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Howard Law Grad's Petition Helped Spark Trayvon Martin Protest

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By Andrew Chow, Esq. on March 30, 2012 6:02 AM

As outrage over Trayvon Martin's killing continues, an unlikely social-media hero has emerged: a white "super-Irish" graduate of historically black Howard University's law school.

Kevin Cunningham, 31, of Washington, D.C., spotted a link to a news story about Trayvon Martin on a law school listserv. That was 11 days after the unarmed teenager was shot and killed by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman, Cunningham told the Poynter Institute.

Trayvon's killing led Cunningham to launch an online petition at to demand Zimmerman's prosecution; it now boasts more than 2.2 million signatures. Cunningham credited his activism, in part, to his legal training at Howard:

"At Howard, they tell us as soon as you get there, 'If you're going to be a lawyer, you're either a social engineer or a parasite on the society,'" Kevin Cunningham told MSNBC. "That's how I think about life ... is to be a social engineer, and that's what my parents were always trying to be."

Cunningham also likely benefited from his unique perspective as a "minority" while attending Howard University School of Law, where the student body is currently 80% black and just 1% white.

Thanks to social-media efforts by fellow Howard alumni, Cunningham's petition quickly grew. It's now the most popular petition in the website's history, MSNBC reports. Trayvon Martin's parents, who have since taken over the petition, expressed their gratitude.

"When we heard about the petition, we were overwhelmed that someone we didn't know would take the time and effort to raise awareness about our son," Trayvon's mother said.

Kevin Cunningham's Trayvon Martin petition proves the power of social media, the Poynter Institute reports. It also shows how one lawyer's sense of social justice can have an impact on society.

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