By Jill Rosen, The Baltimore Sun
6:08 PM EDT, May 20, 2012
As Trayvon Martin's mother stood at the altar of Baltimore's Empowerment Temple on Sunday, the Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant asked for anyone whose child had also been the victim of "senseless violence" to come forward.
At least a dozen women and men assembled at Sybrina Fulton's feet before she stepped down to grab one of them. She squeezed the woman, patted her back and whispered in her ear. Then Fulton moved down the line, tightly embracing each mother, grandmother and father, each of them too familiar with loss, until she'd touched them all.
Congregants erupted into deafening applause and brushed away tears.
"If it was your child you would not want it swept under the rug," Bryant said, his voice booming through the sound system. "Cheer for them like their child's memory will not be in vain."
Earlier Fulton told the congregation that she was visiting the mega-church to see some of the thousands who have stood with her family to demand justice for her son, who was fatally shot in Florida this winter. Thousands nationwide have rallied to the cause.
Few supporters have been more forceful — or more present — than the church's pastor, Bryant, who has been at Fulton's side since shortly after Martin's death.
Martin, 17, died on Feb. 26 after he was shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla. Though not initially charged with a crime, Zimmerman now faces a second-degree murder charge. He says he acted in self defense.
Bryant, a former NAACP youth director, says he was the first out-of-town leader to get to Florida to support the family. He learned of the situation only because a former NAACP colleague called him to ask for help mobilizing a protest.
The pastor says he bonded quickly with Fulton and Martin's father, Tracy Martin.
"They were amazed that someone from Baltimore thought that much of them to come," Bryant said. "I had no idea it would come to the national stage."
Fulton, who brought her mother, aunt and sister with her to Baltimore, praised Bryant extravagantly, as did her attorney, Ben Crump, who also spoke at the church.
"At the beginning, Pastor Bryant was there to help support this family ... telling them that God [doesn't] make mistakes and there will be justice," Crump said.
Before she went out to meet the congregation, Fulton told reporters that this trip and others she's made recently aren't just for her son but for all young people who might be the victims of racial profiling.
"I'm not just working for Trayvon," she said. "I'm working on behalf of other kids, their futures, and I'm fighting for them."
Parishioners were eager to see Fulton, whom they've spent so much time thinking about and campaigning for in recent months. Bryant has made the Trayvon Martin case a frequent part of his sermons, encouraging parishioners to wear hoodies one Sunday in honor of the garment Martin was wearing when he died.
Before services started, Lora Mayo stood over her great-nephew Khori Gray as a friend tried to attach a recalcitrant clip-on tie to the 7-year-old's collar.
"I'm interested in how she copes," Mayo said of Fulton. Speaking of Khori, she said, "A part of me would be gone if I were to lose him."
Fulton took the dais to a standing ovation. Bryant called her "the mother of the new civil rights movement" and "this generation's Rosa Parks."
"It's so easy for me to cry right now, but I can't because I have work to do," she told the congregation. "I was forced into this position, but I believe God is using me."
Fulton, wearing a gray cocktail suit with sparkling buttons, said the support of people like the Empowerment Temple's parishioners has helped keep her going. She said she cries every day but prays, too.
"My heart is filled right now," she told the congregation, which gave her a standing ovation. "Just to see you all, just to see Baltimore and to know your pastor stands beside me."
Later in his sermon, Bryant addressed recent news reports that an autopsy revealed Martin had traces of marijuana in his system when he died. Bryant wondered why police would test Martin for drugs. And he wondered why the finding was important.
"There may have been traces of marijuana in his system," Bryant said of Martin, "but there is no question that George Zimmerman had hate running through his."
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