EAST ST. LOUIS — About 500 people attended a march and rally Saturday to show their solidarity with Trayvon Martin's family as they and national leaders call for a federal civil rights investigation against the man who shot and killed the unarmed teen last year.
Tracy Martin, the father of Trayvon Martin, grew up in East St. Louis. His childhood friends and the community came together in a peaceful manner to show their support for him and Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin.
Neither Tracy Martin nor Fulton attended the East St. Louis rally. They were at rallies in Florida and New York.
Rallies were in more than 100 cities nationwide on Saturday to press for civil rights charges against George Zimmerman, the former neighborhood watch leader who claimed self-defense after shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin during an altercation in Sanford, Fla.
The teen was on his way home from the store.
Zimmerman, now 29, was acquitted of all criminal charges last week in the 2012 shooting.
There have been outcries across the country from people who say they believe Zimmerman profiled a young, black male wearing a hoodie.
"No justice, No peace. What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now. Trayvon Martin," the marchers shouted repeatedly as they made their way up Eighth Street to the steps of the federal courthouse at 750 Missouri Ave. The march started at the East St. Louis School District 189 office at 1005 State St.
Some mothers in the crowd said they were standing up for Martin and their sons. Some grandmothers said they came out for Martin and their grandsons. The women said their children look like Trayvon and the same thing that happen in this instance where Zimmerman took Martin's life could happen to their young black sons, grandsons, nephews, brothers and cousins.
When the crowd reached the courthouse, there were prayers and songs of faith.
Maureen Williams, first lady of Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, belted out the gospel song "Faith," which deeply moved the large crowd. Then, speaker after speaker called on the crowd to stay strong in their faith and to let God take care of things. They reminded the audience of the incredible dignity, grace and respect that Martin's parents have shown the country, while they are grieving the lost of their son and trying to heal from the jury's verdict.
"Truth crushed to stone will rise again," Barry Malloyd said.
Attendees carried signs with pictures of Martin wearing his hoodie. Some T-shirts read "I am Trayvon Martin." Some of the signs said "My Hoodie does not make me a criminal."
Lavoy Singleton, the emcee, called on the young, black males in the crowd to put down their pistols and pick up their books.
"If you're illiterate, nobody's going to take you serious. If you don't take education serious, society will take you as a joke. This is the first generation of African-Americans to do less than the generation before them. You need to stand up and be leaders," she implored the audience.
Ayonna Khayyam, a 12-year-old, said she also wanted an end to the gun violence in the city.
Tommie Liddell, Martin's best friend, and one of the organizers of the event, read a message from Tracy Martin that said: "My faith is being tested and I will not fail this test. I stand strong for my son -- Trayvon. And, I will not rest until justice is done. Please pray for me and my family and I am praying for you. Please continue to be the voice for Trayvon back home in East St. Louis. I can't make this rally this weekend, but I am there in spirit. Let all of the peaceful people know that I love and respect them and I will see them soon. Love always, Tracy Martin."
Many at the rally said they were proud that President Barack Obama spoke Friday about the race issue and told his personal story about being profiled as a young African-American man.
Undre Howard, Tracy's childhood friend and one of the speakers, said he was shocked when he heard the not guilty verdict.
"It made me lose faith in the justice system. I didn't realize that something like that could still happen in America," Howard said, who also said he had been racially profiled.