FORT LAUDERDALE —When it was announced in Kayla Williams’ Criminal Justice class that her school — Whiddon-Rogers Education Center —would host a town hall meeting with important community guests, she started writing.
She wrote a song that was performed Sept. 18 during the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman School Town Hall Meeting held in the school’s media center.
“It took me 30 minutes to write the song,” said Kayla, a sophomore. Her song, called a Tribute to Trayvon Martin, brought singer Angel Stagnaro to tears.
“I felt I had to write this song to represent Trayvon’s mom,” Kayla said. “It is sad because George Zimmerman didn’t have anything happen to him. He didn’t have nothing. They didn’t lock him away.”
Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges this summer in the shooting death of Trayvon, a Miami Gardens teenager.
The media center at the Fort Lauderdale school was at capacity with students and the invited guests. Special guest Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother, spoke on a panel with local and state political representatives, law enforcement members and the clergy. Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, joined the program remotely by speaker phone. Panelists were asked a series of questions related to the theme of the town hall: Together We Can Make A Difference.
Fulton began her presentation with an exercise. She had all the students stand and then asked a series of questions. When her question applied to students they were allowed to sit.
Has anyone ever told you, you must graduate? Several students sat down.Has anyone ever told you, you were special? More students sat down.
A lone girl, Angelina Lockett, remained standing after the questions. “I know who I am talking to today,” said Fulton, looking straight at the crying girl. “I am here to talk to you.”
Fulton hammered home that each student was special, and stressed that students needed to take their chance at education very seriously.
She reminded the students that they live in a complex world and education is what will help them navigate it.
Depending on who you ask, credit for the idea of a town hall on the Zimmerman verdict goes to the Behavioral Specialist Andre Newton. Principal David Watkins said it was a student-led initiative. Whiddon-Rogers is what Watkins called a “second-chance school,” for students who found it difficult adjusting to traditional schools.
“I am so proud of our students,” Watkins said. “The students were fixated on watching the Zimmerman trial, which is sort of akin to the O.J. [Simpson] trial of our day. The trial’s verdict caused an emotional response and the students wanted to understand why.”
Senior Tiffany Berg thought the homogeneity of the jury had a lot to do with the outcome of the trial.
“More or less, I think there could have been a different outcome if there had been a variety of people on the jury,” said Tiffany.
As part of the town hall, the panelist took questions from the students. State Rep. Perry Thurston told the students to get familiar with Tallahassee and what is taking place in the capital. He told them that there would be several hearings on the Stand Your Ground law in the session coming up and that Florida was “Ground Zero” for the law. In 2005 Florida was the first state to adopt Stand Your Ground. So far, 21 other states have enacted similar laws.
“There will be a proposal for Trayvon’s Law and proposals to modify or eliminate Stand Your Ground,” said Thurston. There is a way to veto [Stand Your Ground] but that change has to come from the top.”
Panelist Eddie Moise, pastor at Bethel AME Church in Pompano Beach, said that if the students don’t like something that is happening around them they can make a change.
“I encourage everyone to take advantage of the opportunity you have available,” said Moise concerning voting rights and education.
Kayla got the message about getting and finishing her education. Her plans are to go to college to be a special victims detective or a doctor. She believes that some change will come from the Trayvon Martin case. “Remember, God won’t put much on you that you can’t bear,” Kayla said.
*Pictured above is Kayla Williams.