Mother of Trayvon Martin addresses Cambridge church

Family lawyers to speak to class at Harvard Law

Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, stood between a family lawyer and her other son, Jahvaris Fulton. She spoke at St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Jessica Rinaldi For The Globe
Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, stood between a family lawyer and her other son, Jahvaris Fulton. She spoke at St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church.

CAMBRIDGE — Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, stood before a full congregation at St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church on Sunday morning and spoke of the days after her son’s death, when she just wanted to sit in her Florida home.

“Do nothing, just cry,” she told the Cambridge audience, with her son Jahvaris Fulton, 23, behind her. “But I knew that the type of son I have now, and the type of son I have in heaven, would not allow me to sit at home and just cry.”

Martin was shot to death on Feb. 26, 2012, in the Florida neighborhood where he was visiting his father. George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch leader who said he shot the teen in self defense, was acquitted by a jury in the shooting.


Martin’s parents, Fulton and Tracy Martin, started the Trayvon Martin Foundation to raise awareness and help families hurt by gun violence. Fulton was invited to Cambridge by Charles J. Ogletree, Harvard Law School professor and a member of St. Paul AME church. She spoke at the 8 a.m. service.

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Ogletree also invited Fulton and the family’s lawyers, Daryl Parks and Benjamin Crump, to speak to his Harvard Law School class, “Race and Justice: The Wire,” on Monday at 1:30 p.m. The discussion is open to the public, though space is limited.

The course is based around the HBO series “The Wire,” a crime drama set in inner-city Baltimore. Monday’s class focuses on the impact violence has on families and the period of depression and grief mothers experience if their sons die violently.

“It shows what happens to generations when young men don’t have a chance,” Ogletree said.

During the 11 a.m, service, Ogletree spoke about the advice he has heard black parents give their children to keep them safe: Don’t go into certain parts of the city. If a police officer pulls you over, keep both hands on the steering wheel. Get out of the car. Don’t get out of the car.


When he asked how many parents in the church had given their children similar advice, a flurry of hands went up.

Carl Brooks, a Gordon College sophomore from Milton majoring in religious studies and international affairs, said he came to Cambridge specifically to hear Ogletree’s talk about the implications of Martin’s killing.

“It’s affecting my community, and it’s affecting me as well. I’m not out of the scope: I’m 20 years old, I’m African-American,” he said. And when a a story like Martin’s gets national attention, “it gets us all on our toes. It reminds us that it’s not all roses; it’s not all peace.”

Taisha Akins of Dorchester, whose 17-year-old son was killed near Codman Square in 2011, said she was touched and inspired by Fulton’s efforts to transform her personal tragedy into a national movement about how violent crime affects families and communities.

The second of Akins’s three children, Khris McKinney, was shot to death in daylight near Norfolk and Whitman streets on March 24, 2011. No arrests have been made in the case, Boston police said Sunday.


“I just wanted Trayvon’s mother to know that there are so many of us, and I want to start a movement, as she did for her son,” Akins said. “I said we share the same hurt and experience.”

The Rev. Melvin E. Wilson, pastor of the Cambridge church, said the community must remain vigilant with its peace efforts as the spotlight fades in high-profile gun violence cases. And on his last day in Cambridge, Wilson said he hopes the discussion will continue after he heads to New York to become a presiding church elder.

Christine Banks, 30, of Randolph, said she came “hoodied out” in a red hooded sweat shirt, as Wilson had asked the congregation to do. She said she wished the service she attended, at which Fulton did not speak, explained more of Martin’s story.

Banks has a 2-year-old son, and she said she must talk to him about what happened in Florida at some point in his life.

“I don’t know how I’m going to explain this to him,” she said. “All I can do is instill in him knowledge, street knowledge.”

Gal Tziperman Lotan can be reached at