Dear Ms. Fulton,
We’ve never met, but our paths have crossed. In 2012, while George Zimmerman was granted bail in Florida, I was laying on my back in California being told by a technician that my baby was a boy. I drove back home alone and in silence, criticizing myself out loud for not being happier. A boy was a blessing, of course. I came from a family of women, the arrival of a boy would be celebrated. My mother’s voice on the other end of the phone was light and bubbly. She was thrilled. But it was July, and that summer the world was fighting over the value of black lives. Your precious son, the central figure.
I am one of those anonymous people you wrote about in your book. My life is filled with a hundred mundane details — some of them stressful, but most of them jovial and satisfying. My son is small. He still mispronounces words (a “b” where a “v” should go) and asks my permission to run ahead when we walk our city’s streets. I think of all the layers to his future — the immediate layers, the distant layers. What we should have for dinner, if his uniform is clean for Monday, Kindergarten, college funds, his relationship with his father. I think about the things that are hard to say. The words that gave you pause when you spoke at podiums after your son’s passing. The words every mother considers, be she black or white, her child male or female. We all just want to see our children grow up. We want to live our mundane, anonymous lives uninterrupted by chaos and tragedy.
I humbly believe that the journey I’ve had these past five years, has something in common with your own. Tragedy changed your life, shook your core and turned out to be the catalyst to your life’s cause. You will always be the mother of a revolution despite intending only to be the mother of two thriving boys. You are the reason I raise my son as I do. Once I sat trembling in a car parked in the driveway, wiping away tears and sorting through the images that were flooding my mind, but now I understand the purpose of motherhood. As parents, we absolutely must be activists. We absolutely must move consciously and we absolutely must advocate for our children.
Parents have a way with words. Explaining concepts to a child requires the ability to think on a granular level. One must first find patience, then consider the makings of their child — his age, his comprehension — then break down complex ideas into 12-word sentences. It certainly instilled in me a level of empathy that I never had before my child came along. It is no wonder to me that mothers have historically been at the forefront of the world’s greatest movements. Our voices have been trained to project, our hearts have been equipped with the ability to expand as needed and our stamina is practiced by the succession of child-rearing.
It’s important for me to say thank you, though I wonder if thanks is the proper sentiment. I started my maternal journey feeling scared and underprepared. Wondering if my intentions were enough to combat the incredible odds that black men face. I saw you and your experiences as the embodiment of my worst nightmare. I wonder how you’ve endured such moments. So poised and compassionate, an educated woman with an unmovable faith in God’s plan. You described with grace, the worst moments of your life — the phone call you received only to be exceeded by the bizarre chronology of attending your own child’s funeral. You admitted, without apology, that you don’t forgive and strongly defended your right to heal in your own time. Despite unhealed wounds, you fight selflessly in honor of the safety of children. Your energy inspires me.
The idea of black motherhood once overwhelmed me. I questioned my abilities five years ago, in the wake of misleading statistics and agenda-driven politics and I felt powerless to protect my child. If it weren’t for the tragic murder of Trayvon, I wonder if I would be quite so conscientious. If I would be so mindful to instill in him self-respect and empowerment. To remember that as the years pass, he may be seen by the world as a man before he is ready to take on such a title. I know he may expect a level of patience from the world that is gravely limited by ignorance and miseducated fear.
The laws that are meant to protect the nation’s children have failed our black sons and daughters, leaving us with the skin of our own teeth. While enduring grief and frustrating encounters with congress and press, your family survived through the diaphragm of a megaphone. I have been encouraged, through the years as you stand in front of crowds, speaking about your son, normalizing his innocence to people around the world. Reminding them that he was just a boy, not a man, not a criminal. This is not how a mother should have to live, but it is how one changes the world.
I know that there will always be a reason to gun down our children if ignorant people are empowered to do so. So, I vote with you in mind. With Trayvon and Mike and Oscar in mind. With myself and my son and nieces in mind. I remain patient with my son and treasure his smallness and anticipate his future. I stay conscious of what’s happening in my neighborhood, in my state, in congress and in local media. I continue to teach him that he is worthy and beautiful and vitally important.
I hope that you are at peace today, that you feel loved, that you smile and feel encouraged. You have made an extraordinary impact on the world, and you make me unbelievably thankful to be a black woman.
(Photo: Allison Joyce/Getty Images)