Obama marks anniversary of Trayvon Martin's death
© Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Obama on Thursday commemorated the third anniversary of the death of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old black high school student shot dead in Florida by a neighborhood watch volunteer. 

“Today on the third anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death, showing all of our kids, all of them, every single day, that their lives matter — that’s part of our task,” Obama said during a White House reception for Black History Month that was attended by Martin's parents.

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“Progress in this nation happens only because seemingly ordinary people find the courage to stand up for what is right, not just when it’s easy but when it’s hard,” Obama said.

Earlier this week, officials announced that the Justice Department would not file civil rights charges against George Zimmerman in the fatal 2012 shooting of Martin, saying it did not find sufficient evidence. Zimmerman, who said he killed Martin in self-defense, was acquitted in a Florida trial. 

After Zimmerman’s acquittal in 2013, Obama made a surprise appearance at a White House press briefing where he empathized with black Americans outraged by the decision.

“When Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son,” Obama said then, noting the pain within the African-American community surrounding the decision.

“There are very few African-American men who haven't had the experience of being followed in a department store,” he had added. “That includes me.”

Outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder has said he expects federal investigations into the deaths of two other unarmed black men, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York, to conclude in the comings weeks before he leaves office.

Brown and Garner died at the hands of white police officers, and both cases sparked national protests over police tactics and debate over racial profiling, with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter often trending on social media.

Obama spoke broadly about the importance of black history at the reception on Thursday, which drew roughly 300 civil rights, education and faith leaders, as well as some members of Congress, including Democratic Reps. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.).

“We don’t set aside this month each year to isolate or segregate or put under a glass case black history,” Obama said. 

“We set it aside to illuminate those threads — those living threads that African-Americans have woven into the tight tapestry of this nation, to make it stronger and more beautiful and more just and more free,” he added.