This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Youth United for Change members are used to rallying against injustices in public education. In July, group members took hold of a somewhat different cause when they traveled to Tallahassee, Fla., to protest alongside members of a Florida activist group against the controversial verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, and fight for passage of a package of bills called the Trayvon Martin Civil Rights Act.
Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator, was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges for the killing of the unarmed 17-year-old Martin.
The bills, also called Trayvon’s Law, were developed by the Dream Defenders, an organization with seven chapters throughout Florida that confronts systemic inequalities facing youth of color. They call for Gov. Rick Scott and the state legislature to repeal Florida’s controversial “stand-your-ground law,” ban racial profiling, and end the school-to-prison pipeline.
Twenty-five YUC members took part in the sit-in for three consecutive days inside the state Capitol building.
“It was a monumental experience,” said 19-year-old YUC member Tone Elliott, who is currently pursuing his GED through YESPhilly.
“I can say I did a freedom ride, for real.”
YUC member and Philadelphia High School for Girls senior Christa Rivera said, “We were all really upset at the verdict.”
Though there is no sign that Trayvon’s Law will be passed or even addressed by the state legislature, Rivera said any support that YUC and the Dream Defenders can get on this matter will help the cause in fighting for justice for all youth of color.
Since the Florida trip, YUC members have refocused their attention on the District’s crippling budget crisis, which has stripped schools of many critical services and programs. In August they joined members of the union UNITE HERE in a 12-hour fast in front of District headquarters to call on the District to restore the positions of school safety staff that had been laid off. They also participated in a massive march to protest the lack of school funding, and YUC members spoke at the rally.
As with the Florida sit-in, Elliott said the school funding march left an indelible mark on him.
“It felt like I was witnessing history.”