A narrow stairwell at Florida Memorial University leads to rooms filled with collages and paintings from around the country.
While the artwork varies in style, there’s one common theme: almost all of the pieces depict a young man in a hooded sweatshirt.
This is the headquarters of the Trayvon Martin Foundation, established by Martin’s parents after the Miami Gardens teen was killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.
Zimmerman was acquitted last year after a racially charged, contentious trial.
The historically black university hosted a ceremony Thursday that started and ended with prayer and was filled with spiritual references. The second floor of the school’s library quickly became crowded as people filed in.
The short program included remarks from the university president, Martin’s parents and comments from the director of the foundation. Afterward, Martin’s family used scissors to cut a large blue and orange ribbon.
About 100 people attended the ceremony, including local politicians, state representatives, foundation members and Miami residents.
Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, stood in front of a group of solemn young men from the university’s Black Male College Explorers Program, a college prep program for at-risk black males.
“As I look at the young men behind me, they remind me of Trayvon,” she said.
Some attendees shook their heads as she spoke about her son.
“I am overwhelmed,” she said. “I am grateful to God that I’m able to stand before you and let you know that God is in the midst of it all.”
The school offered the foundation financial support because of the kind of work it is doing in South Florida. The foundation focuses on helping families affected by violent crime.
“It’s a learning laboratory for us,” said Roslyn Artis, president of Florida Memorial University. “We really wanted it to be a quiet place where they can reflect and remember.”
Martin’s father Tracy referenced the College Explorers as he thanked people for attending the ceremony. Students in the program take math, science and literature classes along with sessions focused solely on leadership and respect.
“Our mission is to help these young men,” he said. “That’s what we’re here for.”
His son’s death “galvanized the nation,” he said. “It’s just proof that positive things come out of tragedy. Even though he’s not here, we know he’s looking down on us.”
After the ceremony concluded, people lined up to take pictures with Martin and Fulton and tour the facility.
One group peered at pictures of Trayvon as a slide show of the Martin family played on a computer screen.
Foundation members handed out “I am Trayvon Martin” wristbands and explained the significance of each room.
Florida Memorial sophomore Michael Williams, 19, said he thinks the organization having a meeting place is a great step forward. The office is open to the public, and Artis said she hopes the space will motivate students to brainstorm about ways to affect legislation and help reduce crime.
“What the foundation really stands for is getting people to understand that violence is not the answer,” Williams said.
While discussion about Martin’s death and Zimmerman’s trial often is racially charged, Fulton said that the foundation works on behalf of everyone.
“It’s not just an African American issue,” she said. “It’s universal.”
In May, she met with parents from all over the country who have lost children to gun violence, including the families of Sandy Hook shooting victims and the mother of rapper Tupac Shakur, who was shot and killed in 1996.
“When they say, ‘I know how you feel,’ they actually know how you feel,” she said. “It was just good to be with other people in the same position we’re in.”