Editor's Note: This story has been corrected from its original form to reflect that Carson Brown is a Medill sophomore, not a Medill freshman, to reflect that she is treasurer of specifically the Northwestern Chapter of NABJ and to clarify that Sierra Boone is Vice President of Chapter Relations, more than simply a member of the organization. North by Northwestern regrets these errors.
It was more than two years ago that the shooting of Trayvon Martin made national headlines and sparked debate about racial profiling. In March of 2012, Northwestern students held a vigil for Martin.
In light of the recent riots in Ferguson, Mo. that followed the shooting of Michael Brown, another unarmed, black teenager, Martin's death has been brought back to the forefront of national debates on racism.
“With recent events like Trayvon Martin and the events in Ferguson, racial profiling is very real to our community,” said Carson Brown, a Medill sophomore and the treasurer of National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), Northwestern Chapter. “It’s particularly hurtful and frustrating to our community when the country does not recognize that.”
For Members Only (FMO), Northwestern University’s premier Black Student Alliance, hosted their annual State of the Black Union event Tuesday night, featuring Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Martin, as the keynote speaker.
“We wanted to bring someone who was going to move audiences, someone who was going to share not just a political story,” said Sarah Carthen Watson, a SESP senior and Coordinator of FMO.
Fulton walked onto the stage to a standing ovation and began her address with a lighthearted joke about the weather before saying she would “jump right into why I’m here.”
“There are some things we need to discuss,” she said. “There are some things you need to hear from the horse’s mouth.”
Her son was shot and killed on February 26, 2012 by 28 year-old George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman. Martin was 17 years old, and unarmed. Zimmerman was tried with second-degree murder and found not guilty.
Prior to Martin’s death, Fulton emphasized the fact that she led an “average” life, describing her childhood and the environment in which she raised her children.
“Then one day, I get a call,” she said. “I was at work. It was the worst thing – the very worst thing a mother could hear is that her child had been shot and killed.”
Following her son’s death, Fulton made it her purpose to bring awareness and a narrative to human rights and racial profiling.
“It’s our responsibility to become aware of what’s going on and to bring attention to what’s going on,” Fulton said that she believed her son was killed because of the color of his skin, not the clothes he was wearing.
“I could take off my jacket, I could take off my boots,” she said. “I can’t take off the color of my skin. The uncomfortable thing is that we have to realize the differences that we have and accept those differences.”
Fulton and Tracy Martin, the parents of Trayvon Martin, founded the Trayvon Martin Foundation in March 2012 to address and create awareness about gun laws and racial profiling, in addition to meeting and helping the families of victims of gun violence. “We diverted that negative energy into something positive,” Fulton said. “The road that they’re traveling down, we’ve been down,” she said.
In addition, Fulton described her “Circle of Mothers” initiative, which she created to connect with mothers who have experienced losses similar to hers, including mothers from the shootings at Sandy Hook and Aurora, Colo.
Fulton’s speech lasted approximately 20 minutes and was followed by a question and answer session moderated by Sierra Boone, the Vice President of Chapter Relations of the Northwestern chapter of NABJ. Audience members could tweet questions using the hashtag #SOTBU2014.
During the session, Boone asked Fulton about her views on the prevalence of racial profiling, the “stand your ground” laws in Florida and her opinion on recent events in Ferguson.
Fulton questioned the methods of the protest movement in Ferguson, saying she was “all for peaceful protests” but, in her opinion, protesters needed to communicate a clearer message of the changes they would like to see.
Addressing the changes in gun control laws, “America has moved forward at a snail’s pace,” Fulton said.
Fulton emphasized the ability for people to promote change through voting and creating discussion forums in order to let their voices be heard and to bring awareness to what’s going on in the community. “If you want positive change, you have to make time,” Fulton said.
“What I’m doing is not going to bring my son back,” she said, “and I will continue to heal for the rest of my life, but what will fill that void is helping other families.”
The moderated session was followed by a performance by a local dance group as a tribute to the memory of Martin. Each dancer wore a white T-shirt with words such as “stereotyped”, “innocent” and “U.S. Teen.”