WASHINGTON (AP) - The father of Trayvon Martin has joined an effort by members of Congress to focus more attention on issues disproportionately affecting black men and boys.
Tracy Martin was appearing Wednesday before a forum convened by black lawmakers to discuss high unemployment, incarceration, racial profiling and other challenges faced by black men and boys.
Martin was scheduled to give opening remarks in an informal hearing before the Congressional Black Men and Boys Caucus. Congressional caucuses such as this one are made up of members of the House who share interest in a given issue and want to focus attention on it while suggesting possible legislative responses. Caucuses range from the party of the Democrats and Republicans to special group caucuses such as the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Martin's appearance comes a few days after President Barack Obama made remarks identifying himself with the plight of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager who was shot and killed last year during a confrontation with neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.
Zimmerman, 29, said he fired the deadly shot at the unarmed boy in self-defense, and he was acquitted July 13 of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges. The evening verdict sparked protests and calls for federal officials to charge Zimmerman with violating Trayvon Martin's civil rights. Federal officials are reviewing the case.
Eleanor Holmes Norton, the congressional delegate for Washington, D.C. and one of the panel's organizers, said in a news release that it is time for the nation and African-American community "to bring our black men and boys to center stage."
Illinois Democratic Rep. Danny Davis, co-chair of the new caucus, said the aim of the coalition is to keep highlighting issues that impact and influence the conditions of black males and keep the issue in front of people so there will be understanding.
For example, there are few male African-American teachers in elementary and primary school, so some black boys never see someone who looks like them involved in education, therefore they grow up perceiving education as a girl thing, Davis said.
"Fifty years after the March on Washington, it is an unfortunate fact that today young black men are still more likely to be unemployed, to be expelled from school, to be stopped at random on the street because they have been profiled, to be sent to prison, to not have access to regular quality health care, or to have suffered gun violence," Davis stated in a news release.
The unemployment rate for black men 20 and over was 13 percent in June compared to 6.2 percent for white men in that age bracket. The unemployment rate for black men and women 16 to 19 years old was 43.6 percent last month, compared to 20.4 percent for white youth, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Also on schedule to speak were David Johns, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African-Americans; Georgetown University sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson and Kweisi Mfume (kwah-EE'-seh oom-FOO'-may), former Maryland Democratic congressman and a onetime NAACP president.
Later this week, members of the Congressional Black Caucus are convening a summit in Chicago to address and look for solutions to the issue of urban gun violence.
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