Trayvon Martin's father wants son's death to renew civil rights movement

Tracy Martin, a guest speaker at Nassau Community College, said on April 23, 2014, that he wants his son Trayvon Martin to be remembered as this century’s Emmett Till, and have his death reawaken the nation’s lagging civil rights movement. (Credit: Newsday / Jessica Rotkiewicz)

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Tracy Martin wants his son, Trayvon, to be remembered as this century's Emmett Till, and have his death reawaken the nation's lagging civil rights movement.

"We want him to be known as that child of central Florida who galvanized the country," said Martin, who was a guest speaker at Nassau Community College on Wednesday.

"We would like to see his name in the history books of modern days, taking his place beside Emmett Till [though] Emmett Till has a legacy I don't think any African-American child will surpass."

Till, 14, was killed in Mississippi in 1955 after being accused of flirting with a white woman.

More than five decades after Till's lynching helped ignite the battle for civil rights, Trayvon was shot and killed in a confrontation with a neighborhood watchman while the teen was returning home from buying Skittles and Arizona iced tea.

Under Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, George Zimmerman was found not guilty of second-degree murder.

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Since then, Martin, and Travyon's mother, Sybrina Fulton, have set up a charity to help crime victims and families, and to mentor youths and mothers. They also advocate for stronger gun control laws and changes to stand your ground laws.

To some of the more than 200 college students who came to hear Martin, his son exemplifies all that can go wrong for an African-American teenager wearing a sweatshirt with a hoodie.

"I have just got to say 'Thank you,' Trayvon saved my life," said Phillippa Mallory, 22, of Garden City, explaining the deadly encounter inspired him to turn his life around.

"I was just getting into trouble -- he was wearing a hoodie like me," Mallory said.

Martin repeatedly stressed his belief in the power of prayer to change humanity. His plea for tolerance and mutual respect was grounded in humor. He described his puzzlement at his daughter's decision to wear sandals instead of shoes to school. But her choice turned out to be the norm.

"If that's their culture, that's their culture; if that's how they feel free to walk out into society, that's their privilege."

For some students, Zimmerman's reaction to Travyon was just one chapter in a centuries-long series of catastrophic meetings that are far more common than the public realizes.

Winston A. Pryce of Baldwin, said his younger brother Antonio was killed by a police officer in High Point, N.C., on Oct. 2, 2004. "It still pierces the heart," said Winston.

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Martin counseled caution about using social media. Defense attorneys dredged up unflattering material from his son's Twitter account, he said.

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