More than 150 people attended a “town hall” meeting at Madison Square Church, Grand Rapids, Mich., to respond to the recent verdict acquitting George Zimmerman of killing Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African-American teen. The killing last February and the recent trial have provoked deep feelings among many Americans and prompted a discussion of modern racial tensions.
Attendees were invited to contribute their own impressions, feelings, and hopes. Ernie Long, an elder at Madison Square, said, “I remember when my mother warned me not to go out after Emmit Till was killed. I felt the same way when I heard the verdict. This was a modern-day lynching.”
Three of Long’s 18 grandchildren are the same age as Trayvon Martin. “I don’t want to tell them what my grandmother and mother told me: ‘Don’t let white folks catch you out alone,’” he said.
The evening began with a forum for youth from the church to share their responses to the case. Many youth identified it as a “wake-up call” to their generation, and evidence that racism is not only found in history books. “We serve a God of hope who loves justice,” said one of the youth. The youth who presented were part of a summer-long study of the Bible as author of social justice, through which the youth have identified anti-violence as a common passion.
The meeting had been planned even before the verdict was announced “We cannot pretend this did not happen,” said Victoria Gibbs. Gibbs, who is co-director of Reaching In and Discipleship at Madison Square and a leader for Congregational Organizing for Racial Reconciliation (CORR), pointed to the church’s shared values of “authentic community” and “diversity with justice” to explain why the event was an important way to demonstrate that the church is serious about these values.
“The conversation is an end in itself,” said Albert Hamstra, a CORR member who helped plan the event, “We all listened.”
Laura Carpenter, Director of Diversity at Madison Square, closed the event by saying, “I hope that you did not come looking for a solution. That is impossible. If you came praying to be a part of the solution, that is possible.”