Trayvon Martin’s mother speaks at Northwestern about activism

Olivia Exstrum, Assistant Campus Editor

More than two years after Trayvon Martin’s death, his mother, Sybrina Fulton, spoke Tuesday at Northwestern about her work to create positive change after her son’s death.

“To me, Trayvon was used as a symbol to bring awareness and attention to human rights, to racial profiling, to just basically what’s going on with our justice system and how we as African-Americans are viewed,” she said.

The 17-year-old unarmed black teenager was fatally shot in Florida in February 2012 by then-28-year-old neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman. The incident sparked a national conversation about racial profiling.

Fulton spoke before a packed Cahn Auditorium at the State of the Black Union hosted by For Members Only.

She began by detailing the day she learned her son had been killed. She said at the time, she lived an “average life.”

“I had one car, one house, one job, two kids, just an average lifestyle,” she said. “I couldn’t believe that I would be put in that position, that I would be the parent of a murdered child.”

The worst time for her, she said, was not receiving the phone call informing her of her son’s death, but attending the funeral.

“I had to witness my baby boy laying in a casket with a white suit on and a light blue tie and handkerchief and nice haircut as if he was going to the prom,” Fulton said.

She then spoke about her activism after her son’s death. She and Tracy Martin, Trayvon Martin’s father, established The Trayvon Martin Foundation, a nonprofit that works to create awareness about violent crime and its effects on families, as well as provide support through programs such as conflict resolution and scholarships.

Fulton said her work with the foundation was, in part, to channel the “negative feelings inside of us” and work toward something positive.

“I believe that’s one of the key points to my healing,” she said. “We try to do our part … to try to assist those families because the road they’re traveling down, we’ve been down.”

After her speech, Fulton participated in a question-and-answer session, which was co-sponsored by FMO and NU’s chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists. The session was moderated by Medill sophomore Sierra Boone, the chapter’s vice president of chapter relations. Audience members could tweet their questions during the event using the hashtag #SOTBU2014.

During the question-and-answer session, Boone brought up a question about racial profiling.

Fulton called the subject of racial profiling an “ugly truth” that needs to be addressed. She said for a long time she believed the reason her son was followed was because he was wearing a hoodie, a now ubiquitous symbol of the shooting. She said she realized later, during the trial, racial profiling played a role.

She also discussed her oldest son, Jahvaris Fulton. She said Martin’s death has made her more cautious.

“I see young men now, and I’m afraid for them because people don’t necessarily have to have a reason to perceive you as a threat, a criminal, a bad person,” she said. “That scares me because our young men have the right to walk down the street, to listen to their radio even if it’s too loud.”

McCormick freshman Mylan Henderson said he attended the event because he admires Fulton’s work to promote awareness about issues of racial profiling.

“Racial profiling is certainly uncomfortable, but it’s a reality that we still have to face,” Henderson said. “We can directly influence and make a positive impact and change.”

Fulton acknowledged that the subject of race is “uncomfortable, to say the least,” but necessary to discuss in order to create change. She pointed to voting as a tool to do so.

“That’s the most effective way to have your voice heard,” she said. “Whatever issue it is, you have to talk about it even if people don’t want to because it’s uncomfortable … This is the first step to us making a positive change in this world.”

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