by Charlene Muhammad
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call
Reverend Lennox Yearwood Jr., President and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus and Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton. Photo: Terence Muhammad
(FinalCall.com) – The Hip Hop Caucus works nationally, in part, to organize youth around social issues that impact their lives so it was natural that Hip Hop artists and the Caucus raised their voices in a unified response to Trayvon Martin’s death and the acquittal of George Zimmerman, his killer.
The group and some artists are working on critical next steps in the movement for justice for the Florida teen, after a nearly all-White jury of six women freed Mr. Zimmerman in mid-July.
Their agenda focuses on policy and legal strategies and street mobilizations, including supporting the August 24, 50th Anniversary March on Washington organized by civil rights leader Al Sharpton. The push is for accountability and actively getting people to the polls in upcoming mid-term elections through the Hip Hop Caucus’ “Respect My Vote” campaign.
Healing and empowerment through addressing self-inflicted Black violence stemming from centuries of oppression, racism, Jim Crow legacy and the legacy of slavery is also the Caucus’ focus.
“It has been two and a half weeks since the Zimmerman verdict. We have marched in the streets. We have chanted. We have put our feelings and thoughts out there on social media. We have signed petitions … The key thing now is we have to organize, mobilize and energize our communities to keep this momentum over the long term,” said Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr., president and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus, during the Hip Hop National Virtual Town Hall, a July 31 telephone conference which outlined the Hip Hop Caucus’ plan of action.
‘As an artist, I feel like we have a voice and we have influence, whether as a hip hop artist, R&B artist.’
The call signaled the Hip Hop community would deal with very serious problems and discussions in its own way, using its culture, with a focus on hope, love for Black people and the good of humanity, Rev. Yearwood explained.
More than 1,700 people had joined the call within the first 10 minutes, according to organizers. Callers heard strategic plans and from speakers, who included Sybrina Fulton (Trayvon Martin’s mother), Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson (Oscar Grant’s uncle), Davey D (activist and hip hop journalist), Raheem DeVaughn (Grammy-nominated R&B singer/songwriter) and J Ivy (Grammy Award-winning poet and artist).
Ms. Fulton thanked everyone who prayed and stood with her family. It means a lot to know we’re not standing alone, said the mother. Her hope is the support doesn’t fade.
“I just hope that we don’t get weary, that we don’t get tired and say, ‘Okay. Well, we had our rallies. We’ve signed our petitions and now we need to move on to the next story or move on to the next issue or whatever,’ ” she said.
It’s important to stay engaged, not so much for her son, but for other youth his age, Ms. Fulton continued. She wants to ensure her son Jahvaris and other youth are not afraid to walk home from the store so dialogue on next steps is critical, especially keeping pressure on the Justice Department to probe whether Trayvon Martin’s civil rights were violated.
Attorney General Eric Holder has indicated the Department of Justice is reviewing evidence to determine whether to pursue criminal civil rights charges against Mr. Zimmerman.
Ms. Fulton stressed her conviction that Trayvon did nothing wrong. The verdict will not define Trayvon or the end of the story, she vowed.
“Now our focus is now changing the laws. Our focus is helping other families. Our focus is the Trayvon Martin Amendment, which says you cannot be the aggressor. You can’t follow someone and chase someone and pick a fight with them, and then shoot and kill them and say you were standing your ground. You cannot do that,” stated Ms. Fulton.
Some next steps for her family include establishing a network of legal and personal support for other families who have and are enduring loss from gun violence.
(CCW from left) J. Ivy Photo: Wikimedia commons; M.C. Lyte Photo: Haroon Raa’jee/i>; Terence Muhammad; Davey D. Photo: DaveyD.com
“This will cause you to lose your mind literally,” Ms. Fulton said. “We need to get busy. We just can’t hold our head down and say, ‘Okay well Trayvon is gone. There’s nothing we could do.’ We have to hold our head up high and we have to say, ‘let’s move on with our next step,’ ” Ms. Fulton said.
Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson gave the history of his nephew Oscar Grant and the status of his case. Mr. Grant was killed on January 1, 2009 on a train platform in Oakland. Johannes Mehserle, his killer, was then a Bay Area Rapid Transit officer. He was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to two years in prison but only served 11 months in a L.A. County jail, Mr. Johnson shared. The victim was shot to death while laying handcuffed on a train platform. The fatal incident was caught on cell phone video by shocked onlookers.
“Our experience with this criminal justice system has devastated us in our belief that the system really works for us and as we move forward with the Trayvon Martin case, that we begin to take much stronger measures in bringing about the change in our society so that not only George Zimmerman could be charged and convicted for killing Trayvon, but also Johannes Mehserle could also be charged and convicted,” Mr. Johnson said.
Raheem DeVaughn wrote a tribute song in honor of Trayvon. All proceeds from the song, “Trigger Man,” are being contributed to the official Trayvon Martin Foundation. Rev. Yearwood thanked the singer for using his voice to raise awareness about the problem.
Mr. DeVaughn said the song was inspired by the everyday occurrences in the Black community. But what was unique about the Martin death was the people’s response across the board, which helped to raise awareness about the severity of it, he said.
“As an artist, I feel like we have a voice and we have influence, whether as a hip hop artist, R&B artist, whatever you want to call it …. It was just really my intent, myself, to just create a record that speaks out for the people,” Mr. DeVaughn said. “It’s my interpretation of Trayvon if he had an opportunity to speak for himself. The thing about injustice and senseless violence is that he didn’t just kill a 17-year-old kid, he killed a generation of people.”
Terence Muhammad, a Muslim activist and the HBCU and logistical coordinator for the Hip Hop Caucus, applauded Mr. DeVaughn for his willingness to use his gifts to give back to the struggle. He’s helping to enlighten youth about problems they’re really focused on by and large, Mr. Muhammad said.
For instance, Mr. Muhammad noted, young people today—age 40 and under—have always had voter rights. Because they haven’t been without, they really don’t understand or see the necessity to fight for it, he said.
“It’s just time for the Hip Hop community to take responsibility for the mobilization and organizing the young people to take back our communities,” Mr. Muhammad said.