On the eve of the “Realize The Dream” march in Washington, the families of Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin joined together at Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington for a panel discussion and the screening of filmmaker Keith Beauchamp‘s film, “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till.”
The event, titled “The Mamie Till Mobley Memorial & Trayvon Martin Foundations Present: Civil Rights, Human Wrongs, and the Charge for Youth Leadership,” took place Friday evening and was attended by a host of activists, organizers and others in the emotionally charged evening.
MSNBC’s The Cycle host Toure’ served as the moderator for the event. The panel’s special guests were Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, Fulton’s son Jahvaris Fulton, Simeon Wright, cousin of Emmett Till, Kevin Powell, Beauchamp and Victoria Pannell, the Emmett Till Ambassador For Peace.
Toure’ opened the evening, which was a largely informal but connected town hall-style chat. As attendees filed into the church, the weight of the moment was not lost. “I had to come just because of what we saw happen with little Trayvon,” said one woman, who chose not to be identified. “I have grandchildren that will grow up knowing about this case. I’m here for them.”
Indeed many families were together at the event, including Global Grind’s Michael Skolnik with his family. As various speakers spoke on the injustices of both Martin and Till, a choir singer’s stirring rendition of “Wade In The Water” welcomed Ms. Fulton, Mr. Martin, their son and also attorney Benjamin Crump. The floor was then given to Beauchamp, who explained the making of the film.
Although the immediate parallels were not evident early on, towards the end Beauchamp injected bits of the Zimmerman trial, and the angry and still continuing protests surrounding the night watchman’s not guilty verdict. Both Toure’ and Powell acknowledged they were moved by the film, and, judging by the sniffles heard in the silent moments, they were not alone.
The event switched to the panel, with Toure’ given equal microphone time to all guests. Ms. Fulton admitted that she and her family were tired from doing a series of interviews and appearances in and around Washington but said of the event that her family was determined to connect with the Till family. Mr. Powell mentioned that while the union was important, he was saddened by the reasons for the event – mentioning the names of Sean Bell, Oscar Grant and Michael Stewart as moments where his activism came into play.
Powell also mentioned Julian Bond, who was also in attendance, saying the gathering and the energy around shifting the treatment of African-Americans was “bigger than Trayvon.” Powell also mentioned that the 58th anniversary of the death of Till and the 50th anniversary of the “March On Washington” served as the spark that should have motivated change, but admitted “forces” were at play that “robbed us of every little victory.”
Early in the talk, the typically outspoken Powell said, “A march or rally is absolutely useless,” and while some may have bristled at this statement, he was careful to tie in the idea that organization must go beyond the rallies and take things of this nature on the ways that Dr. King,Fannie Lou Hamer, Bond and others have done in times past. Saying that people shouldn’t be satisfied with “being pissed off for a couple of weeks,” he urged attendees to support the efforts of the Dream Defenders and the foundations of the Till and Martin family as well.
The evening wasn’t all serious, as Toure’ asked Fulton and Martin what kind of child was Trayvon. “He was an average kid,” said Fulton with a smile. “He liked to talk on the phone, he was a teenager. He liked to eat. Of course, I’m Mommy, so I got after my boys but he was just Trayvon.”
Martin asked Jahvaris — imposing in a simple dark suit, yet still significantly smaller than the hulking Martin – to stand next to him. “You know what, to know who Trayon Martin was, his brother is right here. They’re just alike,” he said, beaming at the 22-year-old young man he raised as his own son. Martin also mentioned to the audience that Jahvaris was entering his last year of college, who later said to the crowd he wants to become an intellectual property attorney.
Mr. Wright, who witnessed the incidents that led up to the death of his cousin, left perhaps the most poignant message of the night, this while also railing against conservative pundits and their portrayal of Trayvon. “Never let the world forget what happened to your son,” said Wright. “Don’t let the Pat Buchanans of the world poison your mind.”
See exclusive photos from the 2013 March on Washington below: