SWAMPSCOTT — Swampscott High junior Stephen Bowers wore a black hoodie to school yesterday, not to defy the dress policy but for Wear Your Hoodie Day, an event meant to raise awareness about race and appearance amid the controversy surrounding the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
"I thought it was kind of cool how the school is kind of recognizing us; I appreciate it," said Bowers, 17, who said he wore the hoodie "to show support for Trayvon."
Many students like Bowers donned hooded sweatshirts — garments that have come to symbolize the debate raging about race and appearance related to the slaying of Martin on Feb. 26 in a community north of Orlando, Fla.
While Swampscott High may be thousands of miles away from Sanford, Fla., the debate about the shooting has gripped the nation.
Martin was shot to death in the city of Sanford on Feb. 26 as the unarmed black teenager was walking back from a convenience store after purchasing Skittles and iced tea. Investigators have said the shooter, George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, has claimed self-defense, saying he opened fire after Martin punched him in the face, knocked him to the ground and began slamming his head on the sidewalk.
Black leaders and others are demanding Zimmerman's arrest on murder or manslaughter charges, but state and federal authorities are still investigating.
Many feel Martin's appearance — he was wearing a hoodie — played a role in the incident.
The sentiment of Wear Your Hoodie Day is that wearing a hoodie does not mean one is in a gang and should not equate to one being a hoodlum, students said. At the high school, hoodies are normally banned under the student dress policy. Skittles and iced tea were also sold in school yesterday.
"It symbolizes not to pick sides," said freshman Jake Venuti about why he wore a hoodie. "Just because how you look does not mean you deserve to die over it, you know."
In a statement, Principal Layne Millington said the school's Race and Membership class organized the day, and he supported the idea, though the school did not take a stand on the controversy.
"I am supporting this event because it's an opportunity for students on both sides of the controversy to engage in deep and thoughtful discussions about a complex and pertinent event currently unfolding in our country," Millington said in his statement.
Millington asked that dialogue on the issue be "thoughtful, relevant and respectful." Millington referred a request to meet with members of the Race and Membership class to Superintendent Lynne Celli, who could not be reached yesterday. Her office denied a request to meet with students who organized the day and forwarded Millington's statement, instead.
Students outside the school yesterday talked about the event.
Bowers lives in Boston and attends the high school through the Metco Program. When asked about what he thinks about the hoodie coming to mean someone who is up to no good, Bowers said: "I guess if you view it that way. You could also say that the ski mask is bad. I think hoodies are cool. Everybody wears hoodies, so, if that's the way you see it, that's the way you see it, but I don't think there is anything wrong with them."
When asked how people in Boston view the controversy, Bowers said: "It's the same thing as out here. Everybody's talking how this kid got shot over having a hoodie. He was unarmed just having candy and some Skittles. They are saying how it was wrong, and how if it were to happen to one of them, it wouldn't. But it could happen to anybody."
Student Tiberius Weaver-Zeman wore a hoodie because it was his "default form of sweatshirt" and for another reason.
"I heard about the Trayvon story on the radio. I thought it was a good thing to support him and support his family."
"I think it's an important story," Weaver-Zeman said.
"It's a good opportunity," said freshman Anthony Rizzo, who forgot to wear his hoodie. "Trayvon should not have been killed because he was wearing a hoodie."
One student did not have an opinion on the matter and just liked the relaxed dress policy.
"It's a nice change; it's a nice privilege to be able to wear a hoodie for a day," Michael Konsdansky said.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673 or by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @DanverSalemNews. Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.