I cannot begin to imagine how hard these past 17 months have been for Sybrina Fulton.
Sybrina lost her son, Trayvon Martin, to a senseless act of violence. She watched the media create a caricature of her son as a thug, and burden him with assumptions about what it means to be a young black teen. And, after a long and painful trial, she saw Trayvon’s killer go free.
We all say “We Are Trayvon” and feel a sense of pain when we think of this tragedy, but Sybrina was a physical part of Trayvon, bound by blood and the love between mother and son.
She could have reacted in so many understandable ways. She could have lashed out at the world. She could have become a recluse. She could have simply fallen apart, and no one would have blamed her for it.
But she did none of those things. Instead of falling apart, she found her calling. In this past year and a half, she has served as an ambassador for hope, urging the nation to turn our pain into progress, to turn our grief into an opportunity for growth. Along with Trayvon’s father, Tracy Martin, she has created the Trayvon Martin Foundation and become a strong advocate for social change.
Sybrina gave a beautiful speech last week at the National Urban League Summit. I watched her stand in front of hundreds of people, holding up a small black and white photograph of her son, bathed in the blinking red lights of countless television cameras. Her message was clear and urgent: “Please use my story, please use my tragedy, please use my broken heart to say to yourself, ‘We cannot let this happen to anybody else’s child.”
Her courage reminds me of other mothers who have turned anger into action; mothers who represented the very essence of bravery in the face of tragedy.
Mothers like Mamie Till, who insisted that the funeral for her son Emmitt feature an open casket because she “wanted the world to see what they did to my baby.” The photographs from that 1955 funeral became iconic, and they made many people question a criminal justice system that would acquit two white men for such a horrible crime.
Mothers like Judy Shepard, whose son Matthew was beaten, pistol-whipped and murdered because of his sexual orientation. Ms. Shepard became an activist for hate crime legislation, and her Matthew Shepard Foundation helped push the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Act.
Sybrina and Tracy are also working to honor their son in the same way. Trayvon’s Laws are a set of policy principles that seek to end racial profiling, repeal Stand Your Ground-type laws, and create accountability for law enforcement and community watch groups. The principles stem from a basic philosophy: racial profiling is not only ineffective, it is dangerous; and as George Zimmerman has shown, it is not confined to our police.
Most recently, this vision has inspired a group of young protestors in Florida, called the Dream Defenders, to stage a sit-in at Governor Rick Scott’s office. They are urging lawmakers to call a special session of the Florida legislature to reconsider the Stand Your Ground law in the state. As one young Dream Defender, Ciara Taylor, told the Miami Herald this week, “We’re not random kids coming to the Capitol. We’re Dream Defenders for a reason. We have a dream. We have vision. We plan to see it through.”
Sybrina gave them that dream. It is a mother’s duty to instill in her children a passion for life — a vision for how to make the world a better place. That responsibility was ripped away from Sybrina Fulton on the night of February 26, 2012, when one of her sons was taken from her. But she has found a new duty, a new calling. She has made it possible for all of us, including our children, to dream about a better world, and she has inspired us to make that dream a reality.
Trayvon is gone. But Trayvon’s mother is making sure that the world remembers his name.