A Parent's Reflection on Racism and Gun Violence

      This past Tuesday, February 20th, 2018, I had the incredible opportunity to see Sybrina Fulton speak to an incredibly crowded room full of individuals, all eager to hear her story. Sybrina Fulton used to be an average woman with an average life, an average house, an average schooling, and an average job. She was not (and still is not) a public speaker, actor, politician, or celebrity. She was just an average mother.

      Until February 26th, 2012.

      On that Sunday, her innocent 17-year-old son Trayvon Martin was shot by a police officer.

      On that day, her entire world changed.

      “Nothing could ever have prepared me for this” she repeated over and over and over again.

      As she told this tragic story of loss due to profiling, racism, and gun violence, she cracked jokes, but continued to wipe her eyes the entire time.

      Sybrina stressed that she did not have a problem with police because she believes there are good police officers. The man who shot him wasn’t a police officer, he was a "wanna-be." A wanna-be with a heart full of hate.

      She is sad that we have gotten to this place in our country. This place where school shootings happen frequently and nothing is changing. This place where people can get guns at such ease. This place where hate is found in so many people. This place where we blame the victim for his or her own death rather than the person who pulled the trigger.

      Having tattoos, colored hair, a gold tooth, dreads, or a simple hoodie does not make someone a bad person. Trayvon was supposedly shot because he was wearing a hoodie. But that was not the case. He was shot because of the color of his skin.

      “I can not remove the color of my skin” Sybrina said. So how can we continue to live in a world where people are judged, bullied, hurt, and killed for the color of their skin?

      “It hurts,” she said, when asked about the Parkland Florida shooting. “You don’t have to know people to feel compassion.”

      Sybrina has turned her tragedy into a fight for human rights. She helped to create the Trayvon Martin Foundation to protect people from dangerous stereotyping and eliminate these stereotypes. This foundation has a remembrance weekend that celebrates Trayvon’s birth rather than his death. This weekend includes a peace walk and a remembrance dinner. Sybrina has also created a support group for women that have experienced the tragedy of losing a child to gun violence called the Circle of Mothers. There is a similar group for fathers called the Circle of Fathers.

      She encouraged all of us to speak up against injustice, become activists in our community, and to never give up. We can not pretend that this is not happening in our world. We have to do better.

      “You [young people] are going to change this country with your vision and your resilience. You are the positive change we need," she said.

      During a question and answer session after her speech, a young African American Millersville student approached the microphone. He said that he did not have a question, but rather just wanted to thank Sybrina for all she has done and will continue to do for young African American men. The entire crowd was moved.

      So… what to do next?

      Sybrina suggested a few things to start doing.

     Bring back respect

      We desperately need to get out of this culture of harmful stereotypes. Every human being deserves to be treated with respect. So, we need to go back to the basics of respecting one another. Take the time to say hello to others or to compliment someone on their hair, their outfit, or their smile. Take the two seconds it takes to say “excuse me” when passing someone instead of just brushing past.

     Read her book

      Rest in Power, a parents’ story of love, injustice, and the birth of a movement, written by Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, gives the full story of what happened before, during, and after this tragic event. This book is a very real reminder that, no matter the politics, a child’s life was brutally taken away in the blink of an eye. Be on the lookout for the documentary coming some time later this year.

     Check out nonprofit organizations near you

      Get involved with the Trayvon Martin Foundation (https://trayvonmartinfoundation.org/) or look into something more local. The Black Student Union and the NAACP are just two of many clubs here at Millersville that fight for human rights. Getting involved in a nonprofit organization means giving your time, talent, and money to make a difference. Every nonprofit organization has gotten to where it is today because of donations, whether it was in the form of money or time. Help build these organizations and help build a better future.

      When in a situation with police officers, remain calm and do what they tell you to do.

      Sybrina stressed throughout her speech that every she “just wants you to get home alive.” There are good police officers in the world that are here to protect every citizen. These police officers will be important in helping us to fix the current stereotypes about police and ease the conflicts between police and citizens.

      Throughout the night, I jotted down some ideas of other steps to take in addition to the ones Sybrina brought up. These things include:

    VOTE

      If you do not vote, you are not helping us become a better country. You have a voice. So go out and vote at any chance you can. Your vote can make all the difference.

     Do your research

      Keep up to date on current events and what injustices are happening. Be aware of the laws that currently exist and the laws that our government may be trying to pass. Know what is going on, because this affects everyone.

     Learn the true story

      The media constantly warps our perceptions of events, trying to make us feel empathy for shooters as if these people didn’t just take the lives of human beings. The disrespectful media can paint a story that may, in fact, be completely false. So be sure to check the sources and keep this in mind. You don’t always see what is really happening.

 

      Whichever side of the story you are on, this night was a huge “in your face” reminder that we need to treat human beings with the respect that everyone deserves. Gun violence is a horrible and unfortunately very relevant problem today and you need to remember that a gun can take away a life full of potential. In some cases, multiple lives can be taken away.

      Trayvon should have lived to at least 70 years old, gone to college, found the love of his life, and had a successful job and a large happy family.

      Instead, he is in heaven.

      Please, raise your voice and stand up for human rights. Be a part of the change.

 

HCXO,

Hannah