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A new generation takes up Martin Luther King Jr.'s torch (+video)

Fifty years after King's March on Washington, young civil rights activists push dreams of their own.

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Scott met with them briefly but refused to call the special legislative session they were seeking. Instead, he suggested they pray for unity. Two weeks later, state lawmakers partially relented: They agreed to hold a hearing on the stand-your-ground law this fall. The demonstrators finally ended their sit-in on August 15, after 31 days, making it one of the longest demonstrations in the Florida capitol in recent history. 

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Typifying the people involved with Dream Defenders is Melanie Andrade, a student at Florida A&M University here in Tallahassee and president of the school's Defenders chapter. Ms. Andrade has lived in three different gated communities in Polk County, in the center of the state, and talks emotionally of being questioned by police in her front yard just because, she says, of her ethnicity.

"Trayvon Martin went through something we all go through every single day," Andrade says. "Every time we wake up in Florida, every time we wake up in America, we have to deal with the school-to-prison pipeline. We have to deal with being criminalized in our schools, criminalized in our shopping centers, criminalized in our malls, and, worst of all, criminalized on our front lawns, criminalized in our own driveways. This is not an 'issue.' This is not a 'concern.' This is our everyday life. Every single day."

Some historians have paralleled Trayvon's shooting with the 1955 lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till, introducing a new martyr into the nation's civil rights narrative. Emmett, a native of Chicago, was visiting family in the Mississippi Delta when he was accused of whistling at a white woman and was kidnapped, beaten, and shot by two white men who were acquitted but later confessed to the murder.

Trayvon, a resident of Miami Gardens, Fla., was visiting his father in Sanford, while on a 10-day school suspension. He was accused of arousing the suspicions of Mr. Zimmerman, a neighborhood-watch captain who was acquitted after testifying that he shot the unarmed teenager in self-defense.

There is no denying that Emmett's murder, along with the June 1963 assassination of NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers, fanned the flames of the civil rights movement, galvanizing activists to continue seeking both their freedom and an end to the violence. Trayvon's death so far has inspired a number of demonstrations across the country, becoming a cause célèbre for a new generation of activists – people like Rizo and Andrade – on a whole range of social justice issues.

"Trayvon has brought youth into a movement of their own that they're able to create," says Lecia Brooks, director of outreach for Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala. "I think the murder reminded them it could have been them. It's just so close."

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Stephen Green is carrying on King's legacy, too – usually by sitting at a folding table rather than trying to occupy a governor's office. Mr. Green, to be sure, was shaken by the Zimmerman verdict. At the NAACP annual convention, the 21-year-old gave a speech that roused the crowd, young and old alike.

"We can love radically; we can give unconditionally; we can engage in transformative peace," he shouted, as murmurs swept through the audience. "Be not dismayed! God will take care of you! We! Shall! Not! Be! Moved!"


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Doing Good


What happens when ordinary people decide to pay it forward? Extraordinary change...

Danny Bent poses at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass.

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