Important Message from UAC President/CEO Sharmain Matlock-Turner

July 16, 2013


Dear Coalition Family,

Like many of you, this past weekend was very difficult for me. 

All last week, I asked friends and colleagues, young and old, what they thought the decision would be in the case of the killing of Trayvon Martin. Though many were hoping that the verdict would be guilty for George Zimmerman, the man who admitted that he shot and killed Trayvon, most seemed prepared for what turned out to be the inevitable.   

Yesterday morning, I decided not to listen to the talk shows or watch television.  I wanted to come to grips with my own feelings.  I listened to gospel music, emailed my daughters, thought about my grandson Joshua, texted a few mothers to see how they would talk to their sons and tried to come to grips with what this decision means. 

Sister Renee Yann, Chief Mission Officer for Amerihealth Caritas, said it well in an email she sent me yesterday:

“Justice and law have seldom been further from each other than they were when last night’s verdict was read. This is a challenge to every one of us whatever our skin color may be… We all send our children out of the house hoping the world will protect and not harm them.”

My husband, daughters and friends asked:

In 2013 why are we still fighting for equal justice under the law for black boys? Why are black boys and yes black men still profiled as ‘scary and dangerous’?  Why in 2013 is black life still less valued in our country?  Why are we not yet equal?

Unfortunately I don’t have great answers to those questions but it reminds me that we have not yet reached a post-racial America.  Yet there are those, like Sister Renee Yann and others of good will, who continue to stand with people of color in the fight for justice and equality. 

Yesterday, people from all ethnic backgrounds gathered in cities across the county to share their outrage at the verdict.  Right here in Philadelphia, 1,000 citizens used social media to organize a demonstration that was forceful and peaceful. The NAACP sprang into action immediately establishing a petition drive to urge the federal government to bring civil rights charges in the matter.  Others are waiting to hear from Trayvon’s family for next steps and guidance about how they can help.  Here at the Coalition, we will talk with our young people, reminding them about how much we value them and listening to any and all of the concerns they may have.

I know that many of you know that the Coalition was founded out of the ashes of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Those of us who remember those painful days know that even the worst tragedy can spur us all to act and drive change.

So today, even as I continue to grapple with my emotions, I reaffirm that I will not rest until people of color are seen and treated as equal citizens in our country and throughout the world.  Today, I reaffirm that equal justice under law must be fought for and must never be compromised. I reaffirm our mission here at UAC to bring people together to drive change.  Today, I reaffirm my belief in the goodness of people and that the long arc of history will always bend toward justice. 

If you are interested in getting more involved in the response to the Trayvon Martin verdict, here are two ways you can take action this week: (1) Right now, the NAACP is collecting petition signatures online to be sent to Attorney General Eric Holder to continue with the federal investigation and to bring civil rights charges (more than 500,000 people have signed this petition); and (2) on Saturday, July 20 at 12 noon, there will be a prayer vigil at Bright Hope Baptist Church, 12th and Cecil B. Moore Avenue.

On Saturday morning, I attended the memorial service for William H. Gray, former congressman, civic leader and minister.  The service was very uplifting. Though there were many wonderful speakers, including former President Bill Clinton, the moment that has stayed with me was the reading of one of my favorite poems, Mother to Son by Langston Hughes.  As we all continue to grapple with injustice and fight for those who are less fortunate, I hope you find this poem as inspirational as I do.  We can’t give up!

Thank you,


Mother to Son

Well, son, I’ll tell you:

Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

It’s had tacks in it,

And splinters,

And boards torn up,

And places with no carpet on the floor—


But all the time

I’se been a-climbin’ on,

And reachin’ landin’s,

And turnin’ corners,

And sometimes goin’ in the dark

Where there ain’t been no light.

So boy, don’t you turn back.

Don’t you set down on the steps

’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.

Don’t you fall now—

For I’se still goin’, honey,

I’se still climbin’,

And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

Langston Hughes, “Mother to Son” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 1994 by The Estate of Langston Hughes

Read others reactions to the Trayvon Martin case below:

A letter from a loving son to his mother

Click here to read Attorney General Eric Holder's thoughts on the case