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EAST ST. LOUIS •  Tracy Martin survived this city’s tough streets, only to have his son, Trayvon Martin, killed in a gated community in Florida.

Tracy Martin, who graduated from high school in East St. Louis in 1986, returned to the city Friday as his son’s killing has thrust him into a national conversation over racial profiling.

Martin spoke about the heartache of losing his promising 17-year-old son in an encounter with a neighborhood watch coordinator at a small gated community in Sanford, Fla. George Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder six weeks after shooting the unarmed teen on Feb. 26 as the he walked to his father’s home after buying Skittles and iced tea at a 7-Eleven.

Zimmerman, 28, shot Trayvon Martin shortly after reporting the teenager as a suspicious person. Zimmerman claims self defense under Florida’s “stand your ground” law, but prosecutors say the shooting was not justified.

The episode put a fresh national focus on issues of race and what constitutes self-defense.

On Friday, Martin was joined by his son’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, and brother Jahvaris Fulton, before an enthusiastic crowd of about 300 people at the North End Missionary Baptist Church, 463 North 88th Street, to encourage those who have lost loved ones to speak against violence and the use of guns. They have appeared at many such events, including in Miami, Los Angeles, New York and London.

Martin took the stage to chants of “Tracy! Tracy!”

He listed the names of streets and housing projects here where he had lived, explaining, “I’m from all over East St. Louis.”

He added: “I’m coming here because these are my people.”

Lamenting the change since children could safely play in the streets, he called for more outreach programs to educate them, keep them safe and occupy their time.

“If you are going to take the guns away, you have to replace it with something,” he said. “The first thing is God.”

The crowd responded with the refrain, “I am Trayvon Martin,” which has become a catchphrase for protesters expressing solidarity.

Fulton said of her son: “Trayvon was no different from any one of your kids. He’s your son, he’s your stepson, he’s your godson, he’s your nephew … he’s all of our sons.”

Martin and Fulton have developed a nonprofit organization in their son’s memory to help fund the costs of traveling and organizing rallies. gated community in Sanford, Fla. George Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder six weeks after shooting the unarmed teen on Feb. 26 as the he walked to his father’s home after buying Skittles and iced tea at a 7-Eleven.

Zimmerman, 28, shot Trayvon Martin shortly after reporting the teenager as a suspicious person. Zimmerman claims self defense under Florida’s “stand your ground” law, but prosecutors say the shooting was not justified.

The episode put a fresh national focus on issues of race and what constitutes self-defense.

On Friday, Martin was joined by his son’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, and brother Jahvaris Fulton, before an enthusiastic crowd of about 300 people at the North End Missionary Baptist Church, 463 North 88th Street, to encourage those who have lost loved ones to speak against violence and the use of guns. They have appeared at many such events, including in Miami, Los Angeles, New York and London.

Martin took the stage to chants of “Tracy! Tracy!”

He listed the names of streets and housing projects here where he had lived, explaining, “I’m from all over East St. Louis.”

He added: “I’m coming here because these are my people.”

Lamenting the change since children could safely play in the streets, he called for more outreach programs to educate them, keep them safe and occupy their time.

“If you are going to take the guns away, you have to replace it with something,” he said. “The first thing is God.”

The crowd responded with the refrain, “I am Trayvon Martin,” which has become a catchphrase for protesters expressing solidarity.

Fulton said of her son: “Trayvon was no different from any one of your kids. He’s your son, he’s your stepson, he’s your godson, he’s your nephew … he’s all of our sons.”

Martin and Fulton have developed a nonprofit organization in their son’s memory to help fund the costs of traveling and organizing rallies.

Nicholas J.C. Pistor is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.