Sybrina Fulton, Nicole Paultre Bell Spread Words of Encouragement at ESSENCE Festival

Nicole Paultre Bell and Sybrina Fulton are living proof of the impact episodes of violence have on the black community.

“We are living examples of the struggle that young black men face and the plight that black women often face throughout our entire country,” Bell said Friday.

Bell is the fiancé of Sean Bell, who was gunned down by a team of New York police officers in 2006. Fulton is the mother of Trayvon Martin, who was shot and killed by a community watchman in Florida. In the years since their loved ones’ deaths, conversations about race, policing, and violence have escalated to national levels. Yet, Fulton says the activism can’t begin and end with talk.

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“The conversation is just that, a conversation,” Fulton said. “Now we need to put action with that conversation. A lot of people say they support different causes, but now you need to have action to go with that support.” By getting out to vote and actively participating in jury duty, she said, citizens across the country can make a real difference in people’s lives. “We need open minded people to participate in the jury pool,” said Fulton. “People don’t understand that when you get that notice you should feel obligated to participate.”

Fulton, who took the stage at Essence Festival to deliver a keynote address during Friday’s empowerment series, said before her son was gunned down by George Zimmerman, who was found not guilty of murdering him, her life was pretty normal. She’d go to work, take her kid on vacation, and even travel annually to Essence Festival for a weekend getaway with her girlfriends.

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Now, her life’s mission is to make sure no mother has to experience what she has. In a conversation with Essence later, she said if Trayvon were alive today, she’d be celebrating the little things: dropping him off on his first day of college, reminiscing on his prom and high school graduation and bugging him about finding a wife and settling down. Earlier, she’d noted that Trayvon’s funeral was the worst day of her life.

“No matter how many times I say it, it still hurts,” she said. And yet, she seeks fulfillment in the work she does through the Trayvon Martin Foundation, working with youth in Florida and pushing for laws nationwide that would keep tragedies like her son’s death from occurring again. “There’s so much that I miss,” she said. “But I live through it through the young people I engage with—now I have like a million Trayvon Martins.”