Trayvon Martin's mother visits Storrs
Sybrina Fulton talks with UConn students at gala about gun violence, safe communities
Sybrina Fulton encouraged UConn students to become more active and tolerant citizens in her keynote speech at the 45th anniversary gala of the African American Cultural Center.
"Make sure you're keeping abreast of the news in your community, make sure you're voting and you're registered to vote," Fulton said.
Fulton, whose son Trayvon Martin was shot and killed on Feb. 26, 2012 in Stanford, Fla., spoke about experiencing tragedy and transforming it into civic action. Since the death of her son and the acquittal of his killer, Fulton has focused her life on reaching out to families affected by gun violence. She and Martin's father, Tracy Martin, founded the Trayvon Martin Foundation which supports families who have also been damaged by gun violence, but who do not have the backing of large sectors of the nation.
"It empowers families because it is one thing to lose your child and have no one support you. It is another thing to have, I'm not going to say the country, but a lot of people to support you," Fulton said. "That's how we give back."
Fulton delivered her speech without a script, saying her spirituality and faith in the issue allows her to deliver her message no matter where she is. She said her mission in speaking around the country is not only to spread awareness of gun violence, but also to advocate for safer communities and more protective laws.
"It's not just about Trayvon anymore," Fulton said. "I tell people I have two boys. One in heaven and one on earth and I'll fight for my boys until they put me in a casket."
Fulton noted repealing or revising laws-such as the Stand Your Ground Law-that allow gun violence was one way her foundation works to make communities safer.
"I have nothing against gun laws. It is how the laws are applied," Fulton said. "We have to make sure we understand the laws that we have, that we vote on these laws, that we revise those laws and that we are registered voters."
The gala signaled the end of Black History Month, a concept that Fulton believes should not be confined to February.
"African American History is not February. It is 12 months a year, 365 days a year. I don't get a chance to take off my skin," Fulton said.
Fulton discussed the racial aspects of her son's killing in connection with the centuries of discrimination African Americans have historically combated.
"Why is it that when a 17-year-old wears a hoodie he becomes suspicious? Why does he become the criminal? When in actuality he was the one minding his business," Fulton said.
Fulton told students she felt the legal response to her son's killing and the legal system that supported the acquittal of his killer demonstrated a lack of respect among Americans and a silencing of minority groups. She noted that after the killing she and her family were urged to keep quiet.
"It would have been swept under the rug. They didn't want to make arrests," Fulton said.
Fulton reminded the audience that after her son's murder it was not the mainstream media who picked up the case, but local universities who started rallies that got national attention.
"It was the colleges and universities that started doing stuff first. Before CNN, NBC, CBS it was the college students who started it all. They started the rallies," Fulton said.
Willena Kimpson Price, Director of the African American Cultural Center, recalled the reaction of the UConn community in 2012 after Martin's death.
"I still remember how almost two years ago, how involved this campus was in the issue, the family and what it meant. And then at the end of that year we had our own gun violence tragedy at Sandy Hook," Price said.
Fulton's speech was supplemented by an array of other speakers who spoke on the theme of diversity and overcoming discrimination. Dr. Ronald Taylor, Vice Provost of Multicultural and International Affairs, spoke about how the African American Cultural Center was founded to give a support system to African American students in the 1960s and Professor Lewis Gordon spoke on injustice in the justice system.
The Voices of Freedom Gospel Choir, the Hartford Public High School Choir and student spoken word poets Chantel Honeyghan and Jovonne Pullen performed tributes to the center.
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