In light of the controversy and racial issues brought up by the Trayvon Martin case, the Diversity Student Programming Team and the P.E.A.C.E Project held a prayer vigil April 12.
Amber Strickland, one of the event’s organizers, said several people thought the vigil meant the university was taking sides on the case, but it was meant to be just a time of prayer for America.
“We sought to pray for the families of Trayvon Martin as well as George Zimmerman and his family,” Strickland said. “We were not seeking to cast judgment or condemn anyone but to come together and pray for our country as we grapple with several different issues the coverage of Trayvon’s death has made apparent.”
However, the vigil in response to Martin’s death raised concerns about race issues on Cedarville’s campus. According to Rachel Bond, a student who attended the prayer vigil, several people deny that the situation has anything to do with race.
“A lot of people on this campus don’t think it’s a race issue because they have never interacted with racial issues or racial problems,” Bond said. “I think a lot of people are numb to it or blind to the sheer fact that this campus is all white and there is no diversity among it.”
According to the CU registrar’s office, 7.14 percent of students in 2011 were minorities.
Jeff Cook, a speaker at the vigil and a urban ministry professor, said most people on Cedarville’s campus do not have to deal with racial problems and therefore do not understand them.
“The fact of the matter is, I’m not suspicious for walking down the street in a gated community in a hoodie,” Cook said at the vigil. “Most of you are not suspicious walking down a street in a gated community in a hoodie.”
Cook said in an email that he didn’t know what Zimmerman was thinking when he shot Martin.
Carl Ruby, vice president for student life, said students need to understand the racial issues in this case.
“Of course this is a ‘race case,’” he said in an email. “You would have to be pretty naïve not to recognize that this is a case with strong racial overtones.”
Although he believes race played a big part in the Trayvon Martin situation, Ruby said that does not mean Zimmerman hunted Martin and shot him because he was black. However, Ruby said he doubts the event would have unfolded the same if Martin were white.
Briana DuPree, the advisor for the P.E.A.C.E. project, said that whether the altercation was racially motivated or not, the bigger picture is that there was a 17-year-old who got killed. There are hundreds of kids that are killed just about every day and no one hears, she said, and that’s a problem.
“People being murdered shouldn’t be something that we are just like, ‘Oh whatever,’ and ‘You kind of see that with the Hunger Games’ and all that,” Dupree said. “So I think it was the perfect opportunity for us to stop and pray for our nation.”
Cook said that, as a body of believers, when one part of the body hurts, all Christians should hurt.
“When I see Trayvon as my son, as my brother, as my sibling, as the young man who was loved by his mother, loved by his father, loved by his extended family – who will miss him at the Thanksgiving table this year – who had a future like any 17-year-old kid,” Cook said to the crowd of about 100, “when I view him as that, when we view him as that because of who we are, then we stand in unity as a family of God and grieve, and we pray.”
Cook spoke about justice for Martin and how he should be viewed as a person rather than the stereotype that is often placed on young black males.
However, Cook said that Christians should grieve that it took 45 days and a national outcry to move the justice system from a position of assuming that Zimmerman had done nothing wrong. He also said that Christians should call for George Zimmerman to be treated justly. Cook said that guilt or innocence should be decided in a court.
Zimmerman’s lawyers said he will plead not guilty to the second-degree murder charge, according to the BBC.
Ruby said he thinks the P.E.A.C.E Project and Diversity Student Programming Team did an excellent job making sure the event avoided any rush in judgment.
Laura Kuebel, a student who attended the event, said she appreciated Cedarville’s willingness to address the issue.
“I think it was smart for [DuPree] and Justin Spann to take something that the media has portrayed as fully about race and then take this prayer meeting and have the Diversity Committee sponsor it,” Kuebel said. “It was a neat way for them to put themselves out there.”
DuPree said the point was not to cast judgment but to discuss a hot topic in popular culture and approach it as believers.
“It was brought up in the media, and whether they are right or wrong, it is affecting our nation,” DuPree said. “As Christians, the least we can do is pray about it and seek God’s will to be done.”