On the heels of events held nationwide regarding Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old black teen shot and killed in Sanford, Fla., last year, passionate students at Georgia Southern University hosted a rally of their own.
On Tuesday, more than 50 students gathered at the steps of the Russell Union rotunda for what was billed as a "Speak Out or Be Silenced" rally, hosted by the Georgia Southern University Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Multiple rallies, held in several U.S. cities, last week were organized in response to the fatal shooting of Martin by George Zimmerman, a Neighborhood Watch volunteer, and Zimmerman's subsequent acquittal by a Florida jury.
The Georgia Southern event, though, went a step beyond that.
Students met, not to cry foul about the results of the case, but to speak out about race relations as a whole in America — a topic that has taken center stage as a result of the Martin slaying. Some believe racial profiling played a key role in the fatal confrontation.
According to students representing the GSU chapter, the rally was hosted to discuss possible solutions for injustices consistently suffered by African-Americans throughout the country, with the Martin case serving as a jumping-off point.
"People are feeling very much like activists right now," said Kyle Stroud, the president of the GSU NAACP chapter. "We are just trying to say, yes, the Martin case is an issue. But, let's also look at what other things need to be solved.
"We can use the enthusiasm that the Martin case has drawn in order to help us discuss other problems that are prevalent," he continued. "We just want to take all of the enthusiasm and pride and push it in a positive direction. We can make change and help solve problems."
Students staging the event took time to discuss other racially sensitive stories making headlines, including homicides in Wisconsin and Florida, New York's stop-and-frisk policy, and rampant black-on-black crime in Chicago.
Their goal: discuss possible solutions for preventing future scenarios similar to the Zimmerman incident.
"What we are trying to do is have people tell us what their solutions are, and provide our own, for some of the things that we see as great travesties or injustices ongoing in our world," Stroud said.
The rally was open-mike, and students were encouraged to offer their thoughts.
Several took advantage.
"I feel like a major issue (in popular culture) is the reinforcing of stereotypes," said Deonte Will, a Georgia Southern senior. "Stereotypes can lead to more incidents like this."
Stroud said: "In regard to the Martin case, what people are missing is that there wasn't just one victim. George Zimmerman was a victim himself. He was a victim of archaic thought and an antiquated way of thinking. We must change perceptions of what a black male is. We can't perpetuate any stereotypes."
"Education is the solution and will solve any problem. Ignorance is the big problem," he said.
A pair of students said they believe racist thought and race-based crime can be prevented starting with young people.
"We still deal with racism everyday, and I feel that if we really want to stop racism, we need to stop teaching it," Devontre Parks, a junior, said.
According to junior Bria Lewis, "If we don't teach our children hatred and racism, they wouldn't know it. We need to stop differentiating people by their race."
Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.