Trayvon Martin’s mother: As BLM turns 8, I reflect on loss of my son, families of movement

Trayvon Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, flanked by Trayvon's brother, Jahvaris Fulton, and the Rev. Al Sharpton, speaks during a rally organized by the National Action Network in New York on July 20, 2013.

For some it’s a hashtag, a moment, a movement. But for the families, it’s about our sons, brothers, fathers. Our daughters, sisters, mothers. As millions march saying their names, we struggle with memories and moments lost. My son’s name became a lightning rod for this country. But for me, he was my baby boy. I had planned to spend many more years watching him grow up, if his life hadn’t been cut short. And as Black Lives Matter turned 8-years-old this week, I reflect on how the theft of Trayvon’s life reignited a movement that has changed the world.

When your child is stolen from you, it disrupts the natural order of things. A mother is not supposed to outlive her son. When Trayvon was killed in 2012 in Sanford, Florida, it took my breath away. I was overwhelmed by both grief and anger. The hole left in my heart, the empty seat at the dinner table, and the pain that walks with me every day never goes away. Families carry the pain and relive parts of that torment every time another Black life is stolen.

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Trayvon’s spirit compelled me to fight, and I needed the world to fight alongside me. That’s what Black Lives Matter did – BLM took to the streets, raised my son’s name and demanded justice in his honor. As the whole world marched in hoodies, I felt like I was being held and supported, like my family and I weren’t alone. As I began to regain my footing, I joined with other families and formed the Circle of Mothers, because only we know each other’s pain. I also know that all of us – those directly impacted and those who simply live in this world as Black people and allies – have a role to play in the struggle for justice. Black Lives Matter is about providing an entire community of support to families and also recognizing that the world has to be changed in order to protect Black life for all of us.

#BlackLivesMatter was more than the signatory hashtag that became a love letter to Black folks. It reminded us that despite the oppressive systems we face and the repeated injustices we are dealt through criminal legal systems, we still matter. This affirmation challenged millions of people all around the world to stand up and lift not only Trayvon’s name, but also say the names of so many who have been killed.

However, this work isn’t just about awareness. Black Lives Matter understands that the killing of our people by police is a form of lynching. Like the previous anti-lynching movement, we cannot turn our heads. We must push and struggle in the streets; we must work toward policy change; we must provide opportunities for our young people and our neighborhoods. It must include the families of those who are stolen, and we must not be left to stand alone. Just as we needed an anti-lynching movement then, we need Black Lives Matter now.

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The year 2020 was a testament. Following the killing of George Floyd, millions more people stood up. Witnessing that 9-minute-29-second murder on video removed the cover from many eyes, and people joined the movement that had been growing for seven years at that point. BLM was there as a place to hold the collective rage of people and channel it into work that leads to policy change and encourages us to reimagine and build toward a future that prioritizes the safety of Black people.

As Trayvon’s mother, I am his voice. No one can ever love or represent Trayvon the way I can. I also know that my voice must be amplified to ring loudly enough for the world to stop, hear and act. I see Black Lives Matter as my chorus, as a way to make my voice louder, as a way to continue to make Trayvon’s name resonate throughout the world. I want my son to rest in power. I want his name and his spirit to rise, to change the world. I appreciate the chorus. I appreciate those who help me to think about what policy change can look like. I appreciate those who are working to make sure that one day soon, no mother will have to face what I endure, that their sons will grow into all of their greatest potential. To me, that is how we honor Trayvon’s life.

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I know that every mother and family grieves differently. I know that some are more comfortable with a more private struggle, and we must respect this. I also know that the struggle for justice belongs to and is the responsibility of all of us. We all have a role in ending systems that steal Black life and in building a future where Black people can thrive. The work is a long, winding road, and we need everyone on board, which is why this week, during the anniversary of its founding, I uplift Black Lives Matter and commit to continuing this heavy, important and powerful work together.

Sybrina Fulton is the mother of Trayvon Martin and co-founder of the Trayvon Martin Foundation.

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