Friday peace vigilers reflect on the killing of Trayvon Martin

Chaplain Kern prays for forgiveness for all; President Lawrence calls on Brandeisians to fulfill the responsibilities of citizenship

Photos/Charles A. Radin

Protestant Chaplain Alex Kern (center right) asked vigilers to say in a word why they were there.

President Fred Lawrence served in the civil rights unit of a US Attorney's office.

Students equipped Justice Brandeis' statue with a hoodie, Skittles and a jar of iced tea.

They came to share feelings of grief, frustration, solidarity and compassion. They wore hoodies, head scarves and kippot. Friday’s Peace Vigil centered around the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the 15-year-old African American who was killed on Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla., by a neighborhood watch volunteer.

The death has led to nationwide protests and rallies, but it has also brought people together, sparking discussion.
A group of nearly 50 students, faculty and staff gathered Friday at the Peace Circle, including Father Walter Cuenin, Imam Talal Eid, Protestant chaplain Alexander Kern and Brandeis President Fred Lawrence. Vigil participants were asked to say their name, where they were from and a single word to express what brought them to attend. Among the most chosen were “community,” “hope,” “concern,” “support” and “social justice.”

“There is still so much bias that we’re not moving past,” said a junior from the Southwest. “Growing up in Arizona, race was never a conversation. It was just in history books. But it has come to the forefront as a contemporary issue. I am shocked at how much it is happening.”

Kern said he’s grateful that the Brandeis community can have these conversations together.

The group discussed that the shooting acts as a reminder of the ongoing work we have to create; a society in which everybody is welcome whether they are people of color, people who wear veils or whatever characteristic sets them apart.
“Being the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor and hearing my whole life ‘never again,’ I find myself three generations later still dealing with bias and bigotry,” said Amanda Dryer ’13, vice president of MLK and Friends, an organization that strives to bring members of the Brandeis community together to promote Martin Luther King’s legacy. “You can look at this in two ways: you can be frustrated or you can act. I think by all of us coming here today and standing in this peace circle we’re acting, and we’re trying to make tomorrow better than today and yesterday.”

One woman attending said despite her grief she is glad that people are coming together.

“I feel it’s better for us to remember Trayvon. I would be more disappointed if we were to just forget about this. That’s why I’m here. I never want to forget that this happened, so it can be learned from.”

President Fred Lawrence said he came to the Peace Vigil in three capacities: as a member of the community, as the president of the university and as a lawyer.

“As a legal academic and I will tell you on a very personal side, a story that some of you turn past rather quickly,” Lawrence said. “The federal government was going to do an investigation about what happened in Florida—I used to be one of the guys who got those phone calls.”

Before becoming a professor, Lawrence was an assistant U.S. attorney in New York and was chief of the Civil Rights Unit. It was cases such as Trayvon’s that came across his desk.

“The law plays a critical and unavoidable role in describing who we are as society, for better and for worse,” Lawrence said. “And so the fact that there are legal structures and remedies for talking about race and addressing racism is extraordinarily powerful.”

There are laws that allow things to count as self-defense that appear to be something much closer to vigilante justice is also a statement of the community, Lawrence said. And there is no neutral position for the law to play.

“The fact that we have legal structures means we express who we are as a society and that becomes extraordinarily important to all of us – those who make the laws and those of us who affect it, and that is everyone one of us,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence shared the anecdote of President Harry Truman leaving office and saying he’s not stepping down, but stepping up to the highest status we have in this society: citizen.

“Citizen is a word we use too easily,” said Lawrence. “It is a word that comes with very powerful obligations, as citizens of this country, of this campus, or all the communities that we occupy. It comes with an obligation to engage, to talk to talk about things that are hard to discuss.”

Lawrence said it is through the conversation of the things that separate us that we gain the deepest understanding of the things that connect us, which are far deeper and more profound than the things that distinguish us.

As the group stood together within the Peace Circle, Lawrence said everyone brings their own individuality

The day continued with a march from the Peace Circle to the Louis Brandeis statue, which was dressed in a hoodie holding a bottle of iced tea and a package of Skittles candy, the items Trayvon was carrying when he was shot. The event was organized by Dryer, and Maya Grant ‘13 co- president of Brandeis Black Student Organization.

“The journey will be different for each of us but the center is the same for all of us,” said Lawrence. “The citizen’s journey is a hard one, a complicated one, and important one.”

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