Trayvon Martin never lived to see his 18th birthday, but the slain Florida teenager is slowly becoming one of the most important figures in the modern civil rights era.
Martin was walking to his home in a gated Florida neighborhood in 2012 when neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman mistook him for a burglar. After a brief struggle, Zimmerman shot and killed Martin, an act that a jury later deemed justified.
The case aroused racial tensions and immediately became a cause celebre among activists who believed that police did not follow through on charging Zimmerman simply because Martin was a black teen.
But with now one year since Zimmerman’s acquittal, Trayvon Martin has grown to be seen as a martyr among civil rights activists. His parents started the Trayvon Martin Foundation, which aims to “create awareness of how violent crime impacts the families of the victims and to provide support and advocacy for those families in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin.”
Martin’s parents have used their platform to speak out on other cases, including the murder of Jordan Davis, a teen who was killed in Florida after a dispute over loud music.
Last weekend, a march to remember Trayvon Martin drew a number of celebrities. The event was held in Crenshaw, Los Angeles, on the one-year anniversary of the day Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering the 17-year-old.
Among those present were rapper Nipsy Hustle and Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who addressed the crowd of roughly 200 people.
“Players such as myself and others that have kind of a platform, our responsibility is more than just putting a ball in the basket… but helping [Trayvon’s parents] have a platform.”
Kobe added that his career seems important “in a vacuum,” but added “when you step out of that, you look at [Trayvon’s parents]… what they had to go through as a family and what they’ve come out of… that’s true adversity.”
Trayvon’s legacy also casts a shadow over modern race relations. The image of Martin in a dark hoodie became a rallying point, and an image that remains connected to the slain teen today. When Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban earlier this year told a reporter that he was prejudiced when he would see “a black kid in a hoodie on my side of the street,” he later apologized to Martin’s family for making the unintentional connection.
The apology was displayed prominently on the Trayvon Martin Foundation’s website.
Martin’s parents have been at the forefront of the push to turn Trayvon Martin into a martyr of the civil rights movement. Earlier this year his father compared Trayvon to Emmett Till, the 14-year-old whose brutal murder became a turning point in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.