MIAMI — Many questions were raised after the Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis verdicts about the value of lives of young black men. Melba Pearson, Southeast regional director of the National Black Prosecutors Association (NBPA) saw the verdicts as a challenge to African-American professionals.
“The tragedies of the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis are a wakeup call. Professionals of color need to stand up for our boys … and do so with a hands-on approach, making sure that the boys have access to positive role models on a regular basis,” said Pearson, a local attorney.
To answer the challenge, the NBPA, in partnership with Miami-Dade County Public Schools and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) hosted a series of panel discussions entitled “Real Talk: Lessons Learned from Trayvon Martin.”
The panels, which started Feb. 28 were geared toward African-American young men attending high school and middle school.
The five-part series was created by the NBPA, in response to the two-year anniversary of the death of Trayvon Martin, and the verdict in the Michael Dunn trial. George Zimmerman, was accused and later acquitted in the death of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon.
And Michael Dunn was recently convicted of second-degree attempted murder after shooting into a car full of black teenagers. However, the jury deadlocked on a murder charge against him in the death of Jordan.
“This program is critical to bringing encouragement to young men that are often labeled and forgotten,” said Pearson. “It is time for African-American professionals to adopt the motto of ‘each one, teach one.’ We need to use our anger to be proactive to prevent future tragedies, and not be forever reactive.”
Panels were held at Miami Central and Carol City High schools, as well as Ponce de Leon, Madison and Norland Middle schools. The schools selected 75 students, and the discussions were held in small groups.
The main themes of each panel revolved around making positive choices, avoiding negative friends who lean toward trouble, choosing to walk away from confrontations, dealing with bullying and knowing that there are still choices after making mistakes.
Along with a number of state and federal prosecutors, defense attorneys and law enforcement of color, the panelists included 11th Judicial Circuit Court Judges Daryl Trawick and Rodney Smith; Pastors Carl Johnson of the 93rd Street Community Baptist Church and Jeffrey Hamilton from Coconut Grove Ministerial Alliance; North Miami Police Chief Leonard Burgess; and FIU Black Law Students Association President Jimmy Paul.
The majority were African-American men, many of whom faced the same struggles the boys did, some raised by single mothers. For instance, Amir Whitaker from the Carol City panel, shared his journey from the tough streets of Los Angeles, to earning a master’s, doctorate and law degree.
“You are never too old to follow your dreams,” he said.
Pastor Johnson rallied the boys at Miami Central High to action in their personal lives but to retreat from violence.
“Your ways determine your walk; get your personality on track, and don’t leave high school without a plan,” Johnson said. “If you are confronted with violence, do not let someone draw you out of your personality and lead you down the path of wrong. Stand firm in who you are and walk away.”
Principals at the schools requested the panelists return for follow-up discussions and informed the boys that they had access to the panelists at anytime. The students were encouraged to form mentoring relationships.
“Our boys need this. Please come back; our doors are always open to you,” said Norland Middle School Principal Ronald G. Redmon.
ON THE NET: blackprosecutors.org