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January 25, 2015

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Trayvon Martin’s friend Rachel Jeantel gets scholarship offer


Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel / AP

Witness Rachel Jeantel continues her testimony during George Zimmerman’s trial in Seminole circuit court in Sanford, Fla. Thursday, June 27, 2013.

George Zimmerman Trial

George Zimmerman, left, stands with defense counsel Mark O'Mara during closing arguments in his trial at the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center, in Sanford, Fla., July 12, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Zimmerman Trial Reaction

A protester stomps on a van during a demonstration in reaction to the acquittal of neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman on Monday, July 15, 2013, in Los Angeles. Anger over the acquittal of a U.S. neighborhood watch volunteer who shot dead an unarmed black teenager continued Monday, with civil rights leaders saying mostly peaceful protests will continue this weekend with vigils in dozens of cities. Launch slideshow »

WASHINGTON — While some looked at murder trial witness Rachel Jeantel and saw either a defiant young woman or a victim, Tom Joyner looked at her and saw potential.

The nationally syndicated radio personality and philanthropist says he was touched by Jeantel, who spent two days testifying in the trial of George Zimmerman about her last conversation with her friend Trayvon Martin.

In fact, Joyner was so moved that he has offered to pay for Jeantel to attend the historically black college of her choice.

He explained the offer in an open letter to Jeantel and "all the young people in this country who, through no fault of their own, find yourself living in underserved communities and not yet figuring out your way in this world."

"I realized a hug wasn't enough," Joyner wrote.

The letter was posted Wednesday on

Kelly Harrington, spokeswoman for REACH Media Inc., the parent company of Joyner's radio show and other businesses, said Jeantel had not responded as of Wednesday afternoon. Joyner was not immediately available for comment, she said.

Jeantel's attorney, Rod Vereen, said Wednesday he could not immediately reach Jeantel to discuss a request for comment.

Jeantel was the last person to talk to the 17-year-old before he was fatally shot in a February 2012 confrontation with Zimmerman, who claimed he shot Martin in self-defense. Zimmerman, 29, was acquitted last week of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges.

Jeantel, 19, has yet to graduate from high school. In order to accept Joyner's offer, she would have to get a diploma and take college entrance exams. Joyner also offered to provide her with tutors to accomplish those goals.

"We are committed to meeting you where you are, helping you to get your GED and prepping you for the historically black college or university of your choice," Joyner said.

Joyner has supported historically black colleges and students who attend them through the Tom Joyner Foundation. According to its website, the foundation has raised $65 million to support more than 29,000 students attending historically black colleges and universities, many of which have their roots in 19th century efforts to educate newly freed slaves.

Joyner wrote that he'd only ask in return that Jeantel try to make a difference in someone's life.

"Time and time again, we watch our young people get written off, tossed aside or put at the end of the line because no one wants to give them a chance," he said.

Joyner has provided full scholarships in the past to others, including Genarlow Wilson, who at age 17 was sentenced to 10 years in prison for engaging in sex acts with a 15-year-old girl. Wilson's conviction was ultimately overturned by the Georgia Supreme Court, and he graduated from Morehouse College in May with a degree in sociology.

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