When Sheryl Sandberg's husband died suddenly two years ago, the Facebook executive and author of "Lean In" turned to Wharton School psychologist Adam Grant for help in dealing with her grief.
On February 26th, 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot dead at a residential complex in Sanford, a small city north of Orlando, Florida. The following year, the man who shot Martin, George Zimmerman, was found not guilty of second-degree murder. Soon after, the Black Lives Matter movement formed, inspiring a new chapter in civil rights activism. At the center of it all were Trayvon’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin. We check in with them about how they’re doing five years after their son’s death and ask about their new book, “Rest In Power,” which pays loving tribute to Trayvon Martin.
- Sybrina Fulton co-author, "Rest In Power"; co-founder of The Trayvon Martin Foundation
- Tracy Martin co-author, "Rest In Power"; co-founder of The Trayvon Martin Foundation
How are Fulton and Martin doing, five years after Trayvon's death? "I am doing fairly well," Fulton says. "I'm trying to keep myself busy and my mind occupied with positive thoughts and positive things. I'm just really working hard for this fight, I mean the struggle is real, and so we continue to do what we need to do for our children."
"It wasn't strange that he wore a hoodie," Martin says of his son's now-iconic shirt. "That's the culture of our young people."
"Growing up: He was so funny," Fulton says. "I could tell when he was growing up, he took more showers, he would wear cologne, he had to iron his clothes. I was like, "What is going on?" But it was girls that were coming into play. He needed to impress these young ladies."
Martin says his mother told him to run when a racial confrontation came up, and he passed that down to Trayvon. How else did he talk to his kids about race? "Growing up in Miami, we lived around a very diversified culture. Miami is a melting pot of different backgrounds, and so Trayvon and Jahavaris definitely weren't sheltered from other nationalities and ethnicity groups," Martin says. "Growing up they knew about conflict and resolution, and how to get away from confrontation. They knew about growing up with racial tone because Miami you have every other ethnicity group down there. During the incident, he definitely wasn't a stranger to other nationalities. He knew at a very young age how to de-escalate a situation. We always talked about de-escalating situations, that was a part of their conflict and resolution training."
"I thought that I would not be able to endure what I was going through. I felt weak, I felt hopeless, I felt helpless," Fulton says about the months after her son's death. "I felt that there was nothing I can do. I was just so upset. Initially, I did not want to go to Sanford. I told Tracy I was never going there or in the Orlando area again. Once I found out that the person who had shot and killed Trayvon wasn't going to be arrested, I immediately packed my things. I think any mother, it's just instinct like you are not going to arrest the person, and you have the person there, you have the gun, and you know vaguely what happened and you are still saying you aren't going to arrest a person who shot and killed a 17-year-old. The person who killed him was 28. Trayvon was unarmed, and this person was armed. It just seemed so unfair."
When asked what she wants people to think of when they think of her, Fulton says: "I want people to look at me and say: That's a very strong mother. That's a very strong woman. That even in the face of adversity, that she stood back up, and I absolutely did. Even my darkest day, in my darkest hour, I stood up for my son. I'll continue to stand up for him and other children as well. I don't want them to look at me with sadness, or anything other than the fact that I got back up.
What kept Fulton and Martin going as the protests around their son's death grew into a movement? "We knew that in order to bring relevance to our son's name, that we had to be the voice for him" Fulton says. "Not letting his death be swept under the rug was motivation for us to continue our fight, to continue to push back at the notion that they said they weren't going to arrest the killer of our son. That right there was the fuel, that fueled our tanks."
What do they think of the Black Lives Matter movement, and how people have responded to it? "A lot of people have disregarded black lives, and people have not been held accountable for the black lives that they have taken," Fulton says. "That's why that phrase is so important to us."
What comes next? "We need to have better communication and a better understanding of different cultures," Fulton says. "Police officers need to understand the culture of the community, and the community needs to understand the culture of the law enforcement. It needs to work better in all areas."
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