Tracy, Sybrina Fulton
Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton at the "Community Program of Peace, Justice and Prayer" in Miami, June 1, 2013. (Photo courtesy of the Tasc Group)

Hundreds of local residents gathered at Miami’s Bethel Apostolic Temple last Saturday for what was billed as a “community program of peace, justice and prayer” to support Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, whose son Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in Sanford Florida in February 2012. The event was organized as the second degree murder trial of George Zimmerman, a former neighborhood watch volunteer, is set to begin June 10th.

Zimmerman is claiming self-defense, saying he shot Martin after the 17-year-old attacked him inside a gated community where Martin was staying with his father.

Pastor Arthur Jackson III, Fulton’s pastor at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Miami Gardens, where the teen’s funeral was held last year, presided over Saturday’s event alongside Bishop Victor T. Curry, who leads one of the largest predominantly black congregations in South Florida, and who also heads the National Action Network chapter in Miami. Two of the attorneys for the family, Ben Crump and Natalie Jackson, were also on hand.

Case drew religious leaders from the start

From the first protests over the shooting last spring, the shooting and its aftermath attracted religious leaders.

NAN, and its president, Rev. Al Sharpton (who also hosts and MSNBC weekly show and a syndicated radio show) organized the first and largest protests in Sanford, nearly two weeks after the shooting. They were joined by local Sanford pastors, none of whom knew the Miami family, but who became the core of a local movement to push for Zimmerman’s arrest, drawing on decades of conflict between Sanford’s police force and the city’s African-American community. When national civil rights leaders including Sharpton, and the NAACP’s Benjamin Todd Jealous came to Sanford, they organized vigils in local black churches in Sanford’s historic Goldsboro district.

Now that the trial is imminent, Martin’s family and their supporters have turned to prayer again.

“You don’t understand how this will help us to go on. You don’t realize that your being here has blessed us so,” Sybrina Fulton told those gathered at the prayer service. “I stand here as a mother. My heart is hurting, but I know that…God will work this out. I know that Trayvon is looking down on us and he’s smiling.”

“It’s supposed to get easier, the more you do this. The more I do it, the harder it gets,” Tracy Martin told the crowd. “God gives the tough battles to the toughest soldiers. I’ve been through tough battles, and this is one of the toughest, the toughest.”

“We’re going to be the voice for Trayvon,” Tracy Martin added. “We have to sit through the negativity. We have the prayers of family and friends and we have the prayers of our pastors.”

Martin’s parents have balked at the recent release of cell phone texts, photos and other materials that show the teen texting about fights and drugs and about being kicked out of his mother’s home — information they say is intended to disparage Martin and taint the prospective jury pool ahead of Zimmerman’s trial. Zimmerman’s attorney, Mark O’Mara, contends that the materials were released as part of the normal discovery process. O’Mara filed a court briefing saying the defense may want to use the material to show Martin had a previous history of fighting. The judge in the case ruled that the cell phone texts and pictures cannot be mentioned in the defense’s opening statements, but that she would rule on their use on a case-by-case basis during the trial.

‘Just have faith in God’

A group of Miami pastors supporting Martin’s parents have vowed to remain vigilant through the trial, which will take place 200 miles away in Seminole County. Most members of Fulton’s church and supporters in the community won’t be able to travel to Sanford, though Jackson said he hopes to be there for at least some days of testimony and jury selection.

“I guess the overall message that we had was message of hope and encouragement, preparing the family for the long battle that lies ahead,” Jackson told theGrio on Monday, referring to his remarks to those who gathered on Saturday.

Jackson said he doesn’t get the sense that his congregants, or Martin’s parents, are anxious about the trial.

“To be honest with you, I didn’t get a sense of worry. I got a sense of confidence,” he said. “The Fulton-Martin family are people of faith and they’re very encouraged. They have faith in God and they have faith in the justice system. Of course they know its going to be difficult.”

Jackson said the family and religious leaders’ message to the community where Martin grew up has been to remain peaceful regardless of the outcome.

“We’re preaching peace and preaching for the community to stay calm and allow the justice system to work,” he said, adding that his personal counsel to Fulton has been “just to have faith in God.”

“Sybrina’s an incredibly strong person,” he said, “and my counsel to her has been to tap into the strength. … She is no longer asking herself ‘why me.’ She understands that God has allowed her to be a voice for other mothers whose children have been met with the same fate. We’re just asking her to keep with that same belief.”

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