Local vigil held in commemoration of Trayvon Martin

Jul. 21, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

Della Hendon has the most bittersweet voicemail a mother can receive: Gunshots followed by silence. It's the sound of her son's death.

So when Hendon says she watches Trayvon Martin's mother talk about her son's death and feels her pain, she's not lying. Hendon spoke at a Sanford vigil Saturday evening in commemoration of the Florida teen whose killing sparked national interest, held at at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park at the corner of Horner Boulevard and Washington Avenue, where Hendon said she had never told anyone but her husband about that voicemail before.

It was terrible because it was the sound of her son dying, she said. But even though she didn't get the late-night call itself, she was still able to be there in spirit afterward, listening to her child's last breath and knowing she was the last person he was thinking of.

The Sanford native who now lives in Virginia was back in her hometown Saturday to speak about her 24-year-old son's death from gun violence. But she was also there to preach in favor of community and salvation.

Hendon said she prays every day for the 50 witnesses who all refused to testify against the man who walked up to her son Dimitri at a party and shot him in the head and chest while he was sitting on the couch. She also prays for the man who killed her son.

"I pray every day that he finds God before someone kills him," she said, adding that faith in the Lord is the best solution to stopping the black-on-black crime that devastates many neighborhoods and families. Her son wasn't a model citizen himself, she admits, but Hendon said she believes Dimitri might still be alive if he had found God, and that many other lives can still be saved through the church.

"My son felt he wasn't worthy of God because of the things he was doing and the places he was going," she said. "But I told him he only needed to repent. ... You can be saved. It's not as complicated as some people make it seem."

When George Zimmerman was acquitted last week in Martin's death, many across the country called for a review of self-defense laws as well broader topics like crime, racism and community. Such an outcry was the general theme of Saturday's vigil, which had 30-40 attendees and was part of a national push to hold similar vigils in major cities on Saturday. It was put on by Workers for Clean Water, a Lee County group which usually organizes people to oppose fracking. But many of its supporters are minorities, and organizers said they couldn't stand by and ignore racism and violence simply because doing so wasn't included in the name of their group.

Co-founders Janeth Benitez and Cecilia Jiminez spoke Saturday along with fellow organizer Reginald Marsh Jr., who said the event should be the beginning of a community conversation and coalescence — not the end.

"Don't let this be the last time we come together," Marsh said. "Let us carry on. White, black, Hispanic, whatever. Young, old, babies, dogs. ... Can we pledge to be a real community? C-O-M-M-U-N-I-T-Y. There's 'unity' in 'community.'"

Benitez said has felt like a victim of personal bias in Sanford many times, but she said there's also institutional biases, especially in the justice system and education. So she urged people to not just complain to family and friends, or to ignore injustices, but to attend Sanford City Council and Lee County Commissioner meetings and otherwise get involved to voice their opinions and be proactive.

"This place, compared to a lot of places I've been, is backward," Benitez said. "And we need to change it."

Ervin Fox, president of the Lee County NAACP and candidate for Sanford City Council, said the country does need to examine gun laws and self-defense laws. But individuals also need to examine how they're raising their children, he said.

"Young people need to learn more respect," Fox said. "If you get stopped by law enforcement, don't be rowdy. He has the authority. You need to behave."