Last year, George Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. But before that decision was handed down the public got the chance to hear from the young woman who was the last person to speak with Trayvon before he died, his friend Rachel Jeantel. As she testified during the case, Rachel became a public figure as the media and audiences bullied her with harsh criticisms and unfair labels. As a result of the humiliating ordeal, Rachel received an overwhelming amount of support to better her own needs and accomplish her dreams as a young woman. Now, just one year and one month after the end of the Zimmerman trial, we reached out to Rachel to see how she’s coping after such a life-altering year in 2013 and she revealed to us her career aspirations, what the media didn’t know about her friend Trayvon and what she would have done differently if she had to testify again.
How did you manage the outpouring of support you received after the Zimmerman trial?
Before the case, I did not have the support I have now. I went to a public school and because there were a lot of students my teachers were not always available to help me, individually. But thanks to the support I received after the case, I have greatly improved on my reading level and overall studies. If I can make it, I know others can too. I’ve learned students cannot blame themselves, especially when they ask for help and do not receive it. But a person cannot be stuck or dependent on the teachers to always help them either.
What are your plans for furthering your education?
My plans for school consist of studying more, for right now. I am going to be honest, I still need academic help. But this will help me have a better education and career. Ideally, I would like to be a fashion designer. I like to create my own fashion designs. Also, since I am a plus size girl it is not that easy [to find clothes], so my mother and I will will create different outfits for me.
How have you dealt with becoming a public figure as a result of the trial?
To me, I don’t see myself as a high-profile person. I see myself as a normal person, just like yourself or others. Honestly, nothing has changed. It is what it is. When people see me at Walmart, they usually say “What are you doing here? You’re a star!” And I say back to them, “Stars will shop at Walmart, today!” [laughs] It was only 15 minutes of fame but if people want to believe I am a star, then so be it. But stars don’t always get to do what they want to do.
How have you moved passed the insults that were hurdled at you?
I learned a long time ago people will say what they want to say. But if they are not paying my bills or not doing anything for me, what they say will not hurt me. They are not God and they are not my boss so they can say whatever. I know who I am and the people who associate with me know me as well. It’s funny though, because every time I show up someplace people always tell me “Oh I like you!” But the same people weren’t saying that last year when I was featured for the case. Other people will get really excited and ask if I am the girl from the “Trayvon Martin case.” That really pisses me off because it was not the Trayvon Martin case, it was the George Zimmerman case because Zimmerman was the one being tried on the stand. Not Trayvon. Other than that, people will ask for pictures or even for my number and I say “No!” [laughs] I tell them I have Facebook or Twitter if you want to contact me there.
What’s your favorite memory of Trayvon?
Trayvon was really funny! To be honest, Trayvon was a smart young man. I’m not going to lie, he used to help me with my math schoolwork so my grades could be good. Math was his strong point.
We heard Juror B-29 publicly state she wished she would have voted guilty for George Zimmerman and that her life was ruined by the trial, what do you think of her comments?
I think she wanted her own 15 minutes of fame. First and foremost, she was a juror. No one put her information out there, she did. I think a lot of people wanted to use the case to build their own platform. As for her, it backfired.
If you had to testify all over again would you do anything differently?
If I had to testify all over again, I would have been more prepared. I was not prepared for the trial last year. especially concerning the media. I know how to deal with the media now, but before then I did not. It was my first time on television. I was not used to the news cameras or paparazzi. Initially I was like “uh nuh!” when they would continuously ask me questions or take pictures. That’s why by time I took the stand, I was just ready to go! It was too much for me. Now I know how to deal with all of the attention. Also I would have learned proper grammar and how I should speak or what should I say when I am on trial. With what I know now, I would have done a better job.