Trayvon Martin's mom remembers her son and talks about the future, 10 years after his death

Ten years.

Ten excruciating years of grief and agony; anger and denial; frustration and depression.

Ten years of hollow holidays, birthdays and anniversaries. Ten years of a mother struggling to survive without her child.

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, has lived a lifetime in the 10 years since her youngest son was killed for wearing a hoodie and looking suspicious to the man who fatally shot him; for walking from a convenience store with Skittles and a bottle of juice in his pocket; for having the audacity to exist; for being Black.

Martin, an unarmed Black teenager, was shot and killed in Sanford, Florida, on Feb. 26, 2012, by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, a vigilante who snuffed out a life while standing his entitled ground. Zimmerman was acquitted, but his actions remain a stain on America and a source of deep pain for Fulton.

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"It's hard to talk about what vision I have for him, because I didn't anticipate him being killed," Fulton told me recently as we discussed the decade that has passed since her 17-year-old was killed. "I didn't get a chance to see him go to the prom. I didn't get a chance to see him graduate from high school and go to his senior events and all of that. I got robbed of those things. I got robbed of him getting married and having kids and getting his first job ... getting the first apartment or house, getting a car.

Trayvon Martin, 17, in the orange shirt, was with his family eight days before his death.
Trayvon Martin, 17, in the orange shirt, was with his family eight days before his death.

"Trayvon wasn't even old enough to vote, you know," she continued. "So when your child is killed at a young age, it leaves some questions like, 'What could have and what would have and what should have happened during his life?' I just got robbed of those things. Those things I just can only dream about."

'Speaking on behalf of Trayvon'

Fulton, 55, a Miami resident, now exists to give voice to her silenced son. She's writing, counseling other mothers who have experienced loss, and speaking, educating and fighting to end senseless gun violence through the Trayvon Martin Foundation.

"Parents who have lost a child, that's our new normal – our new normal is just to manage and try to maneuver through this life," Fulton said. "And try to keep your head up and try to build your happiness again, because it crushes you. It crushes your spirit when you lose a child."

Fulton talks about her sons – one in heaven and one on earth – who embody the phrase: Black Lives Matter.

Sybrina Fulton is the mother of Trayvon Martin and co-founder of the Trayvon Martin Foundation.
Sybrina Fulton is the mother of Trayvon Martin and co-founder of the Trayvon Martin Foundation.

After all, Trayvon Martin's death led America to the Black Lives Matter social justice movement that is still chanted today. But look beyond the protests, the street murals, the Instagram posts and you'll find mothers like Fulton mired in the real-life tragedies that consume them.

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"I'm speaking on behalf of my boys," Fulton told me. "I'm speaking on behalf of Trayvon, who has no voice. And also Jahvaris, who has a voice. And I'm so passionate about it because of what happened to my youngest son, Trayvon. Trayvon did not have a voice once he was shot and killed. And so I became his spokesperson. So that's what keeps me going on just knowing there is so much hatred in this world, that we have to keep fighting, we have to keep moving forward.

"I don't know if I'm going to still be around when this world starts to change, but I definitely believe that it is (the) young people who are going to make a change for the better – a positive change in this world."

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Trayvon Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, flanked by son Jahvaris and the Rev. Al Sharpton, addresses a rally in New York on July 20, 2013.
Trayvon Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, flanked by son Jahvaris and the Rev. Al Sharpton, addresses a rally in New York on July 20, 2013.

I wanted Fulton to share with me her memories of Trayvon. There's nothing like a mother's love, and I needed to hear why her son was so special. She described him as "very affectionate and a mama's boy." He was always smiling. He liked to eat snacks. He was just starting to get interested in girls, and was wearing cologne, stepping up his wardrobe and talked often about shaving even though he didn't have much facial hair.

Trayvon was into sports. He never met a stranger and felt everyone was a potential friend. He was free-spirited, very loving and enjoyed baking cookies for his young cousins. Those girls, who after he died and were unable to comprehend why he was gone when the family told them he was in heaven, still asked if Trayvon was going to bake for them. They are now 17 and 13.

Ten years.

"I do have very good memories of him," Fulton told me about her baby. "It feels so fresh on my mind about when he was here on earth. I have a saying that's on one of our shirts that we have: 'Not even the death of my son will separate me from the love of my son.' And I truly believe that because he's in my heart. I carried him for nine months and even though he's not here on earth, I still feel his presence."

A stolen son, hope for better tomorrow

I purposely waited until the end of our conversation to ask about Zimmerman. This is not about him – at all. But last week, a Florida judge prudently dismissed a defamation and conspiracy lawsuit filed by Zimmerman against Martin's parents.

"I just think it's just ridiculous that somebody could shoot and kill your child, and then you have to defend yourself with legal counsel, in order to fight the person who is suing you. But this is America. ... I'm just glad that it's over. I really am."

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She doesn't waste her energy thinking about Zimmerman; she doesn't even call his name. She describes him as the man who took her son's life, nothing more, nothing less. Instead, Fulton leans on family and friends, her church family, meditation and lots of prayers.

"I just feel like I want to inspire other people," Fulton told me. "I want to inspire other mothers. I don't want us to wait until something happens to our children. ... I just want to encourage people. I want to let them know that I did it – I'm no superwoman – and they can do it too."

Trayvon Martin has been gone for 10 years, stolen from his mother and father, from his brother, from his extended family and from all who loved him.

In those 10 years, there has also been action. Fulton refuses to be silent about the injustices in this country, about the Black men and women who are killed without cause. She won't accept the label superwoman, but I bestow it upon her. She has found a purpose for her pain, and we are all the beneficiaries of her strength and resolve.

A mother's love is unconditional, as is Fulton's desire for a better tomorrow.

"I just want to give people hope – that even though things might look dark in front of you, that things will get better," she said. "It rains, but the suns shines again."

National columnist/deputy opinion editor Suzette Hackney is a member of USA TODAY’S Editorial Board. Contact her at shackney@usatoday.com or on Twitter: @suzyscribe

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trayvon Martin's death: His mother talks grief regret 10 years later