here and at the nearby Grand Valley State University (GVSU) to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 19. Thousands then filled college field houses to hear Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin. Martin was the African American teenager murdered by vigilante George Zimmerman. Zimmerman was allowed to walk free from a Florida court.

The march through downtown Grand Rapids was sometimes somber, but sometimes joyful as spectators smiled, waved and encouraged the student protesters. The march stretched a block long with city notables and educators in the lead. It united African Americans with whites, Chicanos, Latinos and other nationalities. Students from Grand Rapids Christian High School and Northview High School enthusiastically participated, linking arms as they marched in the cold winter weather, sharing their message of opposing racist discrimination and police brutality.

Nearby, hundreds of college students marched silently across the GVSU campus, passing yard signs highlighting the life and struggles of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. There was quiet anticipation as the GVSU field house filled up to standing room only. After an inspiring rendition of Lift Every Voice and Sing and introductory remarks, the crowd rose to their feet in thundering applause at the introduction of Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother.

Fulton opened with a moment of silence for Martin Luther King Jr. and others, like her son Trayvon Martin, killed by gun violence in the U.S. She was steadfast, “This could not happen to a more average family,” adding, “We should not be comfortable with burying our children.” She clarified her purpose, “So what happened to Trayvon, we don’t want to happen to any more of our children.”

Fulton, a labor union member, described discrimination on the basis of race, class, religion and gender, exhorting, “All of these things are a form of profiling, are a form of discrimination, and they need to be got rid of in the U.S.”

She finished by expressing, “It hurts my heart to see what continues to happen in our country. Are you going to sit back and just do nothing, or are you going to participate in what is happening in your country? We cannot continue to remain silent.”

In response to an audience question, Fulton gave an energetic response, “The community has played a big role, but more importantly the colleges and universities have played a big role because they were active in their protests, they were active in their marches...I give it to the college students who were on the social media and constantly keeping this story alive. Even before CNN and ABC and CBS and all of those networks that got involved, it was the college students that got involved first and they were fed up with what was going on.”

Fulton emphasized, “It is the young folks that keep this movement going, that say, ‘I’m just not going to take this anymore.’”

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