Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump remembers representing the family of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black male who was fatally shot in February 2012 in Sanford, Florida.
The shooter, George Zimmerman, was a neighborhood watch volunteer who was found not guilty in a high-profile murder trial.
The verdict, among others Crump has seen, has left minority communities feeling like second-class citizens, he said Sunday at Morris Street Baptist Church.
These cases, along with the upcoming inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, helped Crump shape his message as the keynote speaker of the annual MLK Ecumenical Service – one that honors the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Only a just America will be a truly great America,” he said Sunday from the pulpit.
Alluding to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan, Crump said he is challenging the future president to seek brotherhood among all Americans.
“His presidential legacy is unwritten but it will quickly take shape,” Crump said. “He will have real power and profound influence that he can use to unify or divide. It comes down to making sure we guarantee all people due process and equal justice for all.”
Sunday’s service was one of many previous and upcoming events this month to honor King. Sponsored by the local chapter of the YWCA, the events fall under the umbrella of the theme, “A Dream Unfulfilled.”
Charleston native Marva Goff, who is now a resident of Atlanta, said the theme is relevant because of various issues, including the poor voting turnout.
Goff said she remembers working the polls as a teenager. She remembers seeing King and the Rev. Jesse Jackson when they came to County Hall in Charleston for the garbage workers’ strike.
“All of that was when I was growing up … black folks struggling and fighting for our rights,” Goff said Sunday. “People died for us to go to the schools we go to and to have the lives we have. And part of the dream is making sure we don’t forget that.”
Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg also attended the service. Briefly speaking from the pulpit, Tecklenburg said it’s important to admit and then address the injustices that minority communities face.
“It is only by understanding and accepting hard truths that we find the courage to make changes,” he said.
Crump added that Charleston has unfortunately become the “epicenter of tragedies with racial undertones.”
Addressing those in attendance was especially humbling, he added, given the recent history of the city.
Crump referenced the nine Emanuel AME churchgoers who were shot and killed in June 2015 by Dylann Roof. The 22-year-old self-avowed white supremacist was given the death penalty on Tuesday.
“We’re at a crossroads when it comes to race relations in this country,” Crump said. “But there’s still hope. And I just want the African-American community, other communities, and the president-elect to understand the opportunities we have in this moment to make a change.”