Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Travon Martin Project touches raw nerves.

On the night of February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida, United States, George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old African American high school student. George, a 28-year-old mixed-race Hispanic man, was the neighborhood watch coordinator for the gated community where Martin was temporarily living and where the shooting took place George was told not to follow the youth but he followed anyway.  Responding to an earlier call from Zimmerman, police arrived on the scene within two minutes of the shooting. He was taken into custody, treated for head injuries, then questioned for five hours. The police chief said that Zimmerman was released because there was no evidence to refute the claim of having acted in self-defense. The police chief also said that Zimmerman had had a right to defend himself with lethal force. An arrest was finally made after the incident became national news and protesters filled Sanford. George was given a trial and found not guilty.

Producer Beth Marshal wanted to create a show that deals with the huge divide that Trayvon Martin's death caused in Central Florida and the country. Her son is about the same age as Trayvon and if her son was seen walking through suburban Sanford, quite frankly he would be alive. The show opens with Billy Holiday singing "Strange Fruit" as the audience entered the theater. The song referenced "blood on the leaves" in a sorrowful anguished voice. The show opened with a congressional hearing about the ban on certain items. There were long heated debates about how these items needed to be outlawed for everyone's protection. One committee member had smuggled the item into the hearing like a knife into a courtroom. The committee erupted in chaos as he showed them the hoodie which is quite functional on a cold evening.
John DiDonna acted as the show's narrator. He talked about Sanford's past and how racism has been woven into the fabric of the towns history. Back in 1946, the city of Sanford ran Jackie Robinson out of town while he was playing for the Montreal Royals, the Brooklyn Dodgers AAA team, which trained in Sanford. Then there was the story of schoolteacher Harry Tyson Moore, who was the founder of the first branch of the NAACP in Florida's Seminole County, where Sanford is located. Moore fought tirelessly for racial equality in Sanford, including voting rights for African Americans. That made him a dangerous man to many white people in town. On Christmas night of 1951, the home of Moore and his wife Harriette Vyda Simms Moore was fire bombed. It was the couple’s 25th wedding anniversary. Moore died on his way to a Sanford hospital and his wife died 9 days later of her injuries. In Sanford's more recent past, the 2010 case of Sherman Ware had some troubling similarities to the Trayvon Martin tragedy. On Dec. 4, 2010, 21-year-old Justin Collison, was captured on a YouTube video leaving a Sanford bar, when he walked up behind an unsuspecting Ware, a homeless African American man, and punched him in the back of the head, which drove Ware's face into a utility pole and then onto the pavement breaking his nose. Sanford police questioned Collison who was not cuffed that night and had possession of the video but did not arrest him. You see, Collison's father is a Sanford police lieutenant and his grandfather is a former circuit judge and wealthy Florida landowner.

20 years ago when I moved to Orlando, the Ku Klux Klan held a demonstration at the Jewish Community Center in Maitland.  There was a heated debate at the time about if there should be a counter demonstration. Some argued that by counter demonstrating, we would be giving the KKK the attention they wanted. Hundreds of counter demonstrators showed up verses six or so KKK members hiding behind robes. Janine Klein spoke of isms in her monologue in the show. She was a Jewish school teacher and did grow up facing racism. In the talk back after the show she said that she realized that she wants to be more of an activist to help bring about change. Silence isn't the answer.

The talk back triggered an amazing conversation with the audience. One woman in the audience was of Cuban heritage. One of her cousins had light skin and she was treated differently than all the other children with dark skin. So there was racism even within a family. Sheryl Carbonell, from the cast is inter-racially married to a white police officer. He has been bitten, beaten and shot at on the job. 14 incidents were all caused by black men. None of these incidents were ever covered by the media. The Jordan Davis shooting happened during production of the play. It is clear that these type of shootings continue. Kerry Alce who plays Trayvon said that he is desensitized and frightened by all the shootings of black children. The talk back was every bit as powerful as the production itself. Change only happens when you open a dialogue.This is a daring production that certainly opened that dialogue. "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." - Martin Luther King

There are only 2 shows remaining of The Trayvon Martin Project...
October 4, Saturday at 7:30pm
October 5, Sunday at 2pm
at the Valencia College East Campus Black Box Theatre building 3 (701 North Econolockahatchee Trail Orlando FL).
Tickets are $20 general admission and $15 students. Proceeds from this event benefit The Travyon Martin Foundation.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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