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Zimmerman Verdict: Black Churches Honor Trayvon Martin with 'Hoodie Sunday'

( [email protected] ) Jul 15, 2013 04:21 AM EDT
George Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin July 13; the verdict sparked emotional discussions about race and equal justice in the United States.

George Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin July 13; the verdict sparked emotional discussions about race and equal justice in the United States.

Zimmerman's acquittal was not well-received by a host of African-American churches, who declared Sunday’s services as “Hoodie Sunday.” Pastors and congregants wore hoodies to honor Trayvon Martin.

Martin was wearing a hoodie on the night of his death, and many believe his clothes raised Zimmerman’s suspicions.

Several members of Martin’s family attended services at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Opa-locka, Florida.

"The verdict reminds us that as a people we lean on the law, trust the law, embrace the law, but it seems the law doesn't embrace us," said the Rev. Arthur Jackson III, of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church of Miami Gardens, where the 17-year-old often worshiped with his mother Sybrina Fulton. "We will not allow Trayvon's death to be a death in vain."

“We’re very concerned, very hurt and very disappointed at this point, but we know in the end God will prevail and justice will be served,” said Roberta Felton, a cousin.

“We’re leaning in and depending on you this morning, oh God, for all of our help,” a man said from the pulpit at the Allen Chapel AME Church in Sanford, where a town hall meeting was held after the shooting.

In some churches around the country, pastors changed their sermons to address the wide range of emotions unleashed by the verdict in the Trayvon Martin murder trial.

Rev. Tony Lee of the Community of Hope A.M.E. Church preached his sermon on Sunday wearing a hoodie.(FOX 5)

The Rev. Tony Lee told the Huffington Post that his phone was "blowing up" with text messages about the verdict late Saturday.

Realizing that he was going to have to preach in the morning, the pastor began thinking of what he would say to his largely black congregation, the Community of Hope outside of Washington, D.C. Many in the congregation have lost loved ones to gun violence, and are simultaneously grieving and seething from what is being widely viewed in the black community as an injurious miscarriage of justice.

"I knew I would be wearing my hoodie while preaching," Lee said, "and I wrote to all the pastoral staff that hoodies are welcome."

At Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Pastor Warnock joined hundreds of other clergymen across the nation by taking the pulpit wearing a hoodie to deliver his Sunday sermon. The congregation are also encouraged to wear hoodies.

"We’re standing as the church of nonviolence to say that a hoodie is not a weapon," said Senior Pastor Rev. Raphael Warnock. “We stand in solidarity with the family of Trayvon Martin. We stand in support of our children who deserve better than to be stigmatized and stereotyped.”

At Truevine of Holiness Missionary Baptist Church in Seattle, Pastor Lawrence R. Willis said the trial was closely watched by his congregation and by the African-American community in King County.

"When that verdict came out, it saddened my heart," he said, according to the Seattle Times. "It made me feel like we went backwards." Willis, originally from California, said the decision reminded him of the Rodney King verdict -- in a trial of Los Angeles police officers in a 1991 case -- and he immediately was concerned about riots and backlash. "As a community leader, pastor and dad, I felt a sense of responsibility knowing I have to do something," he said. "I'm praying on what it is and how I go about it."

"The anger you feel from the verdict last night, talk to God about it," Hempstead's Union Baptist Church pastor, the Rev. Sedgwick V. Easley, said.

Easley said the Zimmerman case is "not about Trayvon Martin; it's about the symbolism of what it means to be black in America."

The Rev. Stretta C. McKnight, a minister at Union Baptist, said an August trip of church and social justice groups to Washington, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, has taken on added meaning.

"We need to be able to have a place where we can come together," she said. "And I believe the faith community has a responsibility to do this."

Zimmerman was acquitted on Saturday, but Attorney General Eric Holder of the Justice Department announced Monday that he will be investigating the case for possible civil rights violations, although most analysts are skeptical whether civil charges will proceed.