Trayvon Martin has become a familiar name in the U.S., his murder at the hands of George Zimmerman and the trial that followed have become fodder for legal eagles while the “not guilty” decision of the jury has been instrumental in the formation of a new protest initiative “Black Lives Matter.”
But how have the parents of the 17-year-old youth, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, weathered the storm since their youngest son tragically and senselessly lost his life — a young Black male described by activists and attorneys as a “victim of racial profiling?”
Five years later, the two share narratives that propel our understanding of Trayvon Benjamin Martin beyond the symbolism to a more intimate view of their man-child in the book “Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin.”
The book reveals their story of love, their frustrations and concerns about America’s system of injustice and how their personal tragedy has sparked the birth of a movement.
“We wanted to tell other parents and the world what really happened to Trayvon. We wanted it to be told from our personal view. But in order to pay tribute to our son’s life, we had to recount the ordeal of his death once again. We want people to know that we’re both doing fine, that life has gone on for us and that we focus on positive things to help us get through each day,” the two parents said.
Trayvon’s propensity for wearing hoodies, captured in a haunting photograph seen by millions worldwide, continues to be one of his father’s fondest memories.
“Like many young men and women in Miami, wearing hoodies is the norm — it’s one way of expressing themselves. Given the hot weather that’s typical in Florida, I didn’t understand at first why he wore one so often. But he was a cool young man — but one with growing pains like others. He was just coming into his own, almost but not quite a man, when he was killed.”
“We tried to make sure he was prepared to handle himself with white adults and how to avoid confrontations with them. And we believe he did all he could to stay alive. It just wasn’t enough,” Tracy and Sybrina said.
Trayvon’s mother said she didn’t have a lot of time to remain cloistered in her Miami bedroom after her son’s death — she could not rest until some form of justice had prevailed.
“I was numb, weak and hopeless,” she said. “But when I heard in those early days that the man responsible for my son’s death had not been arrested, I knew I had to get out of my bed and use my voice like any mother would. I’ve never wanted anyone to pity me or to feel sorry for me. In fact, I hope people would see me simply as a mother — a grieving mother who knew she had to get back up,” Fulton said.
Tracy noted after Benjamin Crump and his legal firm accepted their case, and particularly after the “not guilty” verdict came more than a year after that fateful night, it became clear that his son’s death had stirred the souls of more than just a few family friends.
“You’re never prepared to deal with the sudden death of a child. But after seeing thousands of people come out in our support at the Million Hoodie March in New York City that Rev. Al Sharpton and others pulled together, we were encouraged. Seeing so many people whom we had never met holding signs, wearing T-shirts with our son’s face on the front and hearing the chants and shouts of support — it all helped us,” he said.
Both said they still believe in the American justice system but think changes must be made until Blacks no longer have to fear being “killed with their hands up, killed while walking away, or killed while drinking iced tea and munching on Skittles.”
“You rarely see Asians or whites being pulled over by law enforcement and told to put their hands on the dashboard,” Martin said. “You don’t hear about them being shot by police or put in a chokehold by the police. We know that all lives matter but the evidence tends to say just the opposite about Black lives.
“But we can’t sit down. Not yet. Because we continue to hear the same stories, the same tragedies — the names are just different. And the list has grown way too long,” he said.
Sybrina believes the way law enforcement deals with communities of color needs to be changed.
“Police don’t trust the people in our neighborhoods. Black and brown folks don’t trust the police. We have to get to know one another. We have to begin to understand the differences that exist between people of various races, religions and beliefs. We have to learn how to co-exist because there’s only one world. Community policing would really help,” she said.
Since their son’s death, the two parents have formed the Trayvon Martin Foundation which provides a wide array of services aimed at those who have lost a child or family member and thus been exposed to senseless crime. They have also formed two groups, The Circle of Fathers and The Circle of Mothers, led by Martin and Fulton, respectively.
And they admit that they’re considering entering the world of politics — more than likely at the local level if not as leaders of an advocacy group so that they can be “part of the change.”
“We want to help facilitate healing, we want to empower mothers and fathers. We bring police officers and youth together so that our children can hear firsthand how to conduct themselves if they’re confronted by law enforcement officials. They need to know the do’s and don’ts,” they said.
And with the final word, Sybrina spoke to other mothers who have or may one day find themselves facing what she first encountered five years ago.
“You can’t reach out to help others heal until you’re first healed,” she said. “I had to heal myself first and there was no quick or easy remedy. We have to get involved in our communities and speak out whenever there’s injustice. You never know if tomorrow will be the day when you have to deal with tragedy. But in the midst of it all, as my pastor told me years ago, I learned who I really was. Seeing children at play encourages me. I have hope for tomorrow.
“And I will always be the proud mother of Trayvon Martin,” she said.