A call for justice

Chris Turner spoke at a rally for education and awareness surrounding the Trayvon Martin case on Wednesday, March 29, 2012 at Tarrant County Community College Southeast Campus. 

Organized by TCC students, LaTarsha and Marqus Smith, the rally featured several speakers including student Florisa Esquivel, student Dennis Swanson, Pastor Dwight McKissic, Professor Eric Salas, Professor Bradley Borougerdi, NAACP Arlington Chapter President Silk Littlejoin-Gamble, and community activist Bridgette Davis.

Turner’s remarks, as prepared, are below:

“Good afternoon.  In 1963, while he was sitting in a jail in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  And that is why we are here today – our sense of right and wrong tells us that a great injustice has been committed, one for which we want justice done.  But it is also an injustice that demands a close examination of how we got here, and where we will go from here.

Like you, I am outraged at what happened in Sanford, Florida last month.  I’m angry that a young man, holding nothing but a bag of Skittles and a can of tea, would be gunned down on a city street in the United States of America.  I’m angry that a self-styled vigilante would ignore the authorities and pursue Trayvon Martin – a pursuit that ended with the death of that 17-year old boy.

Now, in large part due to rallies like this one all across the country, and the outrage we have seen about this case in the media, we see local, state and federal authorities investigating this case, as they should.  And we all hope that there is some measure of justice that will be realized when that process is complete.

Last week, President Obama said that the Trayvon Martin case is cause for our country -to do some soul-searching.  The president is right.

And I think we have to soul-search not just how this could have happened and how we keep it from happening again, but we need to look inward at ourselves as a nation and examine how we are reacting to this tragedy.

It is my hope that as America has a frank discussion about this tragedy and its aftermath, we use it as an opportunity to come closer together, not an excuse to be further divided.  And when I hear rhetoric from some in this country – talking about what Trayvon Martin’s school attendance record was, as if that somehow justifies or explains away what happened to him, I am saddened that, despite all our progress on the issue of race in America, we still have so much further to go.

When I was about your age and a student at the University of Texas, I had the opportunity to hear then-President Bill Clinton speak on our campus.  It wasn’t just any speech either, it was a major address on the state of race relations in our country.  That speech, in October of 1995, came just weeks after the verdict in the OJ Simpson case and in a similar time tinged with racial tension.

The president said, “Today we face a choice — one way leads to further separation and bitterness and more lost futures. The other way, the path of courage and wisdom, leads to unity, to reconciliation, to a rich opportunity for all Americans to make the most of the lives God gave them. This moment in which the racial divide is so clearly out in the open need not be a setback for us. It presents us with a great opportunity, and we dare not let it pass us by.”

I think today we are presented with another great opportunity.  We are all Americans, and there is so much more that unites us than divides us.  And our diversity is a great strength – a diversity we understand and experience more than most living here in Texas, here in Southeast Tarrant County and right here on this campus.  We have so much to learn from one another – understanding one another’s different backgrounds, life experiences, and culture helps us all become better people.  We can respect, appreciate and celebrate our differences – but we don’t have to fixate on them.

We don’t have to fear them.

And we don’t have to let them divide us.

But where we see the differences between us that we know are not right, we all have an obligation to make changes.  I’m talking about the injustices that we have all lived with for far too long, the injustices that don’t dominate the cable news shows or show up in our Facebook news feeds.

I’m talking about the injustice of income disparity – where we see African Americans and Hispanics earn less than white Americans.

I’m talking about the injustice of poverty, where here in Texas, 66 percent of Latino children and 59 percent of black children live in low-income families.

I am talking about the injustice of our educational system, especially in Texas, where underfunded public schools see the minority drop-out rate soar, closing the door of opportunity to thousands of young Texans.

And I am talking about the injustice that comes with the inaccessibility of health care – where 59% of the uninsured in our state are Hispanic.

So my hope is that as we remember Trayvon Martin and demand justice in his tragic case, let us not stop there.  Let us all join together to advocate for justice in all aspects of our society.  Long after the Trayvon Martin case has faded from the headlines, let us have the strength, the courage and the fortitude to continue our individual battles for justice and the end to inequality.  And until that day comes, it is my hope that we will not rest.

225 years after our founding fathers gathered to create our nation’s constitution, we are still working to “form a more perfect union.” Our Founders recognized that this democracy would never be perfect because, we the people who form it are not perfect.  But at the heart of the American ideal is the promise that we can always be better.  And as we honor the memory of Trayvon Martin and we pray for his family, let us all commit ourselves to the betterment of this country and all who live in it.”

Building a Just and Fair Society

On February 23, Chris joined members of the Grand Prairie community for the annual NAACP Freedom Fund Scholarship Banquet.

The money raised from this event will fund educational scholarships for local students.   The evening featured performances from the youth at Mt. Gilead Missionary Baptist Church in Italy, TX as well as from students of Truman Middle School in Grand Prairie.

The event’s keynote speaker was Rev. Preston Dixon, pastor at Mt. Gilead, and 1st Vice President of the NAACP Grand Prairie Branch.  He delivered an inspiring speech which touched on the banquet’s theme, “NAACP: Obsolete or Still Necessary?”  In his message, Pastor Dixon encouraged all in attendance to remember their past, take every available opportunity in their present, and keep an eye on their future.  He also reminded the audience about the importance of unity and community.

Several members of the Grand Prairie community were presented with 2012 President Awards for their work on behalf of civil rights and equal opportunity.

“The NAACP has been on the forefront of the battle for fairness and opportunity for all Americans for 103 years,” Chris said. “It continues its important mission today, and I am proud to support its efforts.”

The next evening, on February 24, Chris and his wife, Lisa, were honored to attend the birthday celebration of Pastor N.L. Robinson and First Lady Pearl Robinson which was given by their congregation at Mount Olive Baptist Church in Arlington.  The luau-themed party celebrated their 91st and 89th birthdays, respectively.

“Pastor Robinson and First Lady Pearl continue to inspire us every day, and Lisa and I wish them both the happiest of birthdays,” Chris said.

Pastor Robinson and First Lady Pearl have been major community leaders in the civil rights movement in Arlington and have been ministering to the Arlington community for over 40 years.  Pastor Robinson was called to pastor Mount Olive Baptist Church in 1966 and since that time has grown the congregation from 17 to over 10,000 members.

A Wall of Honor and an Opportunity

Chris attended the Tarrant County College District’s official unveiling of its Veterans’ Wall of Honor on February 20, 2012.

This new feature of TCC’s Southeast Campus pays tribute to veterans who are current students, alumni, faculty and staff of the Tarrant County College District.  Featured speakers at the event included State Senator Wendy Davis, Tarrant County College District Chancellor Erma Johnson Hadley, and TCC Southeast Campus President Dr. Bill Coppola.   Each delivered a message of gratitude for the service of our nation’s veterans and expressed a strong desire to continue the remarkable outreach and support that TCC offers to veterans.

Chris also had the pleasure of visiting with a retired member of the Marine Corps who served in Operation Desert Storm and was one of the veterans honored at the event.  By supporting programs such as tuition assistance, career counseling, financial planning guidance, housing support, and college admission workshops, Chris will work hard to ensure that today’s veteran has access to the educational opportunities they have earned and deserve.

Chris has a proven record of leadership on veterans’ issues: he was the author of the bill that created the veterans scratch-off lottery ticket, which has raised more than $16 million for veterans’ assistance programs in just two years.  Chris also authored and passed legislation requiring Texas colleges and universities to have a designated financial aid officer for veterans, so that returning service members are able to fully access the benefits they have earned under the new Post-9/11 G.I. Bill and the Texas Hazlewood Act. With more than 250,000 Texans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last ten years, it is more important than ever that Texas have strong support systems in place so veterans – and their families – can take advantage of education and workforce opportunities.  Honoring the service and sacrifice of today’s veterans both in word and in deed will continue to be one of Chris’s top priorities.

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