How We Can Pay Tribute to Mothers of Slain Children on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

They say, “A mother’s work is never done.” Depressingly, the work referenced in this motto can be that of social justice. As new leadership emerges in highflying cases of injustice, mothers of slain unarmed black men and boys have become primary teachers of the prevention of racial bias and discrimination.

The mothers of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and an unrecognized number speak with unequivocal clarity as to who and what kill our children. As Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, said plainly, “My son was profiled, followed and murdered … and there was nothing accidental about that.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have undoubtedly lifted the voice of Sybrina Fulton as a graceful instructor of justice, and he would have certainly marched behind Fulton and her contemporaries.

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A Miami native, Fulton graduated from Florida Memorial University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English. For 25 years, Fulton worked for the Miami-Dade County Housing Development Agency. She is a member of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church of Miami Gardens and mother of a slain child.

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, addresses the group of protesters Monday, Sept. 22, 2014, on the lawn of the Duval County Courthousein Jacksonville, Fla., in support of the family of Jordan Davis before the start of Monday morning's jury selection in the retrial of Michael Dunn in the loud music shooting death of Davis. (AP Photo/The Florida Times-Union, Bob Self)

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, addresses the group of protesters Monday, Sept. 22, 2014, on the lawn of the Duval County Courthousein Jacksonville, Fla., in support of the family of Jordan Davis before the start of Monday morning’s jury selection in the retrial of Michael Dunn in the loud music shooting death of Davis. (AP Photo/The Florida Times-Union, Bob Self)

In his profound and all too relevant eulogy for the four little girls murdered in the infamous Birmingham church bombing, Dr. King reminded us that “history has proven over and over again that unmerited suffering is redemptive.” No one deserves to die for going on a snack run as Trayvon did. Surely, the death of the innocent are due justice.

However as Dr. King proved, one cannot redeem justice on faith, metaphysics, or karma alone. Action must move the waves of justice.

Sybrina Fulton’s actions are creating a high tide. For the last two years, Fulton has tirelessly traveled the country providing healing words to the sick injustices lodged in the heart of our country’s principal institutions.

Along with Tracy Martin, Trayvon Martin’s father, Fulton established the Trayvon Martin Foundation in 2012 with the purpose of creating “awareness of how violent crime impacts the families of the victims and to provide support and advocacy for those families.” Her foundation keeps the focus on the victims, who along with their families are often lost in the spectacle of the crime and public outcry. The foundation also promotes conflict resolution techniques for the inevitable confrontations between strangers.

She has been a mentor to the mothers of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and other mothers of slain children across the country. In addition, Ms. Fulton’s uprightness and lucidity serves as a beacon for the millions who marched in the darkness of non-indictments in the Mike Brown and Eric Garner cases.

Fulton helps the keeps our eyes on the prize.

In a statement and petition with Tracy Martin, Fulton stated, “Despite our despair, we must honor Trayvon’s legacy by doing all that we can to protect other young people from being targeted, pursued, and senselessly murdered.” Fulton’s dignified steadfastness teaches us what personal and systemic changes our society needs.

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Again, Dr. King’s eulogy is pertinent. He preached, “And so I stand here to say this afternoon to all assembled here, that in spite of the darkness of this hour, we must not despair. We must not become bitter, nor must we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence. No, we must not lose faith in our white brothers. Somehow we must believe that the most misguided among them can learn to respect the dignity and the worth of all human personality.”

Consequently, through the Travon Martin Foundation, Fulton has sought to arrest the policies that are the accomplices to the wrongful deaths and detentions of citizens. In particular, Fulton keeps chipping away at “stand your ground” laws that block the entranceway towards racial equality in the justice system. Institutional change will make sure Trayvon’s brief life will not be in vain. But it’s through Fulton’s grace that changes our hearts.

Yes, a mother’s work is never done. Her other son Jahvaris recently graduated from Florida International University, and that work will certainly remain. However, since the death of Trayvon, we are appreciative that Sybrina Fulton’s mothering continues by demanding justice for the rest of us. I thank Sybrina Fulton on this MLK Holiday.

[Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

Andre Perry

Andre Perry is the founding dean of urban education at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Mich. and the author of The Garden Path: The Miseducation of a City (2011).