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Looking Under the Hoodie: Lessons from Trayvon Martin's Death

Hudson traced the roots of intolerance in D.C. to a segmented city where there's little interaction between neighborhoods.

He drew upon his experience as a marketing professional in educating his kids about how to carry themselves in the world.

"My sons are wearing the brand of an African-American man every time they walk out into the street," Hudson said. If their pants are sagging, "pull them up," he said, stressing that it's a parent's responsibility to teach youths "to carry themselves in a manner to show the world that they are productive individuals."

"Make sure that all young men see what they can be… then the rest of the world will see what's under the hood," Hudson added.

When the floor opened for questions or brief statements, a sizable chunk of the crowd quickly jumped into line. Youths were urged to get at the front of the line so they could get home early on a school night. Those who stepped to the mike one by one were like a microcosm representation of D.C.'s African-American community.

You had the college students who had found a way forward and wanted to help others from their neighborhoods do the same. You had a couple guys urging "black nationalism," with one calling blacks in Congress "Uncle Toms." You had deacons and activists encouraging community members to get involved and "become a part of the city, not just your street," in Hudson's words.

One question asked of the panel was what life skill would give youths the best chance of coming home alive each evening.

"Love 'em. Teach them right and wrong," Rawlings said. "We've just got to keep on loving them."

Hudson added that kids need to be taught the law and their rights. "They also have to be able to trust the police," he added, and call upon them when trouble arises. "Make those calls quickly and not take matters into their own hands… you need to quickly get yourself out of that situation."

Audience members had advice to add that included having the phone numbers of your kids' friends to not shying away from the "tough conversations."

"Father, be fathers," one said. "Teach our young men how to present themselves in the community."

"When you get to college, you must stay involved," one Brown University graduate said. "You must look out for each other."

Another college student, studying for his PhD at Columbia University, told the crowd that he was a high school dropout who had spent time in jail.

"Tell people they have value," he passionately stressed. "Get up tomorrow and make a difference in your life!"

While one audience member chided blacks for not speaking openly because of the smattering of whites in the crowd, another countered that "there are more than just black people who are going to make a difference in this area."

Norton noted the lively discussion as the forum drew to a close as a sign that the event had "lived up to its expectations."

"You know you've had a good forum when everybody speaks what's on their mind," she said. "…There were comments that were critical and there were comments that were self-critical."

"There's no excuse for profiling, but there's no excuse for inviting it, either," Norton added.

She also stressed that the "more difficult" issue of black-on-black violence must be confronted. "Most of it's not cops shooting us," the representative said. "There are lots of issues for us to work on in our community."

That includes dealing with "the last remaining, most serious form of discrimination in this country."

In an effort to do that, Norton is introducing a racial profiling bill when Congress returns Monday.

"It's a bill that would give grants to local jurisdictions in order to help them develop laws and programs that can combat racial profiling. I have tried in the past to get a national law against racial profiling but have been unable to do that, so this is my fallback," she told PJM after the event.

"And I don't see how anybody could be against this," she added. "You don't have to take the grant, you don't have to participate, but if you want help, and some cities need help, they don't know what to do, then you can get help through this grant funding."

Norton hopes Republicans will see that the bill is "benign and it's something that I think some jurisdictions would like to see." She'll be circulating a Dear Colleague letter on Monday to collect co-sponsors. "I think I'll get a lot," she said.

One woman at the forum expressed frustration that through the discussion there was "no one point made that we can all pick up on."

But a deacon who stepped up to the microphone seemed to reflect the most unifying sentiment in the crowd and on the panel. Expressing that he was "tired of going to forums like this," he advocated that more youth programs be made available to help parents.

"When are we going to get out there and grab these young people and teach them?" he said.