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Trayvon Martin Vigil at UCSB Opens Up Dialogue About Race and Equality

University academics lead an emotional discussion in the wake of George Zimmerman's acquittal in the black teen's shooting death

The death of a young, unarmed teenager, which has reignited discussions of race and equality nationwide, prompted an emotional dialogue Tuesday as UC Santa Barbara academics thoughtfully reflected on how such a youthful life could have been lost.

Described as the first of what is expected to be many events on campus, the university’s Black Studies and Feminist Studies departments hosted a vigil for Trayvon Martin and a recommitment meeting for students, faculty and others who desire a different type of America.

An audience packed into a Multicultural Center theater Tuesday afternoon to consider the repercussions of a Florida jury’s decision to acquit George Zimmerman of all charges relating to the 2012 shooting death of Martin, an unarmed black 17-year-old.

Zimmerman, a former neighborhood watch volunteer, claimed he was acting in self-defense.

A verdict in the high-profile case was handed down July 13, but some speakers Tuesday said they still had trouble finding the right words to join the public outcry.

The vigil served as an awakening for citizens — no matter the color of their skin — to confront “myths of the black man as danger” and to keep someone else from being taken from the world in such a needlessly, violent way, according to feminist studies professor Eileen Boris.

She said she was embarrassed of the verdict reached by the jury of white women, and noted that some mothers’ sons will have to deal with more injustice than others.

The frank discussion brought Gaye Johnson, an associate professor of black studies, to tears at times as she organized the thoughts she has had in recent weeks.

“He was an unarmed child who was murdered by an armed man,” Johnson said.

The verdict came from what is still a racist society, she said, noting racial profiling and hostile commenting on news articles about Martin as examples of prejudice in action.

Bishop Broderick Higgins Sr., a pastor of Saint Paul Baptist Church in Oxnard, commented on demographic bullying and the fears and concerns he has heard since the verdict.

All speakers voiced hope that the pain of the tragedy would help solidify a more stern steadfastness for change — something evident in past civil rights cases.

“That’s where our resolve can come from,” Johnson said. “What will we let Trayvon Martin do for us?”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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