Sybrina Fulton is the mother of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old who in 2012 was shot and killed in a violent confrontation with George Zimmerman. Coverage surrounding Trayvon’s death and the ensuing trial with Zimmerman, who was acquitted, catapulted the country into a national debate about race, guns and Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. Sybrina Fulton recently visited Seattle University where she delivered a speech to students, faculty, alumni and the public titled We Are All Trayvon. Before her talk, she sat down with KCTS 9’s Enrique Cerna for a conversation about the impact of her son’s death, the creation of the Trayvon Martin Foundation, gun violence and social justice.
ENRIQUE CERNA: When you speak, you tell your audience "We are all Trayvon." How so?
SYBRINA FULTON: I just sincerely believe that any one of our young people, our teenagers, could have been walking home from the store and that someone could have perceived them a certain way, or had some mixed-up ideas in their head and decided to follow them, and chase them, and pursue them and murder them. I just don’t think that it was by coincidence it was Trayvon. I think that it could have been anyone, and so I bring that idea to the table because I want our young people to be aware. I want our young people to be more knowledgeable about what’s going on in their community and communities across the United States as well.
CERNA: This tragedy, it thrust you into a role of leadership.
FULTON: This was not something I would have applied for. This is not something I would have wanted for my life or for my son’s life, or for my family, but things happen and I’m here and I have accepted the position now. I decided I can do more than just stay home and cry. A lot of times you don’t hear about the Trayvon Martins, the Tamir Rices, the Jordan Davises, the Oscar Grants, Kendrick Johnsons, the Sean Bells and the Eric Garners. You don’t hear some of those names. You see certain people on the forefront but there’s a lot more people who are being affected by senseless gun violence and I think the ones who are able to speak and have the opportunity to speak are obligated to talk about those cases, are obligated to make sure that those cases are getting proper notice and attention as well.
CERNA: Your mission? That’s your mission now?
FULTON: Well, that’s just one of my missions. We created the Trayvon Martin Foundation, and that foundation was to channel our anger, to channel our hurt and pain, and just the fact that the justice system did not work in our case.
We wanted to do something to make a change in society; to make a change in the United States; to make a change internationally as well, and so we wanted to do something where we could connect families who are victims of senseless gun violence so we can try to change laws that are unfair, so that we can try to change mindsets. Because even though you might change laws, if you don’t change the mindset of those people who are applying the laws, then the same thing is going to continue to happen. We are going to get somebody who’s shot and killed; then the person who shot and killed that person won’t be held accountable because the law is not being applied fairly.
CERNA: What needs to change in our society?
FULTON: We have to come together collectively. We have to come together with some sort of plan to get rid of all of these weapons that are unregistered that are sitting around that people are just using carelessly. We have to know the meaning of senseless gun violence — something that could be prevented. We have to understand that and we have to understand how it impacts the brothers and sisters of those family members who have been shot and killed. And my heart goes out to those students. They had to experience that, had to go through that. And that’s going to be an ongoing healing process for them. They’re never going to forget that their fellow student was shot and killed. They’re never going to forget that. And it’s going to be a certain level of discomfort at the school because of it.
I was broken. And I’m not afraid to say it. When I cry, I cry. I’m a parent. I’m a mom. I hurt. At the same time, I knew that I needed to do more and so this is my more.
CERNA: George Zimmerman obviously got off in this case. The justice department didn’t bring any civil rights charges against him. Since then he’s had a number of run-ins and incidents with the law. How tough is it for you to see all that?
FULTON: My focus is not the person who murdered my son. My focus is still my son and my older son. And so I stay focused on what I need to. I stay focused on my foundation and I just let the negative stuff be the negative stuff. I don’t really concentrate on what somebody is doing because it would take the focus off of what I need to be focused on. To answer your question, to another point, that situation with my son, the incident, the actual incident that occurred, I gave that to God. And I left it with Him and I refuse to take it back and say, “God, you’re not moving fast enough, let me handle this myself." And so that’s why I have a peace of mind because I know I have given it to God and that God will handle it so I won’t need to. Sybrina does not need to do anything else.
CERNA: Many people point at Trayvon as really the beginning of Black Lives Matter and that movement. Do you feel that way?
FULTON: Um, no, I think that the Trayvon Martin tragedy reunited — reignited — people’s thoughts and what they were thinking. It was always a Black Lives Matter movement because civil rights have been going on forever, and so I think it’s always been a movement. But I think it’s reignited the fire that we need to do something about black lives that were being lost and nobody was being held accountable for it. I don’t know how we became a country that is so violent. That because of someone’s, the color of their skin, because of their sexual orientation, because of their religion, because of their educational background or their status in life, people hate you so much that they want to harm you; they hate you so much that they want to kill you. How do we become a society such as that? How did we get there?
CERNA: How do you keep yourself going? You seem determined.
FULTON: Well, I was broken so let me say that. I was broken. I was on the floor. I was crying. I was disappointed. I was in a state of depression. I was losing the fight of the tragedy of my son as any parent would. You’re seeing a product of what God has put back together because I was broken. And I’m not afraid to say it. When I cry, I cry. I’m a parent. I’m a mom. I hurt. At the same time, I knew that I needed to do more and so this is my more. This is what I’m doing to contribute, to make sure that my son did not die in vain. This is to make sure that I bring awareness to social injustice, to human rights, to all of the racial profiling and the discrimination. This is what I have decided to do, to do my part to give back to this country.