Rachel Jeantel, also known as Witness #8 in the George Zimmerman trial, fulfilled a wish of her murdered friend Trayvon Martin on Friday when she received her high school diploma, just a few miles from where the 17-year-old Martin was buried in 2012. Jeantel, a friend of Martin's in elementary school and high school, was on the phone with Trayvon at a 7-Eleven shortly before he was gunned down.
Martin, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by former neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman after Zimmerman chased Martin in a gated community in Florida. Martin had gone with his father to visit his father's fiancée at her townhouse at The Retreat at Twin Lakes in Sanford. According to Yahoo! News on May 30, the incident and resulting trial, in which Zimmerman was found innocent, “roused a national conversation about racial profiling, self-defense, gun control, vigilantism, civil rights and more.”
Jeantel had made a commitment to Martin that she would finish high school and graduate – something that Martin never had the opportunity to do. At the time of the shooting, Martin was a junior at Dr. Michael M. Krop High School in north Miami-Dade. Among those watching the graduation ceremony was Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton. Having her there was a moment of vindication for Rachel, whose testimony at the 2012 trial led to public mocking of her difficulty with the English language.
“Her coming is like having Trayvon there saying, ‘You did it. You proved people wrong,’” Jeantel said. Born to immigrant parents, the multilingual Jeantel speaks Haitian Creole along with Spanish, but it was her street dialect and slang during the trial that led to constant misunderstandings, topped with her testimony that Martin had called Zimmerman, who was following him, a “creepy-ass cracker.”
Writes Yahoo!: “Contentious exchanges between the sometimes-testy teen and persnickety defense attorney Don West turned into cultural theater.” At one point in the trial, West asked Jeantel: “Are you claiming in any way that you don’t understand English?” After a pause, Rachel replied back with: “I don't understand you. I do understand English.” But her admission that she could not read or write cursive and her hard street talk was mocked incessantly on social media. Despite entering her senior year at the time, Jeantel could still only read at an elementary school level.
However, thanks to Rod Vereen, a Miami defense and civil rights attorney, all of that is behind her now. Connecting with Jeantel during the trial and assisting her with her testimony, Vereen assembled a team of mentors – tutors and psychologists – and for nine months spent three to five hours a day with Jeantel after school giving her one-on-one instruction. All were rewarded when Jeantel stepped onto the stage Friday, white cap and gown beaming, and accepted her diploma.
“When they say it takes a village to raise a child, this is what has happened here,” Vereen said. “Getting her down that aisle has not been an easy task. Rachel is just like any other teenager. They want to buck the system sometimes, and you just can’t let them buck the system.”
The Inquisitr shared Jeantel’s self-assessment after she had graduated: “I did it. The witness who didn’t know how to speak English knows how to speak English through the 12th grade now. I never quit.”