Sybrina Fulton speaks to UM about getting involved in social justice movements

Miami-based political activist and the mother of the late Trayvon Martin, Sybrina Fulton spoke to University of Miami students on Oct. 8 in the fifth installment of the What Matters to U lecture series hosted by UM Student Government. During the virtual lecture, she spoke to over 150 attendees about the importance of young people in the fight for social justice, her outlook on modern politics and her efforts to eliminate gun violence in the United States.

“We need to groom our young people now, and I put all of my faith in the young people,” Fulton said. “I believe that our young people are resilient, I believe they’re not gonna give up, I believe that they have seen a lot of the things happening now, and they don’t like it.”

The event was moderated by UM Student Government President Abigail Adeleke and UM professor of law, Dean’s Distinguished Scholar and associate dean for diversity, equity and community Osamudia James, who asked Fulton questions about political activism, current social movements like Black Lives Matter, and her experience campaigning for a seat as a Miami-Dade County commissioner. UM students were invited to submit their questions on social media.

Adeleke says that the death of Trayvon Martin affected her greatly and that she was grateful to have the opportunity to speak to Fulton.

“It really did mean the world to me… It was great to sit with her and process those really raw emotions,” Adeleke said. “It all really came full circle for me, and I was grateful to meet, well, the mother of a movement.”

Fulton says she decided to become an activist after her son’s killing in Feb. 2012; she founded the Trayvon Martin Foundation with Trayvon’s father and her ex-husband Tracy Martin only a month later.

Jayda Graham, a senior at UM majoring in broadcast journalism, says she felt empowered hearing a speaker emphasize the importance of the youth in the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Our generation and the youth are so powerful,” Graham said, going on to list what people can do to further Sybrina Fulton’s legacy and mission. “I think that we can do that next step of getting more involved in community activism and policy work. Protests are the voices of the unheard… I think what we really need to do is the action like getting involved in local elections, getting involved in city council.”

With the approaching election bringing politics to the forefront of the American cognizance, Fulton says her race for a seat on the Miami-Dade County Commission taught her a lot about the American political system.

“Everything you thought about politics is probably true,” Fulton said. “I met some really great people. I met some really good supporters, but I also learned a lot about dirty politics… Just the extent that people would go to to win an election.”

She says she thinks that the public is ready to make societal changes, noting that she lost her election by less than 1 percent of the total count, but that in order to fix the system, people must first change their perceptions.

“It takes changing mindsets,” Fulton said. “People need to value people’s lives, and once they start valuing people’s lives, it doesn’t matter what the law says… We have to think about the morals that people have.”

During the politically charged lecture, Fulton continually protested the inequality of the modern American justice system and demanded change from those in power. In her view, Fulton says, the system disproportionately targets people of color while refusing to prosecute perpetrators of race-related violence.

“If you take a life, you should be willing to give your own… You shouldn’t be able to go home and sleep in your bed after you shot somebody in the back seven times,” Fulton said. “I really don’t understand the justice system, then again, it wasn’t intended for people like us; it wasn’t intended for people of color.”

Past What Matters to U speakers have included former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, two-time world cup champion and co-captain of the U.S. Women’s National Team Megan Rapinoe, actor and comedian Ken Jeong and television personality Bill Nye. What Matters to U Agency Chair Spencer Schwartz says she and the rest of student government were ecstatic with this fifth rendition of the lecture series.

“I think the fact that she can speak with such heart and such passion behind her words, that’s something that not a lot of people can do,” Schwartz said. “I think in doing that, she really motivates students and motivates young people to feel that passion as well, and I think that is exactly the kind of leader we need right now. Someone who really speaks from the heart and is able to light that fire in us, which I felt that she did.”

Graham echoed those sentiments, adding that she feels the message of Sybrina Fulton and the Black Lives Matter movement should be universally understood and accepted.

“If we disagree on human rights, I don’t think we’ll ever see eye to eye,” Graham said.

The sixth edition of the What Matters to U Lecture series, will be hosted on Oct. 21. All students are free to attend the virtual discussion, with the guest to be announced in the coming days, Schwartz says. What Matters to U released a hint for the next speaker on their Instagram, posting a graphic of a set of olympic rings.

Featured Image courtesy of What Matters To U.