Sybrina Fulton Discusses Healing and Civic Responsibility with Swarthmore Community
On Monday, October 22nd, Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, came to speak at Swarthmore. The event was organized by Dean Dion Lewis, director of of the BCC and dean of the junior class, with support from the Office of the President. It was President Valerie Smith who introduced Fulton to the students, the faculty, the administrators, the EVS techs and other community members assembled in LPAC for the evening.
The audience stood up and cheered loudly as Fulton walked on stage. She began her talk with the same honest humor she would maintain throughout her time on stage that night. She made a special effort to make the audience feel comfortable, making jokes and saying, “think of this talk as a mom speaking to you. As a citizen speaking to you.”
Starting with the topic of gun violence, Fulton asked audience members whose lives or families’ lives had been affected by “senseless gun violence” to raise their hands. When about half the audience members raised their hands, she nodded, seemingly unsurprised. She then told the audience that we must go “back to the basics,” that we neglect to ask each other how we are and that, if senseless gun violence is going to end, we must remember to do this. She told the audience that we must remember that a person deserves to live not because of their skin color, religion, gender or class but because they are a human being; and that, she emphasized is the only reason.
Inviting the audience into her experience, she asked if they thoughr that hearing over the phone that her son was shot and killed was the worst day of her life. Contrary to what most of the audience expected, she said it was not. The worst day of her life, she said, was seeing her son at age 17 in a white suit in a casket in the church. She was in the front row and saw his face so peaceful, almost as though he would get up and tell her he was just resting. “To this day I don’t understand it,” she said. “It changed the person I was.”
She described her life before her son’s murder as average and not outstanding. For a long time after his death, she didn’t believe she was strong and didn’t believe those who said she was until one day, when looking in the mirror, she said it to herself. And she became strong. She would and still does have bad days where getting up and getting out is not an option, and she accepts this and honours her space. She emphasized, “The more I wanted my life back, God compelled me to go forward.”
She ended her talk with a strong call to action to vote. Fulton explains how she was not interested in politics until now, and that she specifically targets the “young people” to go out and vote. She truly believes that the young generation will change the state of the country, describing the current social and political climate as being “in a crisis.”
During the Q&A portion of the night, one of the audience members revealed herself as a mother from Florida who was invited to participate in last year’s Circle of Mothers retreat. This initiative is one of many through the Trayvon Martin Foundation, an organization started by Fulton, Tracy Martin, and their son Jahvaris to raise awareness about gun violence. The mother asked how Fulton commemorated Trayvon and his life. This mother’s presence surprised and pleased Fulton, and she answered eloquently, saying that she only celebrates Trayvon’s birthday, never the day he died. “You have to celebrate the birth, and not the death,” she said.
As the event closed, Fulton was met with the same energy she received when she walked on stage. She was thanked by Dean Lewis, and the night ended with a book signing. The Swarthmore community left with multiple sentiments and reminders of what they could do. In particular, Céline Aziza Kaldas Anderson ‘19 strongly resonated with Fulton’s call to the crowd to go back to the basics. Anderson said, “I think her talking how distant we’ve gotten to recognizing each other’s humanity definitely stuck with me. I think her talking about feeling a call to action and then calling us as young people really stuck with me.”
For Beluchi Okoronkwo ‘22, he felt that this talk was very “communicative” and “upfront” especially in the manner Fulton presented. Overall, for Okoronkwo, from Fulton’s thoughts and words regarding the gun violence she experienced with her son’s death, to her call to action for young people to vote left an empowering impression on the audience. Okoronkwo said, “Her whole demeanor about it reminds me of a quote: ‘throw me to the pack and I come back leading the wolves.’”