Sybrina Fulton announced as What Matters to U speaker

Sybrina Fulton, political activist and mother of the late Trayvon Martin, will speak to University of Miami students at 6 p.m. on Oct. 8. in the virtual fifth installment of What Matters to U, a discussion series hosted by UM’s Student Government.

“We wanted to bring someone that would really highlight what’s been happening in the world, someone who would be able to adequately address those social issues,” said Spencer Schwartz, the chair for The What Matters to U Agency, formerly known as the Student Engagement Programming Agency.

Past speakers have included former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, two-time world cup champion and co-captain of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Megan Rapinoe, actor and comedian Ken Jeong and television personality and scientist Bill Nye.

Schwartz says that UM’s Student Government made a concerted effort to address issues such as the Black Lives Matter movement and other platforms for social change.

“I was floored when I heard,” said Student Government president Abigail Adeleke. “This is the exact speaker we need at this time, especially with so many things happening and the third rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. I am just so excited.”

Fulton has spent the years since her son’s death campaigning for political reform and against gun violence.

Most recently, Fulton lost a bid to be elected Miami-Dade commissioner to Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert. He won the the Aug. 18. election by less than one percent with 331 votes.

Fulton, who was endorsed by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Cory Booker, has been a social activist since her son Trayvon Martin, who was born in Miami, was killed by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in February, 2012. Zimmerman was later acquitted as the jury ruled the killing an act of self defense. At the time, the event sparked national protests, discussions about race and was one of the earliest deaths that have become driving forces of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“One of the things that started and invigorated the Black Lives Matter movement was the death of Trayvon Martin,” Adeleke said. “She was almost the mother of the movement.”

A month after her son’s death, Fulton started The Trayvon Martin Foundation, an organization that seeks to “provide emotional and financial support to families who have lost a child to gun violence,” according to the Foundation’s website.

The What Matters to U agency faced criticism last year when they brought in Republican governor and 2016 presidential candidate John Kasich, however, Schwartz says that starting conversation and debate is part of the organization’s goal.

“I know that the John Kasich event and this event may seem, politically, to be on opposite ends of the spectrum,” Schwartz said. “From our perspective, they’re actually quite similar in that they are people that have a mission, that have a vision for the country, and we are solely just the avenue they are using to spread that.”

Adeleke says political optics never entered into the decision.

“This is so important right now, it’s not a left or a right issue. It’s a human rights issue,” she said. “It was a no brainer because we knew this was the right thing.”

Although Fulton will not be speaking to a packed auditorium like past speakers because of COVID restrictions, Adeleke emphasizes the presentation will not be presented as a typical online talk.

“We’re doing something very different from your traditional Zoom webinar,” she said. Although Adeleke is not able to reveal the details of the plan yet, she says that it will be a unique experience. “It will be something we have never seen before.”

Featured image provided by What Matters To U.