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Community honors Trayvon Martin on what would have been his 27th birthday

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Tracy Martin speaks onstage with Sybrina Fulton, Jahvaris Fultin Jr. and Jamie Foxx (left to right)

On February 5, 2012, Trayvon Benjamin Martin celebrated his 17th birthday in his hometown of Miami Gardens. Three weeks later, he was shot to death after leaving a 7-Eleven in Sanford, becoming the tragic face of an important movement.

This weekend, hundreds of allies and community members gathered at Ives Estate Park in Miami-Dade to celebrate Trayvon on what would have been his 27th birthday.

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The event, dubbed Peace Walk and Peace Talk, commenced its 10th annual observance along with a string of collaborators working with the Trayvon Martin Foundation that hosted the event. Many Black business owners set up booths, comedians performed, and two marching bands from Historically Black Colleges and Universities in Florida performed.

Miami resident and Guyana native Susan Kennedy also had a booth. She is the founder of the Bullets 4 Life foundation and an ambassador for the Trayvon Martin Foundation. She takes donations of unused bullets and beads them into jewelry, mostly bracelets. She then uses the proceeds to support families impacted by gun violence.

Kennedy started the foundation in 2016 in response to the murder of 6-year-old King Carter in Miami. Since then she has collected more than 20,000 bullets.

“Our boys are dying. No one seems to care. There's not enough outrage for our children,” she went on. “So Bullets 4 Life, it's a voice. We become a voice for the voiceless.”

Miami’s Chire Regans, a.k.a VantaBlack, is a visual artist and activist. She displayed white charcoal portraits of Black people killed because of gun violence. The paintings are part of a series titled The Memorial Portrait Project, also initiated in 2016 following King Carter’s death.

Her subjects included George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Trayvon Martin among many others. VantaBlack says that she chose to depict victims against black paper to create a stark contrast that challenges the viewer.

“I'm dealing with how light hits these faces because I want to bring life back into their faces.”

Despite showing remorse for the series’ innate “ongoing” nature, Black says that she will continue to work in this vein. “I'm a member of the community and I have to use my gift to address what's happening in the community.”

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VantaBlack's portrait of Trayvon Martin

While many attendants hail from Miami, quite a few folks came from outside of Florida. George Kemp came from Houston. He lost his son, George Kemp Jr., in 2013 after a fatal shooting. Since then, Kemp has been working to support other families impacted by gun violence.

He said he is dedicated to spreading awareness to put a stop to gun violence and is motivated by his son.

“I know he’s [Kemp Jr.] is watching over me, saying to me ‘Daddy, keep going. Keep walking. I’m by your side, I’m your shadow.”

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava took the stage to speak. “We can’t have policies that allow this [violence].” The mayor continued, “We will not stop until we rid this country of hate and prejudice.”

Actor and recording artist Jamie Foxx warmed up the mic for Trayvon’s family. Joined on stage by his two teenage daughters, he shared his thoughts on the future of Black history.

“It's important that we don't give up any of our history or an opportunity to celebrate our history,” he continued, “no other community gives up their opportunity to celebrate the history. So we must continue to celebrate our history and not forget what has happened to us in history.”

Shortly after, Trayvon’s father, Tracy Martin, took the stage with Trayvon’s mother Sybrina Fulton and Trayvon’s older brother Jahavaris Fulton Jr.

“What I’m looking at that day is actually the fruits of Trayvon Martin's labor,” Foxx said. “This is us promising to him that we weren't going to stop fighting. And we will still continue to fight not only for Trayvon, but for your kids, for your family members, for your sons, for your daughters.”

Sybrina Fulton, urged attendees to stay resilient. “We got to trust in God. We can't give up,” she continued, “we’ve come too far to give up now. So I want to say, ``Happy Birthday to Trayvon.”

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Attendant wears a shirt commemorating the Black Lives Matter movement

The day was a celebration of many lives as the phrase “we are Trayvon Martin” was a sentiment shared by many in attendance. A strong emphasis on the state of social justice reform was echoed by most of the event’s sponsors. The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, Moms Demand Action, and Dream Defenders were among some of the organizations present to inspire community members to take action.

The Trayvon Martin Foundation continues to advocate against gun violence and uplift inner city communities by providing scholarships and community outreach programs to young people.

Shianne Salazar is a former intern and freelancer at WLRN News.