Fulton: ‘My son mattered’

GVL/Kevin Sielaff
Sybrina Fulton

GVL/Kevin Sielaff Sybrina Fulton

Audra Gamble

Less than three weeks away from what would have been her son’s 20th birthday, Sybrina Fulton gave the keynote address during Grand Valley State University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day events.

Wendy Wenner, acting vice president of inclusion and equity at GVSU, felt Fulton was the perfect fit to speak on a day honoring one of the most famous advocates for non-violence.

“(Fulton) has inspired us all to educate ourselves and our children about civil rights and the right to full participation for all of our children in this society without the fear of violence,” Wenner said.

Fulton’s son, Trayvon Martin, was shot and killed by George Zimmerman on Feb. 26, 2012.

Following the death of her son and the resultant country-wide frenzy, Fulton hoped to make sure no one else had to go through her pain.

“Trust me, you do not want to walk in these boots,” Fulton said. “You have family members that die, but when you have a child die, that’s a different level of pain.”

Fulton’s speech at the GVSU Fieldhouse on Monday was the first in a series of three speeches she gave at surrounding universities. Her message to young college students is simple: get involved.

Many students at GVSU are the same age as what Trayvon Martin would have been, and his mother wants her son’s peers to shape the future of their nation.

“We encourage our young people to come up with innovative ways, creative ways so they can make positive change in their community,” Fulton said. “We’re laying the groundwork to pass it on to them, so they have to decide how (they) want the fabric of America to look like.

“It becomes not only our country, but their country as well because now they are participants in what’s going to happen to them in the future. I think this country is in a lot of trouble. I think we’re in turmoil right now.”

Since the death of her son in 2012, countless others have been killed due to what Fulton calls “senseless gun violence.” Some of the most notable gun violence deaths in recent months have been the death of Michael Brown in Missouri and 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland.

“I think about Mike Brown’s family, I think about the Sandy Hook families, the Aurora families,” Fulton said. “There’s just so many things that are occurring through senseless gun violence and we have to do something about it. We can’t continue to remain silent.”

And silent she was not. Fulton spoke about the pain she felt after losing her son.

“I still have two sons,” Fulton said. “I have one in heaven, that’s Trayvon, and I have one here on Earth, that’s Javaris Fulton. The very worst day of my life was to see my son in a casket stretched out before the church.”

At first, Fulton thought her youngest son was killed because of the hoodie he wore. But she soon realized that was not the case.

“Although this is an uncomfortable subject, the very thing that caused my son to lose his life was the color of his skin,” Fulton said.

However, Fulton warned those in attendance to still be a part of the conversation, even if they did not share the same skin color as her.

“A lot of times people don’t feel connected to the story because of the color of (Trayvon’s) skin, or because of the racial or maybe a sexual orientation of a person, or the religion of a person,” Fulton said. “But maybe it’s your religion next time, that’s why it becomes important. We’re all United States citizens and we have certain rights. What we’re asking is that people observe those rights. It was my group this time, maybe it’s your group next time.”

Fulton encouraged members of the Grand Rapids community to become members of local nonprofits and other organizations that fight for the same causes she does. She stressed being an active participant in the uncomfortable but necessary conversations about discrimination in America.

“(This is) what’s happening to your country,” Fulton said. “Are you going to continue to sit back and do nothing or are you going to participate in what’s going on in your country?”