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Zimmerman verdict spurs town hall meeting at North Central

There are ways to tap discontent and transform it into a positive force. Mario Lambert expects to see that happen at a town hall-style event set for Tuesday evening at North Central College.

Titled “Where Do We Go From Here?” and hosted by the college’s Multicultural Affairs office, the session was scheduled by the DuPage County branch of the NAACP after a Florida jury on July 13 acquitted George Zimmerman in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was unarmed when he was fatally shot in Sanford, Fla., in February 2012.

“Obviously there is a lot of emotion based on the outcome of the trial, and there was emotion even before the outcome,” said Lambert, president of the county chapter and a Naperville resident. “I strongly believe that there is a need for us here in Naperville, and the greater west suburban area, to try to make sense of what it means to us.”

Some of the emotion has been based in a conviction that the jury’s verdict was based on race — Zimmerman is Caucasian and Martin was black — but Lambert emphasized that the conversation is about far more. Among those scheduled to participate in Tuesday’s discussion are representatives from area police departments; Renard Jackson, director of outreach and program development at North Central; the Rev. Theresa Dear, minister at DuPage A.M.E. and a member of NAACP’s national board; education consultant, scholar and author Lourdes Ferrer; and Maryam Judar, executive director of the Citizen Advocacy Center in Elmhurst.

“We’re really doing our best to get a diverse group, because we want to promote multiculturalism, and we want to invite everybody,” Lambert said, adding that the focus will be on social justice and equal access for all. “This is about what are we learning around access to equality? ... We want to make sure that we are promoting an inclusive dialogue.”

Lambert pointed out that the plans are in keeping with “advance together,” which is the organization’s mission.

“We truly mean that when we say it,” he said. “It means all the constituents, people from all races.”

The vision, he said, is that participants will meet, talk, maybe trade business cards — and leave uplifted and energized.

“I’m constantly looking to push new relationships, new partnerships, new channels of communication,” Lambert said. “There’s room for improvement, and I want to maximize opportunities to improve.”

While the Martin shooting provided the impetus for calling the meeting, and the issue of race in the justice system will likely come up, he emphasized that the town hall’s purpose is not to provide a forum for venting. It’s about productive conversation and the sharing of ideas.

“We have to do something with this energy,” he said.

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