Rachel Jeantel poses with Rod Vereen, the lawyer representing Trayvon Martin's family. (Photo Credit: Google Images)
Rachel Jeantel poses with Rod Vereen, the lawyer representing Trayvon Martin’s family. (Photo Credit: Google Images)

Can you say resiliency? Rachel Jeantel, 20, a key witness in the George Zimmerman trial for the murder of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin in Florida, has graduated from high school. Jeantel was talking on the phone with Martin when he was killed by George Zimmerman, who was later acquitted under Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law. A prosecution witness, Jeantel was assailed by pundits and social media commenters because of her appearance and speech pattern during her testimony. The then 18-year-old child of Haitian immigrants received hateful comments on a regular and ongoing basis during the trial. Zimmerman’s attorney Don West chided Jeantel during her testimony, asking if she understood English.

Zimmerman’s attorney and the media’s attempt to make Jeantel a spectacle was undermined by her ability to stay focused and offer damaging testimony about Martin and Zimmerman’s encounter on the night of February 26, 2012. Jeantel accepted her diploma with Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton looking on.

Jason Sickles of Yahoo News reports that Jeantel said of Martin’s mother, “Her coming is like having Trayvon there saying, ‘You did it. You proved people wrong.’” 

During the trial, it was discovered that Jeantel could not read a letter written in cursive and that she had major learning deficiencies. The Tom Joyner Foundation paid for a team of tutors, mentors and a psychologist to help Rachel finish school. She participated in 3 to 5 hours of after-school tutoring for nine months before her graduation. Jeantel recently got a driver’s license and plans to continue studying in preparation for enrolling in college one day.

Jeantel stated, “I did it,” and “The witness who didn’t know how to speak English knows how to speak English through the 12th grade now. I never quit.”

This post was written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire.

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