Commentary

After Martin Verdict, Essence Says #HeIsNotASuspect

Whatever your views on the “not guilty” verdict rendered by jurors in the Trayvon Martin case last week, there’s no denying people on both sides of the issue are deeply engaged (“enraged” would probably work equally well) and that social media has been one of the main venues for protest and debate, not to mention a key source of news for many.

 

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The trial is over, but the “national conversation” called for by President Obama is just beginning, and social media will likely play a central role enabling public discourse. With that in mind, Essence, the iconic lifestyle, fashion and beauty magazine for African-American women, has started a social media campaign to “celebrate African-American men” while highlighting the prejudice with which they must often still contend.

 

The viral campaign encourages social media users on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to upload photos showing the individual together with a young black man whom they care about, along with an explanation of why he is “so much more than a stereotype” and the hashtag #HeIsNotASuspect. In addition to the personal testimonials, the campaign’s emphasis on images of real human beings echoes the powerful role played by photos of Martin in shaping public perceptions during the trial.

 

Essence hopes to garner at least 20,000 posts with the “#HeIsNotASuspect” hashtag (I suspect they will exceed that figure) by August 28, 2013, the 50th anniversary of the “Great March on Washington” where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech.

 

The #HeIsNotASuspect campaign follows the success of the magazine’s 19th annual “Essence Festival,” held in New Orleans this summer, where a panel of city mayors including Newark’s Cory Booker and New Orleans’ Mitch Landrieu discussed the damage inflicted by gun violence on urban communities, and ways it might be addressed.

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