Baltimore showing solidarity with slain Fla. teen

Today marks one month since Trayvon Martin's death, and thousands of people are expected to descend on the small Florida city where the youth was slain by a neighborhood watch volunteer, including an NFL star and a prominent church leader from Baltimore.

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis is expected to attend a rally in Sanford, Fla., which is being organized by black church leaders from across the country, including Jamal-Harrison Bryant, pastor of Empowerment Temple in Northwest Baltimore, a Ravens spokesman confirmed.

In Baltimore, the local NAACP chapter will rally at 5 p.m. at the corner of Light and Pratt streets in downtown Baltimore.

In Annapolis, members of the Legislative Black Caucus plan to join with similar caucuses in other states in a call for justice in Martin's death at an afternoon news conference. The leaders also intend to highlight racial profiling that they allege occurs in Maryland.

The Martin slaying has drawn national attention, touching off debates on racial profiling and laws surrounding handguns and self-defense. Martin, 17, who is black, was fatally shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, while wearing a hoodie and carrying a bag of Skittles and iced tea. Zimmerman is Hispanic.

The slaying has resonated in black communities across the country, including Baltimore's. It was "Hoodie Sunday" this weekend at the Empowerment Temple in Northwest Baltimore — and at churches elsewhere in Baltimore and across the nation.

Throughout the morning, several hundred parishioners at the African Methodist Episcopal church arrived wearing black, blue or gray hoodies to show their solidarity with Martin, who was gunned down Feb. 26 while walking through a gated community.

At Baltimore's Empowerment Temple, dozens of black youngsters between the ages of 12 and 17 were invited to stand in front of the altar, where Pastor Jamal-Harrison Bryant — wearing a hoodie that said "No justice no peace" — delivered a sermon to roughly 2,000 people

A staircase surrounding the altar was covered in bags of Skittles candy and bottles of Arizona Iced Tea — the items Martin was carrying when he was shot.

"Any one of them could've been gunned down on their way home from school, or on their way home from a friend's house," Bryant told the crowd, speaking of the youngsters before him.

Continued Bryant about Martin's death: "The police know who did it and they still haven't made an arrest."

Bryant has become an outspoken leader in what he believes is a new civil rights movement, one that emphasizes the health and safety of black children. He is one of the leader organizers of the rally planned Monday in Sanford.

At Rising Sun First Baptist Church in Woodlawn Sunday, Pastor Emmett C. Burns Jr. wore a hoodie even as many of his congregants turned out in their Sunday best.

Pastor Burns spoke at a prayer vigil for Martin during the mid-morning service. Congregants clapped, nodded and called out "amen" during his 12-minute speech.

"We have witnessed a national tragedy again in America," said Burns, who told the story of Emmett Till, a black 14-year-old murdered in Mississippi in 1955 allegedly for whistling at a white woman.

Burns, a member of the Maryland House of Delegates, said House members were expected to wear hoodies on the floor Monday to show solidarity with Martin.

"When will it end? It will not end until we stand together," Burns said. "I've never seen a movement like this all over the nation, where whites and blacks are wearing hoodies. Go buy a hoodie."

After his message, Burns led the congregation in singing "We Shall Overcome."

In closing, Burns said: "We ask for justice in the case of Trayvon. Comfort, comfort be with his parents who have lost a child strictly based on his race."

Several congregants said Burns' message about Martin resonated with them.

Tracey Herring, 42, of Owings Mills, who was at Rising Sun First Baptist with her sons, 2-year-old Amari and 1-year-old Jordan, said it was hard to believe such a death could occur today in the United States.

"It could be my own son 15 years from now," she said. "We need to stand up and speak out against [his death]. It could be a young man in this church. Trayvon Martin could be a student at a local high school."

Jared Stephens, 19, a criminal justice student at the Community College of Baltimore County, said Martin's death had prompted him to rethink what he wears and how he acts in public.

"How can we go out with a hoodie and walk around without care?" he asked.

Bryant, of the Empowerment Temple, ministers locally to more than 8,000 parishioners every week but has been traveling frequently to Sanford to organize and plan events and protests.

Bryant planned to travel to Florida on Sunday to meet with Sanford officials to plan the Monday rally. College students and church groups are expected to flood the small town, Bryant said, adding that he expects as many as 15,000 marchers.

The march will start in central Sanford and lead to the town's convention center, where the Sanford City Council will be holding its monthly meeting. Bryant said he intends to speak to the council.

"We'll be working with the authorities," Bryant said in an interview after the 9:30 a.m. service Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore branch of the NAACP will hold a rally downtown Monday in memory of Martin.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People will be joined by the Maryland Southern Christian Leadership Council and the Baltimore National Action Network in organizing the 5 p.m. rally at Pratt and Light streets.



Baltimore Sun reporter Childs Walker contributed to this article.