Today is Mother’s Day, a holiday about cheap Hallmark cards and last-minute flower deliveries. For Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, it’s much more than that—Mother’s Day is a day for healing. Afeni Shakur, former Black Panther and mother of Tupac Shakur, and motivational speaker Lisa Nichols will join Ms. Fulton on May 16 through May 18 for the Circle of Mothers retreat in Weston, Florida.
I wanted to talk about what we are doing to celebrate black mothers because they are too often forced to bear the brunt of heartbreak each time a young black man falls victim to his own circumstance.
As part of the Trayvon Martin Foundation, the retreat aims to bring women who have been united by tragedy together in solidarity against violence. The purpose of Circle of Mothers, according to the Foundation’s press material, is to “comfort, inspire, and empower mothers who have experienced the loss of a child due to senseless gun violence. This event is an experiential extension of the Trayvon Martin Foundation’s Circle of Prayer and ongoing victim support efforts. The event will be a weekend of uplift and empowerment for all women.”
The emphasis on those last few words is my own. The Circle of Mothers event isn’t about black mothers—it’s about all mothers and empowerment for all women. It was interesting to talk with Ms. Fulton about this subject during our brief interview. I was very surprised by her fervent reaction to my use of the words “black community” and “African-American.” Her advocacy isn’t about being black, Ms. Fulton insisted. It’s about uniting under a common cause—in this case, to stop rampant gun violence and to provide a community of support. “This is for all of us. It’s an opportunity for us all to heal. All kinds of mothers will be there,” she said.
Of course, tragedy doesn’t discriminate, but it felt odd to hear a woman who many black people, including myself, feel is emblematic of our struggle as mothers, daughters, and sisters, rebuff the importance of race. Tragedy may not see skin color, but it sure does have a way of finding its way into the black community what with the unspeakable number of young black men in prisons and six feet under ground. I guess that’s just a coincidence to Ms. Fulton, or at least she didn’t feel like broaching the subject with me when I brought it up.
I understand not wanting to be the poster child for a controversial, polarizing issue such as race, but racism is alive, well, and deadly—Ms. Fulton has said as much during one of her many speaking engagements. Race needs to be a part of the conversation, though it’s not the only conversation. Of course all mothers should be celebrated, but I wanted to talk about what we are doing to celebrate black mothers specifically because they are too often forced to bear the brunt of heartbreak each time a young black man falls victim to his own circumstance.
“I’m from Florida. I was born and raised here. I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to stay here and fight.”
Perhaps it wasn’t the most thoughtful thing to do, but I decided to press the issue. Without sounding rude, I asked Ms. Fulton if she thought the black community’s short-term memory and ability to quickly forget injustice resulted in our inability to effect change. For example, have black people in America stopped caring about Stand-Your-Ground, the law that was used to score a non-guilty verdict for George Zimmerman? This is when Ms. Fulton started to show her intrepid, unwavering commitment to standing up for what she feels is right, even if it means having to deal with the evil vortex that is the Sunshine State. “I’m from Florida. I was born and raised here. I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to stay here and fight,” she told me. I found this admirable and inspiring, even though it didn’t address the fact that a state like Florida remains dangerous for for young black men. (There I go again, making this about race.)
“The message we’re sending kids is that they can’t listen to music in a gas station parking lot, they can’t send a text message in a movie theater, they can’t knock on a stranger’s door and ask for help if they get into a car accident without getting killed,” Ms. Martin said. But I wonder, is the message that you can’t do that as a kid, or that you can’t do those things if you’re a black teenager? As inspiring a figure as someone like Ms. Fulton is, I found myself wondering how you can separate race from the equation. When I asked her to tell me why she thinks it’s important to celebrate motherhood in the African-American community, she corrected me once again, as though I were out of line by using those words, as if they were somehow dirty. Before I could get to my next real question ("What do you think about the term “post-racial?”), I was cut off by the publicist who had told me I could only ask one more “relevant” question.
I suppose what’s relevant here is the fact that Ms. Fulton is doing far more than she has to. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to lose a son to gun violence and then see his murderer walk. I bet a holiday like Mother’s Day would make me want to crawl into a dark hole and pretend the world had disappeared. Instead, Ms. Fulton is taking care of her son Jahvaris and inspiring countless mothers to fight for what they believe in: An end to senseless gun violence. She acknowledged that Florida is on its way to becoming like “the wild west,” and told me that she is currently working with “elected officials” to help change the Stand-Your-Ground law. Who knows how much influence her work will have over the legislature. Perhaps if enough white mothers show up to Circle of Mothers event, people will start to listen. After all, this isn't about race.
Written by Lauretta Charlton @laurettaland.