It’s been 18 months since Trayvon Martin went from a Florida teenager just trying to get home from the store on a rainy night, to one of the most recognizable faces in America. Right alongside him, almost from the very beginning, was another face, with whom we have recently become intimately familiar, front and center as a regular presence at George Zimmerman’s trial. Sybrina Fulton, Martin’s mother, was the very picture of grace and poise, as she shared her quiet grief with the nation.
So this week, I wanted to address my letter to her: both the public figure who has been a conduit for a community in mourning, and the private person, a mother surviving after her own personal loss.
It’s me, Melissa.
Thursday night, you and Martin’s father sat down with Reverend Al Sharpton to talk about your thoughts and feelings in response to the trial of the man who killed your son. When I saw that you were here in the 30 Rock, I immediately went to the studio where you were being interviewed because I wanted to be in the room with you.
Over the past year and half, I have written and spoken so much about your son. I have thought about and questioned and analyzed the issues raised by the way he died, the events that followed his death, and what it all says about how our nation failed your boy. The ongoing interest and attention that I - that all of us - have paid to your son’s story are due in large part to your tireless efforts and advocacy on his behalf.
When you were cast into the part no woman wants to play—the grieving mother seeking justice for her child—you took on your role admirably. And you stepped onto the national stage alongside the women who came before you, carrying our collective sorrow on their shoulders.
Coretta after she lost Martin…
Myrlie when Medgar was taken away…
Mamie, who like you, was robbed of a beloved son when she lost Emmett…
When we were overwhelmed by our own emotions—the sadness, the anger, the helplessness, they—you—were what we needed you to be. A symbol of strength and endurance. A sign that we, like you, could and would carry on.
But Sybrina, I want you to know that I see you. Not the symbol, or the sign—but the human being. The mother who lost her son. The woman knitting herself back together during every commercial break Thursday night, steeling herself to go on. Who, when asked by Rev. Sharpton what you would say to George Zimmerman, found the faith that you have turned to so often throughout this ordeal:
“I would tell him my favorite Bible verse, which is Proverbs 3:5, 6. And I would tell him how I felt, which is you shed innocent blood and you’re gonna have to account for that. I would pray for him, I really would.”
I looked up your favorite verse, which reads:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.”
Sybrina, the grace you showed with your message to George Zimmerman is beyond anything I can imagine. But what I can comprehend, what I can conjure when I look into the face of my own precious child, is some idea of how I would feel in those private moments. When the cameras aren’t on. When you’ve taken an entire movement off your shoulders and there is just you. In that little room next to the courtroom where you retreated in those moments when it all got to be too much.
When you needed to let go of your composure, and just—cry. Fall on the floor. Scream. Shout. Rage against the injustice of it all.
I want you to know, Sybrina: it’s all OK.
I want you to know, that when you go by yourself into that private place, you do not go alone. Because all of our love goes with you.
I have no doubt you will someday hear the words of Matthew 25:21: “well done, my good and faithful servant.”