Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, was welcomed to the K-State Student Union ballroom by a standing-room audience of nearly a thousand people Tuesday night.
In her first visit to Kansas, Fulton talked again about her slain son’s story – an event that has captured national headlines for the past two years — and about her advocacy against violence through a foundation in Martin’s name.
“No, I never get used to this,” Fulton said in her opening statements to the packed ballroom. “Let me tell you that I don’t look like what I’ve been through,” she said.
On Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford, Fla., Fulton’s 17-year-old son walked to a neighborhood store to buy a drink and some candy. Martin was shot to death by George Zimmerman after some type of confrontation.
Zimmerman, a self-styled neighborhood “watchman,” was acquitted of second-degree murder charges in Martin’s shooting death in 2013.
A month after their son’s death, Fulton and Trayvon’s father, Tracy Martin, established the Trayvon Martin Foundation to help educate people about the impact of violent crime, racial and gender profiling, and as a way to advocate for families of violent crime victims.
Fulton and Tracy Martin have also fought against Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law, which provides legal protection for people in self-defense situations.
Fulton said she is not against responsible ownership of guns. She said her police officer father had a gun in the house while she was growing up.
But the Stand Your Ground statute is a different story for Fulton.
“This law does not benefit anyone,” she said. “It allows you to shoot and kill and ask questions later.”
Martin’s death sparked intense debate about whether his shooting was racially motivated or an act of self-defense.
Fulton encouraged Kansans to research the similar law here, which allows Kansans to protect themselves in defense of a dwelling, occupied vehicle and place of work.
Kansas passed its version of Stand Your Ground in 2006 — a year after Florida — with modifications to narrow it in 2010.
Fulton said that she has tried to understand why her son looked suspicious to the person who shot him that February evening.
She said at least part of the reason was because he was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, or “hoodie.”
“That does not make you suspicious,” Fulton said.
The news that Martin was wearing a hoodie at the time of his death instigated national dialogues and hoodie movements where people wore them during demonstrations about the unwarranted fear of minority men.
“The big picture is why does someone else feel that Trayvon was suspicious?” Fulton said. “Profiling in all forms still exists. It’s a very uncomfortable subject.”
When audience members asked what they could do make the country more socially just, Fulton encouraged people to educate themselves with forums about tough issues, serve on jury duties when called, research laws, talk to legislators and use social media to get the word out.
During the question-and-answer session, Kansas Representative Sydney Carlin (D-Manhattan) praised Fulton for her work, saying she (Carlin) had voted against Stand Your Ground in Kansas.
“… Those people who take action to protect themselves have always had the law on their side,” Carlin said. “We do not need this bill. We do not need conceal carry.
“We don’t need more gun laws that give us more privileges to shoot people.”
To Fulton, Carlin added: “I want to encourage you to continue with your inspirational leadership. Thank God for you.”
And at the end of the night, Martin was inducted as the first honorary member of the K-State Black Student Union by its president Marcus Bragg and vice president D’Aonda Bush.
“We can imagine that these types of visits and lectures aren’t necessarily easy or the most comfortable for you, but we want you to know how grateful we are that you doing these things,” Bragg said to Fulton.
“We could think of no better way to honor his legacy, to honor him for the trail that he has blazed, and to honor you for your work than to induct Trayvon Martin as the first and only honorary member of the Kansas State Black Student Union.”
Fulton also was awarded the Brandon L. Clark Alpha Excellence Award from the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity for her work for speaking against violence and building safer communities.
“This has become my life’s work. I am going to try to help as many families, as many kids as many as possible,” Fulton said.
“I am a voice for the voiceless. You are looking at Trayvon Martin. I am Trayvon Martin. I will continue to speak for Trayvon Martin and all the Trayvon Martins that you don’t get a chance to hear about.”