A group of Capitol Hill staffers gathered today on the U.S. Capitol steps to rally in support of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old unarmed boy gunned down in Sanford, Fla.
About 250 to 300 aides rallied this afternoon in support of "Hoodies on the Hill." Participants were encouraged to wear hooded sweatshirts in the 80 degree heat and to bring Skittles candy and iced tea, two items Martin was carrying when he was killed by a 28-year-old man as he walked back to his father's girlfriend's house.
"We have a mandate to ensure that young boys like Trayvon live their lives and that they're successful and that they have the opportunity we have today," said Brandon Andrews, a congressional staffer who said he was representing African American men on the Hill.
Senate Chaplain Barry Black, a retired commander in the Navy, led the group in prayer, invoking Martin Luther King, Jr. and telling the crowd of his own experiences with racial stereotyping.
"I don't have my hoodie, but I do have my skittles," Black said, dressed characteristically in a white shirt and bowtie. "This is a great tragedy and I guess one of the positive aspects of this is it has awakened in so many, across all racial lines and awareness, that we need to do more to 'cause justice to roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.'"
"The death of Trayvron diminishes us," he continued. "We need healing in our land today. So if we would seek humility, if we would harness prayer power, if we would turn from evil, God has promised, 'I will hear from Heaven, forgive your sins and heal your land.' I think that that is the least we can do."
The organizer of the rally, Ify Ike, said she posted 'Hoodies on the Hill' as her Gchat status Thursday and had strong encouragement from friends to make her vision happen.
"Basically we just worked together to get other groups to galvanize and to stand for life," Ike, who works as a fellow at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, said. "Regardless of what side of the aisle we stand on, we all are here today to say that we do respect life. Trayvon did matter. Trayvon was a good kid. Trayvon's hoodie was not what made him suspicious. Trayvon's skin should not have made him suspicious."
One man sang Sam Cooke's 1964 civil rights song "A Change is Gonna Come" before the crowd then joined together and sang "We Shall Overcome."
Earlier today, President Obama made his first public comments on the shooting, calling for "some soul searching" and suggesting that if he had a son, "he'd look like Trayvon."
"It took some courage for the president to talk on the issue, shows the national significance of it," Jerron Smith, a congressional aide from Cleveland, Ohio, said at the rally. "It was just important that he made comments supporting the family and I think everybody should ask for justice and peace in this situation."