A group – clergy and other leaders, mostly from many different churches, had responded three years ago when two white policemen gunned down an unarmed black man in a church. There were marches and counter-marches. It had been ugly, polarizing the already divided town even further, and although some changes took place in the police department, it wasn’t enough for many of us. The pastor’s teen-aged daughter who had witnessed this tragedy in her church’s day care center along with several children was convicted of a felony – a further trauma for her and her family, perpetuating the belief among many that the criminal justice system is not just. And now this tragedy with Trayvon Martin: what should we do?
We met Thursday, March 22, many of the same people who had tried to help the community confront the previous tragedy and several young people joined with us. They had already had a rally the night before, having used social media to mobilize about a hundred people. We decided to focus on our own community, to mobilize our people to face the problems we have here in Rockford.
At the meeting, we decided to hold a “Hundred Hoodie March for Trayvon Martin,” starting at City Hall, going to Founder’s Landing in Rockford, the place where two white men and a slave were memorialized as founders of our city. It would be held Sunday, March 25, only four days later. Three hundred people showed up! The atmosphere was positive. There were great speeches. Isaiah Shelton, age 8, read a poem he had composed: " I am a boy who will be a man. I am human. I deserve to live." His poem was printed on the front page of the Rockford Register Republic. You can Google "Hundred Hoodie March in Rockford" for articles and videos.
The group that had planned this march decided to keep meeting. This march united our community – a good portion of it – and we didn’t want this unity to diminish or stop. So now we’re working to form a partnership among all the groups within our community that want to work together for racial justice – to work together to overcome the racism that divides us and encumbers all of us, particularly those people from non-dominant groups. We're focusing on violence and racial justice, education, and health - all areas where institutional racism is particularly destructive locally.
My hope is that we can mobilize congregations throughout the city to join with others in this partnership and actually bring about change – practical actions that will help our polarized community to become united, working to create a place where everyone gets their needs met.