Minneapolis, Minn. -- In recent weeks, the shooting of Trayvon Martin has brought color back to the forefront of American cultural discourse, and what it revealed about consciousness in our allegedly “post-racial” society was ugly; mainstream media heads have massaged the facts in an attempt to point the finger of blame at the victim of a hate crime rather than its perpetrator and, while users of social media have been instrumental in spreading the call for justice, other discussions online have bubbled with poisonous violent and racial rhetoric.
What I saw in the streets Thursday evening, at Minneapolis' Million Hoodie March, bore no resemblance to the bitterness, bigotry and vitriol I'd witnessed from my computer screen. That night, I was among an estimated 5,000 who flocked to the University of Minnesota's Northrop Plaza, on the East Bank of the Mississippi River, to demand justice for Trayvon and other victims of institutionalized racism. Though most rocked hoodies, that only served to underline the diversity of those in attendance. All ages, ethnicities and backgrounds were visible in the crowd. Teens in sagging jeans stood shoulder-to-shoulder with senior citizens and families with small children. Some held signs, others Skittles and iced tea—what Martin was carrying when he was killed.
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After rousing words from an eclectic set of speakers, ranging from locally-known community organizers and activists to local hip-hop sensation
, the crowd set out for a march around the mall. Shouts of “We are Trayvon Martin” and “No justice, no peace!” were quickly taken up by the demonstrators, many of whom signaled their solidarity with raised right fists. Afterward, the crowd regrouped for further speeches and entertainment from local musicians, after which some broke away from the plaza for an unplanned, unpermitted march through the Dinkytown neighborhood.
Though many of the hard questions raised by the murder—both in regard to the circumstances of Trayvon Martin's death and to larger concerns of institutionalized racism—remain to be answered, events like the Million Hoodie March demonstrate that solidarity can indeed win out over intolerance and division. Different as they were, the protestors all left with the same sensation in their hearts: hope, accompanied by a strengthened determination to change society for the better.