To see the changes you want in the world, they say, you must actively engage.
Which is why the parents of Trayvon Martin — who was shot and killed five years ago by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida, as the unarmed Miami Gardens teenager was returning from the store with an Arizona Watermelon Fruit Juice and a bag of Skittles — are considering running for office.
“We want to make positive change, and the only way to make positive change is if we’re part of the change,” says Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother, a Miami native who worked for Miami-Dade County at the time of the shooting. “The question was posed: Should we run for office? We’d consider it. We’re doing our research right now. It’s not something we’ll do right away. We’re looking at different offices in local government, in the state of Florida, in the White House, so we can see where we could be most effective.”
Fulton and ex-husband Tracy Martin divorced in 1999 but have remained close, particularly after Travyon’s 2012 death, which bound them in ways they could never have imagined. Forced to work together to demand justice for their son — Zimmerman was not immediately arrested after the shooting, which sparked a national controversy and protests — they are inextricably linked by tragedy. Now they have collaborated on “Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin” (Spiegel & Grau, $26), a personal and deeply emotional account of their son’s death that covers the events that led to the shooting, the national outcry over the sluggish police investigation into the crime and the eventual 2013 trial, at which Zimmerman was found not guilty. They’ll discuss the book at Florida Memorial University on Feb. 4 and Miami Dade College on Feb. 6.
The book reveals raw moments of pain and disbelief. There are chilling flashes of hindsight. “At first, I didn’t like the hoodie and would tell him to take it off,” Fulton writes about the jacket that would become a symbol of racial injustice. “Hoodies weren’t in style when I was growing up. But Trayvon, sure he was making a fashion statement, would rarely remove it. So once I realized that all the kids were wearing them, and that wearing one wouldn’t mark him for trouble, I was okay with it.”
“Rest in Power” plays out against the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the transformation of Fulton and Martin from ordinary parents into full-time activists. “I am one of the mass of Americans living an anonymous life of infinite complexities in the struggling suburb of an American city — one of the unheralded people whose weeks go by in a predictable rhythm of work and school, church and picnics, week after week, from cradle to grave,” Fulton writes in the book’s introduction.
You never get used to being an advocate. Every time there’s a tragedy, we get a call. It’s like living our nightmare all over again. You never get used to it. It’s hard to mend your own heart when you’re trying to mend other people’s hearts.
Tracy Martin, Trayvon Martin’s father
But after the shooting, privacy vanished. Fulton and Martin were forced to face the media, demanding 911 tapes the Sanford Police Department refused to release and calling for an arrest and trial for Zimmerman. Later in 2012 they started the Trayvon Martin Foundation, a not-for-profit social justice organization based at Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens, which is devoted to ending gun violence, education and strengthening families.
Now, in a politically unsettled 2017, the book tour has shuttled them around the country again. They’ve appeared on network news shows and “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.”
“We still haven’t really had time to sit back and grieve the loss of our son,” Tracy Martin admits. “You never get used to being an advocate. Every time there’s a tragedy, we get a call. It’s like living our nightmare all over again. You never get used to it. It’s hard to mend your own heart when you’re trying to mend other people’s hearts.
“You’ve got to understand: being a parent of a deceased child due to some senseless act of gun violence — no one wants to be part of that fraternity. We look forward to trying to help people. That’s what this is all about: trying to pursue justice and cope. People ask ‘How do you get over this?’ You never get over it. You deal with it, and you continue to be strong for your family and the people around you. ... We’ve accepted the role. I can truly say we don’t understand the relationships between other parents and their children. I can’t say I know how another parent feels. But I know what they’re going through.”
Fulton, who campaigned for Hillary Clinton in 2016, says she and Martin aren’t anti-gun. They just advocate stricter controls like background checks and the closing of loopholes that allow Americans to order guns online or at gun shows.
“We need to get to a place where people who own guns are responsible gun owners,” she says. “It’s not about being for or against guns. It’s about everybody being responsible.”
Earlier this week Martin told USA Today that he feared the Trump adminstration would put racial justice further out of reach: “You have those that are for uniting the country and you have those that want to be apart,” he said. “And what this new presidency does, it takes those that want to be apart and it puts them right in the position where they can say, ‘We’ll change the laws, and we’ll make it tougher.’ ”
Now, Fulton declines to call out the administration.
“It does not matter who’s in the White House — that person must work for everybody,” she says. “We do know there needs to be some laws changed and some mind-sets changed.”
Trayvon, who would have been 22 on Feb. 5, is more than just their son now. He’s an icon, a symbol, a cry and demand for social justice. What would he think of all this?
“I think he would be very proud that so many people support him,” Fulton says. “I think he’d be very proud of his family and friends and just what his image means to them. It also makes us want to continue the fight.”
If You Go
Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin speak about ‘Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin’:
▪ Feb. 4 at the Lou Rawls Theatre, Florida Memorial University, 15800 NW 42nd Ave, Miami Gardens.
5 - 6:30 p.m.: Reception
6:30 - 8 p.m.: Conversation
▪ 5th Annual Remembrance Day Peace Walk/Talk: Feb. 11; starts at Carol City Park, 3201 NW 185th St., Miami Gardens. 8:30 a.m registration, walk starts at 9 a.m. For more information visit trayvonmartinfoundation.org