Clinton Township — Sybrina Fulton can never forget a tragic fact: her 17-year-old son, Trayvon Martin, died after a confrontation with a stranger.
And as other parents across the country lose loved ones to gun violence, the Florida mother urges Americans from all walks of life to unite and combat such acts.
“We have to make change. We have to make positive change together. We can’t do this individually,” Sybrina Fulton told an audience Thursday night. “We have to do this as a people because the same bullet that shot my son could shoot your child, as well.”
Fulton shared remarks at a presentation at Macomb Community College’s Lorenzo Cultural Center, “We are all Trayvon,” that recounted how she transformed her grief into advocacy after Martin’s death.
On Feb. 26, 2012, the 17-year-old was shot by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in a gated community in the central Florida suburb of Sanford.
Zimmerman has said he was defending himself against the unarmed youth, in town visiting his father Tracy at the time. Zimmerman, who identifies as Hispanic, was acquitted in the death, and the Justice Department later decided not to prosecute him on civil rights charges.
The case sparked protests, a national debate about race relations and became a rallying cry for millions of black Americans seeking justice. It also preceded the Black Lives Matter movement that emerged in response to other killings, mostly by white police officers in cities nationwide.
Those deaths, as well as mass shootings such as the Sandy Hook and Pulse nightclub incidents, reflect a troubling link: hate, Fulton told the crowd of more than 100 guests.
“That’s the heart of some Americans,” she said. “That’s the heart of some people that we’re living next door to.”
Fulton’s loss steered her to become involved with the Trayvon Martin Foundation, a social justice group that works to end gun violence while providing mentoring and support for women and minorities.
Besides raising awareness about the societal issues contributing to gun violence, Fulton also has highlighted the importance of supporting stronger legislation.
“I think it’s just regular folks like us who are going to make that change, that difference,” said Fulton, who recently co-authored “Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin,” and plans a documentary.
Fulton spoke as part of the 2017-18 First State Bank Speaker Series. Her commentary dovetailed with the series’ goal of sparking dialogue, said William Wood, cultural affairs and community engagement director at the college.
In a question and answer session, Fulton addressed the recent controversy over NFL players kneeling during the national anthem.
She rejected claims the players disrespected the American flag, and supported Colin Kaepernick and other players' motivation to silently protest inequality.
"We all know the real reason they're kneeling," she said. "It's not about the flag. We love this country. That's why we're here."
The audience said they connected with the mom and her loss.
“We felt her message on protecting kids and youth in today’s world was an important topic we need to be addressing,” he said. “We’re hoping that these conversations help everyone better understand the issues that we’re facing as a community and a country.”
Fulton’s emotional remarks moved some attendees to tears and others to pledge action in their communities.
“She has such courage to share her tragedy,” said Suzanne Fabick of Lake Orion, a volunteer with a local chapter for the Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America. “It makes me even more committed and passionate to fight four common sense gun laws.”
Linda Burton of Clinton Township also was struck by the message. “I feel that God is using her to help people who have gone through some of the same experiences and how true the violence is against young black men,” she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.