Although the pain of losing her son four years ago to a neighborhood watch volunteer’s gun hasn’t abated, Sybrina Fulton still has a reason to smile.
That reason, the mother of Trayvon Martin told hundreds of teenagers in a packed Xavier University Convocation Center in Gert Town on Friday, is all around her.
“The reason why I smile is because I think about you all,” she said. “I think about other children who I can help. Trayvon was shot down so that I can stand up.”
The students cheered.
Fulton, who spoke at a “rally for educational excellence” hosted by the InspireNOLA charter school network, arrived in New Orleans this week as racial tensions boiled over in North Carolina and Oklahoma following the deaths of black men shot by police officers.
But it was her 17-year-old son’s death in 2012 in Sanford, Florida, and the acquittal of the man who killed him, George Zimmerman, that were the original catalyst for the Black Lives Matter movement, which has inspired protests across the country as well as an often-difficult national discussion about police-community relations.
Fulton and other “Mothers of the Movement” have made numerous appearances on behalf of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, telling heart-wrenching accounts of losing their children.
But Fulton eschewed political commentary on Friday, instead telling students from dozens of New Orleans schools to believe in themselves.
“Like I tell my young people around me ... attitude is everything,” she said.
That’s true even when life brings tragedy, she said.
When she saw her son's body in a casket, dressed all in white, it was the worst day of her life, she said. In the days and months since then, whenever she felt weak, she told herself that she could be strong, she said. Soon, that attitude became her reality.
“That’s what I want you guys to do,” she said. “Because it starts here in the mind.”
Citing her favorite passage from the Bible, Proverbs 3:5-6, she told the students to put their trust in God, rather than in themselves, and let God guide them.
“Then, after you get your mind right, you have to surround yourself with positive people who believe in you,” she said.
She returned to her seat to spirited applause.