Trayvon Martin's father, Tracy Martin, tells lawmakers that "we cannot stand by and let a not guilty verdict dictate what our youth's legacy becomes" at a meeting of the Congressional Caucus on Black Men and Boys.
On Capitol Hill, Trayvon Martin's father vowed Wednesday that he would work "with everything that I have left in me" to make sure the lessons learned from his son's death help to bridge the nation's racial divide.
Tracy Martin made his promise at a meeting in Washington, D.C., of the Congressional Caucus on Black Men and Boys, which was scheduled months before George Zimmerman was acquitted July 13 of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in Trayvon Martin's shooting death in Sanford, Fla., last year.
But its timing couldn't be better, said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., who said it was the caucus' mission "to take on the challenges facing our men and boys and to ask our fellow Americans and African-Americans to do the same."
Tracy Martin told the panel that "we won't let this verdict sum up who Trayvon was."
"As American citizens, we cannot stand by and let a not guilty verdict dictate what our youth's legacy becomes." he said. That's why, he said, he's fighting not just for his son but for "so many other young black and brown boys in this country.
"What can we do as parents, what can we do as African-American men to assure our kids that they don't have to be afraid to walk outside your house, go to the store, get a bag of Skittles, a can of iced tea and not make it home?" Martin asked.
"The next time your parents see you, you're dressed in white in a funeral. That's something that no parent should ever go through."
Martin spoke a day after the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll suggested that racial relations are more strained in the wake of Zimmerman's acquittal than they have been in many years.
The survey found that third of Americans say the verdict has shaken their confidence in the legal system. And barely half of adults characterized race relations in the U.S. as "very good" or "fairly good" — down from more than 70 percent who said that in a series of polls from 2009 to 2011.
While "a lot will say nothing positive can come from death, I disagree," Martin said. "We're going to try to make sure that his name won't be dragged through the mud — that his legacy will be Trayvon helped bridge the gap of America."
Martin received a long standing ovation from those gathered in the committee room in the Rayburn House Office Building.
The panel also heard from other prominent African-American men, who examined the passage of black males from childhood through adolescence to manhood.
"There is a cultural backdrop. All black people live under suspicion," said Eric Michael Dyson, a radio host and professor of sociology at Georgetown University in Washington.
"White kids are doing drugs the same as black kids, but they are not put in jail because they are not profiled," Dyson said. "So young black men are profiled — I got a black card and I'm profiled!"
Dyson noted President Barack Obama's remarks last week about Trayvon Martin that "35 years ago, that could have been me" and called on the president to be more out front of the discussion and use "the White House to be a bully pulpit."
Kweisi Mfume, president of the NAACP, also spoke, saying, African-American boys "one day — if we're lucky — realize as men that we've made it to manhood. And then we realize that there are some things that automatically happen.
"The realization will hit us that we've made it through, and then you can count how many people did not. They're either in the criminal justice system, a hospital ward or dead," Mfume said. "We can't keep revisiting this. We can't, and we ought not."