On Friday afternoon, Rachel Jeantel walked across a stage in a Miami high school auditorium to receive her diploma, fulfilling a promise she had made to her best friend, the late Trayvon Martin.
Trayvon’s mother, Sabrina Fulton looked on although she was less than three miles from where her son is buried.
“Her coming is like having Trayvon there saying, ‘You did it. You proved people wrong.’” Jeantel told Yahoo News.
Jeantel was on the phone with Martin when he was pursued and subsequently shot and killed by George Zimmerman on February 26, 2012 while walking through a gated community in Sanford Florida. The case caused nationwide controversy about the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law, trespassing, vigilantism and racial profiling.
Zimmerman claimed he shot the teen in self-defense was found not guilty last July. Jeantel was called as a witness in the trial and used words like “cracker” on the stand. Her speech and choice of words often gained more attention than her actual testimony. Jeantel speaks Haitian, Creole, English and Spanish and reporters struggled to interpret her dialect and colloquialisms.
An awkward exchange between Jeantel and defense attorney, Don West revealed that she couldn’t read a letter written in cursive which led to cruel reactions and comments on social media.
Civil rights attorney, Rod Vereen met Jeantel shortly before the trial through a church member. He says he tried his best to prepare her for trial, but believes that prosecutors missed out on a great opportunity.
“I don’t think they understood the importance of how Rachel was going to fit in.”
“She was the person that brings out the character of Trayvon Martin.”
After the trial Vereen committed to supporting Jeantel and with the financial backing of the Tom Joyner Foundation he assembled a team of three tutors, a psychologist and other mentors. Jeantel was entering her senior year and still reading and doing math at an elementary level. For nine months, she received tutoring afterschool for three hours a day, five to six days a week.
Tutors say she has made significant improvement, but will continue to work with them on pre-college curriculum before enrolling at a university. Shortly after the trial, radio personality Tom Joyner offered Jeantel a full scholarship to the HBCU of her choice. Jeantel recently got her driver’s license and is looking for job, but hopes to be a clothing designer in the future.
“When people see Rachel Jeantel now, I want them to say, ‘Wow, there was something good that came out of something so tragic,’” Vereen remarked.
Rachel Jeantel is proof that when we take the time to invest in our youth instead of judging and criticizing them, great things can happen.