Sybrina Fulton, the mother of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin who was killed in a 2012 shooting, shared her experiences and future plans with students on campus Thursday evening.
Hundreds of students attended the event hosted by Events + Entertainment’s Distinguished Speakers committee and the African American Culture committee in the Hogg Auditorium. After the death of her son, Fulton became a spokesperson for improving civil rights and preventing violence toward children.
Fulton said although she knows people assume she is a strong woman all the time, she is an average woman at her core.
“I know things are different now,” Fulton said. “I have become somebody else, but I’m still me, and I’ll always be me.”
Fulton said she was deeply depressed immediately following her son’s death, and she described her son’s funeral as “the worst day of (her) life.”
“He looked to me like he was at peace,” Fulton said. “I couldn’t believe I was looking at my son and wondering, ‘How? Why?’ And I said, ‘How could this happen?’”
In May, Fulton announced her intent to run for Miami-Dade County Commissioner in Florida to continue her advocacy in response to her son’s death, including her work through the Trayvon Martin Foundation.
“As a community activist, sometimes you have to write letters and sometimes run for office,” Fulton said. “I only wanted to listen to my own voice and God’s voice. I want to be a people’s politician.”
Fulton said she wanted people to start “getting back to basics,” including respecting other people as human beings, regardless of race, sexual orientation or religion.
“We have people in this country who will drive down the street and see a person that’s injured and pass that person,” Fulton said. “We have to get past the hatred in our hearts because it’s not going to change people.”
Fulton said students would be the ones to change the course of America’s future.
“You are our future,” Fulton said. “You are resilient, you are not going to give up and you’re not going to take business as usual.”
Malik Julien, a radio-television-film sophomore on the African American Culture committee, said events like these are an important way to inform the UT community about the black experience.
“Seeing this (event and other events like it was) so empowering,” Julien said. “Having a space to be expressive like that and have fun was really special.”
Ashna Kumar, the Distinguished Speakers chair for Events + Entertainment, said the speech was inspiring.
“Despite the struggle from the trial, she has become a role model for many and advocates building better communities for all,” Plan II junior Kumar said.
Fulton said to students the best thing they can do is “stay woke” and acknowledge all facets of themselves.
“I don’t want you to think of this as a lecture or a seminar,” Fulton said. “Just think of me as someone’s mother talking to you.”