Not long after her son Trayvon Martin was fatally shot by George Zimmerman in 2012, Sybrina Fulton, still grieving, had a dream one night.
“I saw myself in my son’s room, and there were all these moms in there around his bed. They were crying and praying and hugging. And I woke up in the middle of the night and started writing it down,” she said. “In the morning, I had pages and pages of stuff. And that was how the Circle of Mothers got started. It wasn’t there for me when my son was shot and killed, but I want to make sure there’s something in place for other mothers who lose a child through senseless gun violence.”
Fulton spoke about the circle and the other programs the Trayvon Martin Foundation operates since she formed it almost seven years ago during a Jan. 16 event hosted by 1Hood Media at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. She also spoke of her journey from “average” to a sought-after public speaker and champion for families who have lost someone to gun violence.
She also spoke about Antwon Rose’s death, how the media will try to make him out to be a criminal as they did with her son, and how the “I felt threatened” defense may be used, and how police might lie. She urged the family and friends to stay strong and stay vigilant.
“People will realize that Antwon Rose (was) shot in the back and (then) you tell me you felt threatened. If someone is heading the opposite way how is that a threat?” she asked.
“The man who chased my son was 28, (Trayvon) was 17 and unarmed. When the video showed police had Eric Garner (in New York City) in a choke hold—that’s not what it says on his death certificate—police said he wasn’t in one, because it’s against the law. The media won’t tell you everything. But we’re smarter than that; we have to talk it into existence. We have to fight for everything, an arrest, fight for a conviction, but I just want to say to you, don’t give up.”
In an odd coincidence noted by event moderator Jasiri X, the trial of Michael Rosfeld, the former East Pittsburgh police officer who shot Rose in the back, was scheduled to begin Feb. 26—seven years to the day after Trayvon was killed. Since then, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that a jury will be selected from Dauphin County, not Allegheny County, where the shooting occurred. Thus, the trial isn’t expected to begin until March at the earliest.
Fulton cautioned people against unrealistic expectations. In many cases, murders of African Americans go unsolved; in others, there is an arrest but no conviction. But even if there is a conviction, it doesn’t stop the pain.
“You’re going to hear things that aren’t necessarily the truth,” she said. “But you need to know he did not deserve to die. That’s what you stand up for…time does not heal all wounds. I still have bad days. Look at the outcomes; even if the person goes to jail, there’s still a family that needs help. Pay attention to the outcomes because at the end of the day, I still lost my son.”
One of the things her foundation has done in Miami in February every year since Trayvon’s death, is a Remembrance Weekend celebration, which honors Trayvon’s memory, serves as a fundraiser and as a vehicle to help others. It includes a black-tie dinner, and musical and performing artists, and it also includes a Peace Walk.
“We call it a Peace Walk because we want everyone to know that they have a right to walk in peace without being followed, chased, profiled, pursued or murdered,” she said. “And we include law enforcement in that because we want to bridge the gap between law enforcement and our young people.”
During the question-and-answer period, most of those who spoke, including Pittsburgh City Council candidate Leon Ford, didn’t really ask questions but praised Fulton for her inspirational work and dedication to helping others.
Of these, the most poignant was a tearful young lady who said Fulton had helped her find her voice.
“Your work helps people like me,” the unidentified woman said. “A year after my brother was killed I was lost—you gave me a voice. I spent nights looking at your picture, I watched you. And I learned to have a voice and to speak out about Black women who are sexually assaulted. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. Your work is affecting people you don’t know on a scale you can’t imagine.”
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