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UI Forum Seeks To End Race Perceptions After Zimmerman Verdict


Activist Aaron Ammons addresses a forum in Urbana Tuesday, including moderator and cinema studies professor Safiya Noble, and U of I Vice Chancelllor Renee Romano. (Jeff Bossert/WILL)

Some University of Illinois students and faculty are seeking ways to spread lessons on campus in the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict.

A forum at the African-American Cultural Center Tuesday night sought answers to the Trayvon Martin shooting death, and the angry protest that has followed around the country.

Some of the 35 people at the event say states should review stand-your-ground laws – noting there’s a racial divide that interprets them differently.

U of I Cinema Studies professor Safiya Noble, who moderated the forum, said similar events will take place when the fall semester starts.

“People are pouring out into the streets, and a lot of people don’t know why," he said.  "So we need to have some symbols for our students, for our staff, for ourselves in this campus community and beyond the confines of the university to identify people who are open to these conversations.”

Noble said in the first week of classes, those who want to address the state of race relations will be asked to wear their hoodies up in a symbolic gesture that evokes Trayvon Martin.

The forum also dealt with racial perceptions.  U of I senior Darius Melton said his education to succeed in life started at home.

“My mom when I was growing up made it a point to tell me – though you may be intelligent, these things are going to be inhibiting factors for your success," he said.  "You’re going to have to work four times as hard to get half as far.  So me growing up and going to college, I had already had that mindset of ‘I’ll have to prove everyone wrong.”

A recent Pew Studies poll showed 5-percent of African-Americans were satisfied with Zimmerman being set free - while 49-percent of whites backed the verdict.

U of I alumnus Victor Jones, who is African-American, says the jury was right based on the evidence, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Martin had to die.

"All we can do from (the verdict) is fight," he said.  "We have to be aggressive in our pursuit of justice."

Like President Barack Obama, Jones is from the south side of Chicago, and he too admitted he could have been Trayvon Martin.

"I also would have gotten aggressive if someone were following me." he said. "Based on your defense mechanism, it's either fight or flight."

Prof. Noble says a website that library science students are launching next month (below) will examine why issues related to race are persisting.