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WASHINGTON (AFP) – Trayvon Martin’s father told U.S. lawmakers the not-guilty verdict in the high-profile murder trial will not define his dead son, saying the case sparked a needed conversation about race.

Speaking in Washington to the opening gathering of a congressional panel on black men and boys, Tracy Martin also expressed gratitude that President Barack Obama — “the most influential man on the planet” — weighed in on the sensitive case “from an African-American perspective.”

The death of black teen Trayvon during a confrontation with neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman sparked a national debate about race in America as well as about the controversial “stand-your-ground” laws that allow someone to use deadly force if they believe their life is in immediate danger.

But Zimmerman’s not-guilty verdict earlier this month triggered simmering anger, with some people noting how the defense team sought to paint Trayvon as a thuggish, drug-using teen.

“To have his name slandered and demonized, I think, as a father, it’s real important that my message to the world is, we won’t let this verdict sum up who Trayvon was,” Martin told lawmakers.

“I’m about to do everything in my power not to give up the fight for him. Not only the fight for Trayvon but the fight for so many other millions of black and brown boys.”

More than 20 members of Congress attended the packed caucus meeting to hear Martin and a host of experts discuss the state of young black men in America, and they gave Martin a standing ovation.

“The loss of 17-year-old Trayvon has focused attention on black males as nothing else has in decades,” said Washington delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.

Martin said he hoped Obama’s poignant comments last week — “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago” — sparks a conversation in American households about what people can do “to stop this from happening to your child.”

“We’ve taken that negative energy, and we’re trying to turn it into a real positive,” Martin said.

Michael Eric Dyson, a professor of sociology at Georgetown University, said blacks often undergo what he described as constant racial profiling, something Obama touched on in his comments.

“Black teens are facing a state that stigmatizes them, a culture that demonizes them, and a pop culture that both expresses their intent to be greater than they are, but reinforces some of their vulnerability,” Dyson said.

Congresswoman Frederica Wilson spoke of the need to embrace the education and mentoring of “angry” black youths, saying parents and educators would merely be “spinning our wheels” if they did not commit to improving such opportunities.

Trayvon Martin, she said, “will go down in history as the martyr who brought to the forefront the… struggle of African-American boys.”

Photo Credit: AFP/Chip Somodevilla

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