Close to 100 people — mostly teenagers — attended a discussion about Trayvon Martin last week at the Austin Branch Library.
The discussion, hosted by The Voice Newspapers, Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) and Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago), was a response to President Barack Obama’s call to action the week befoe, said panel moderator and attorney MiAngel Cody.
The discussion included a panel of lawyers, law professors and students who answered questions.
“We are discussing the Trayvon Martin case but also here to frame a larger conversation about how perceptions of the case have settled with young kids on the West Side of Chicago,” said Cody.
The teens who attended raised several issues, including being profiled, black-on-black crime and white privilege.
Some in the crowd wanted to know, “What now?”
Robin Doty, a 17-year-old student at Frederick Douglass Academy High School, talked about being profiled at a suburban Macy’s location last Christmas.
“One of the ladies in the makeup section said, ‘What – do you guys have gift cards or something?’ Assuming we didn’t have money. She made us feel like we were less than,” Doty said after the event.
Chiquita Meeks, 24, stood up after another attendee said the issue was about money and how the African-American community doesn’t have equal opportunities because of lack of economic resources.
“It’s not money — it’s about education,” Meeks said.
“When you go to school, you can learn about the law and know what’s going on in society. Without that knowledge …” she trailed off. “Kids need to be in school, not the streets.”
Afterwards, Meeks, who noted she never finished high school, said the discussion got her brain pumping and her energy going.
The Austin resident said she wants to get her GED certificate and dreams of being a spokesperson or giving free legal help to others.
That energy is one of the things Cody said the organizers of the event were looking for.
“We want to provide ideas on how to keep the momentum going,” she said. “Hopefully, when everyone leaves this room they will have ideas.”
The teens broke out into small groups after the discussion to fill out form letters to send to Washington.
Each letter ended with a list of three things to be filled in by each teen that they think would help them believe the country cares about them.
“Responding to the president’s call of action put the ball back in their court,” said Cody. “We want to see concrete legislative action.”