Jasmine Rand, the attorney for the families of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Michael Brown, spoke at the University of Michigan Monday, discussing her work work on racial relations in the United States and human rights activism.
Rand, a professor at University of Miami School of Law, is also active in civil rights movements and was recognized by the National Bar Association as one of the top 40 lawyers under 40 in the nation in 2013.
The event is one of several this week sponsored by the Greek Life Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, Central Student Government and the Black Business Undergraduate Society as part of a campus-wide Diversity and Inclusion Week.
During her remarks, Rand emphasized how her personal background and experiences led her to discover her passion for law and commitment to advocating for underrepresented communities.
“I am a first generation high school graduate,” Rand said. “I was born to a teenage mother. Do not judge me by my successes. Judge me by the number of times I fell down and stood back up again. Do not judge me by the number of times I have appeared on CNN.”
Rand told the audience that she believes social justice is an issue relevant to all careers and fields of study.
“It doesn’t matter what profession you enter into,” she said. “It’s a global effort to be able to take whatever skill you have and be a part of the movement. It doesn’t have to be rallying in the streets.”
Her remarks largely centered on her experiences with the prominent national cases she’d been involved in — the deaths of Martin and Brown.
In February 2012, George Zimmerman shot 17-year-old African-American high school student, Trayvon Martin, while he was walking, unarmed, in his neighborhood in Florida. Martin died as a result of the wound. At the time, Zimmerman claimed that he shot Trayvon out of self-defense, despite being instructed by a 911 operator he called about Martin to not engage.
Rand said she learned about the case before it garnered national attention and informed her students at the University of Miami, which ultimately led to the start of the now national movement, “I am Trayvon Martin.”
“My students went home after class that night, and the next morning my students sent me a video they had shot of them saying, ‘I am Trayvon Martin,’ and teaching the public of what happened to Trayvon Martin through the lens of themselves,” Rand said. “I got goosebumps. I realized the lesson my students learned was they understood that the most powerful thing you can do in any movement is to make them see themselves as part of the greater whole.”
Rand said the video soon went viral, and eventually the local “I am Trayvon Martin” movement became a national movement and then an international one.
“I invited them to meet with the prosecutors and we created posters,” Rand said. “Each of my students addressed the press, which was the launch of what became the national movement. It was amazing because within a week, President Obama said ‘I am Trayvon Martin.’ ”
Almost two months after the shooting, Zimmerman was charged with the second-degree murder of Trayvon Martin. Rand counseled the Martin family during criminal court proceedings, which resulted in a not guilty verdict for Zimmerman.
Rand said the news of the not guilty verdict was a devastation.
“That night, I kept waiting for the next announcement,” she said. “I was so exhausted that I couldn’t turn the TV off. I fell asleep with the news on and all I heard all night long was, ‘not guilty, not guilty, not guilty.’ I remember thinking I did not want to get out of my bed. I did not want that to be the reality of my nation.”
However, she said she was inspired to continue her work after receiving a phone call from Martin’s mother, who reminded her of her duty to serve as a civic leader to fight for equality. Though Zimmerman wasn’t sentenced, Rand said she thought the case will have a lasting impact on the nation.
“Even though there was not a guilty verdict, we gained the momentum of the people,” Rand said. “It opened national discussions on race relations, gun control and stand your ground laws. It pulled the United Nations in to look at our criminal system.”
BBUS member Lauren Ward, a Business freshman, said she thought Rand is a positive role model with a valuable perspective to offer students at the University.
“BBUS collaborated with the Office of Greek Life this week because the speaker of this week, Jasmine Rand,” Ward said. “She is a good example of someone to look at, as a woman in business and in a role of such power, who can influence students into thinking that they can take on such high profile cases and influence headlines.”
LSA senior Caira Cronin said Rand’s speech was beneficial to the audience and spread a positive message that the Greek community should reflect on during diversity and inclusion week.
“I think it’s extremely important to bring this to our campus because we have had negative media about Greek life and privilege,” Cronin said. “It’s important to bring speakers to campus that are exposing issues that impact everyone.”
As an attorney, professor and activist, Rand said she continues to take on large numbers of cases to fight for the protection of the rights of young African-American men, saying she was positive her efforts would ultimately make a difference.
“I am in a revolutionary state of mind — politically correct is for politicians,” Rand said. “I bit my tongue with Trayvon. I bit my tongue with Michael Brown. Change will come.”
Correction: A previous version of this article mistakenly referenced a video of Trayvon Martin's shooting.