CHAMPAIGN — An estimated 115 people marched through the streets of Champaign on a wet Friday evening in memory of and to protest the death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin, in what organizers called the "Million Hoodie March," one of several similar marches being held across the country.
Some of them carried posters or signs, and nearly all of them were clad in hooded sweatshirts, because that was what Mr. Martin was wearing when he was killed.
"We also encouraged people to bring Skittles and iced tea because that was what Trayvon was carrying when he was murdered," said march coordinator Cessily Wilson of Champaign.
Mr. Martin was killed in Sanford, Fla., on Feb. 26. He had purchased candy at a convenience store and was returning to a gated community in the city when he was shot by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman, who has not been charged in the shooting. Zimmerman told police he shot in self-defense.
The marchers met outside the Douglas Annex, where they formed a circle and held hands for prayer. Then they marched down Fifth Street, University Avenue, Fourth Street and Grove Street before returning to the annex.
Wilson organized Friday's event because she wasn't able to attend a similar march in Cook County.
"I was invited to a march in Chicago by one of my friends," Wilson said. "I wanted to be a part of it, but I was unable to travel there.
"Then I thought, 'What if we did it here? Do you think anybody would come?'"
Wilson said she talked to her friends, and after a couple of them agreed to take part, the event was on.
"I started posting an announcement about the march on Facebook early Thursday evening, and I got 65 responses back," Wilson said. "Everybody I know invited their friends."
Champaign school board member Jamar Brown, who took part in the march, said incidents like the one in Florida are disheartening.
"The situation is bigger than Trayvon," Brown said. "You have a young black male in a well-to-do neighborhood with a hooded sweatshirt on that automatically makes him suspicious.
"We have a lot of Trayvons here in Champaign-Urbana wearing hooded sweatshirts and baggy pants. People shouldn't be suspicious of them because of how they are dressed. The person could very well be a Ph.D. student or a pre-law student at the University of Illinois."
Central High School junior Kiana Box, 17, of Champaign, said she marched to show respect for Mr. Martin's family.
"I want to stand up for what's right," Box said. "It's not a black and white thing. It's a right and wrong thing."
"This defenseless killing needs to stop," said Victor Bradford of Urbana. "No matter how far away it takes place, it still hits home,"
Alisia Goines of Champaign brought her four children and her niece to the march to teach them about civil rights and social justice.
"I believe it is important for them to learn at an early age it is important to stand up for what's right," Goines said.
Jamila Simmons of Urbana carried a sign reading, "Justice for Trayvon."
"I have four boys, and this could happen to any one of them," Simmons said. "It is important we try to stop the violence and bring about justice."
Brown said he hopes Friday's march will help continue opening the lines of communication among people of all races.
"You have a black male shot by a white male with Hispanic blood, and he is not even arrested by police officers," Brown said. "That wouldn't happen if the tables had been turned."
Brown said the justice system needs to hand out penalties equally to people regardless of their race.
"Martin Luther King Jr. said it best when he said, 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,'" Wilson said. "Even though this tragedy happened in Florida, it could happen anywhere — to our friends, our brothers, our dads or uncles. We are marching to show some type of solidarity with people everywhere."