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Trayvon Martin

Artists Call To Action

On February 26, 2012 the life of a young son, friend, student, and football player was taken away in Sanford, Florida. We now know him as Trayvon Martin. On that same day a criminal justice student, son and community member's life was also changed forever. We now know him as George Zimmerman. Family members grew distraught as the death of Martin went relatively unnoticed for weeks until they contacted Al Sharpton to help them tell the world about what had happened. With the accused Zimmerman walking free, activists and artists alike began to respond.

Trayvon Martin, smiling.
Trayvon Martin.

I heard of the case one day when I was on Twitter. I checked out the trending topic and it was #TrayvonMartin. I then rushed to my Facebook page and got the report that a teen was shot while he was leaving a 7-eleven with Skittles and an Arizona Iced Tea. I was stunned. I looked at all of my friends status', artists and activists, and wondered why none of the artists I adored were taking action. This led me to the question: What is the role of an artist in relation to tragedy in our community? Do we have a responsibility to speak for those who cannot?

Myself and some like minded friends, Kelly Girod and Erin Cherry, facilitated an artist, activist, educator, and creator "role call" that brought out many people who wanted to explore issues, questions, and creation surrounding the Martin case. We called the gathering Trayvon Martin: A Call to Action. During this spirited four hour event, we gathered a panel of artists and activists, including: Keith Beauchamp, Brian Jones, Dominique Morisseau, Shaun Neblett, and moderator Bridgette Antoinette Jones. They began by giving their reactions and reflections on the topic. Each panelist spoke of their frustrations with the current judicial system and the lack of awareness in our community surrounding cultural diversity. Concluding the session we broke the audience up into small focus groups to brainstorm and discuss ways that artists could respond to the crime.

What is the role of an artist in relation to tragedy in our community? Do we have a responsibility to speak for those who cannot?

Even though Zimmerman was taken into custody, I was and am still unnerved about the role fear plays in our world. I am burning with a renewed revolutionary fire seeing that people are taking action into their own hands—first graders organizing on the playground, town hall meetings, hoodie marches all over the country, and multiple YouTube tributes honoring young Trayvon.

I believe that artists play a powerful role in our society. It is easy to get caught up in the vanity and validation of our craft, but I hope we all remember our role as griots, as storytellers, and give breath and light to the stories of our time.

Below I've included artist responses—Bruce A. Lemon's "Faulty," Jasiri x's "Trayvon" and a Trayvon-inspired Art Blog. I encourage you to add your voice to this conversation!


Erin Washington is currently an Allen Lee Hughes New Play Producing Fellow in the American Voices New Play Institute at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. She graduated from Florida A&M University with an BA in Theater and later received her MFA in Acting from American Conservatory Theater where she grew her passion for the arts. In 2009, Erin started Soul Productions, a production company that exposes urban communities to emerging independent artists who are pioneering new approaches to music, theater, and film. #NEWPLAY!

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Man - since yesterday I have not been able to get your essay out of my head. And I hear what you're saying. Thanks for your response back. It has gotten me thinking so much about the term "justice". And it is apparent that there was a long chain of bad ideas and inappropriate actions that went into this tragic event. And your essay enlarged my awareness that there is a gap in what the word "justice" means by the different people using the term. The legal outcome of the case is the formal notion of justice. But what that means to the individuals involved in the case, and the people watching it, can vary widely. Thanks for your essay. It has inspired great thought and consideration from me.

I have to say that I very much disagree with the statement "the death of Martin went relatively unnoticed for weeks until they contacted Al Sharpton to help them tell the world about what had happened." I don't know about you, but I was aware of this happening the day after the event. It did not take Al Sharpton blowing into town a week or two later. I saw a lot of coverage on the national news very early about this tragic incident. This article makes me aware that the story is being rewritten to suit pre-existing agendas and perceptions. My heart goes out to the family and the senseless loss of young life, and my mind remains open to learning more about the facts as they continue to be brought to light.

Hello Kato! Thanks so much for your response. It is amazing to hear that you heard of this story that early. Myself, and many others, caught wind of this story via social media outcries prompted by Sharpton's and others' vocal responses. I, personally, am thankful that Sharpton listened to the family and subsequently demanded further exposure on this case. Unfortunately the Martin case is one of many of its type. I sincerely believe there must be persistent and consistent truthful conversation and a community more conscious that these types of crimes are still occuring and at an alarming rate. The media has not created space to chronicle and demand justice for all of the stories out there. Perhaps the pre-existing agenda is a symptom of a pre-existing problem.
These are exactly the kinds of conversations that need to continue.