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Slain Florida teen's parents vow to turn pain into power

Trayvon Martin's parents speak in Cincinnati

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CINCINNATI - Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton were often near tears Wednesday as they addressed the National Children's Defense Fund conference in Cincinnati.

Their emotions were driven by the fact that their unarmed son, Trayvon Martin, 17, was shot and killed by George Zimmerman on Feb. 27 as he returned from a store.  At the time, Zimmerman was on neighborhood watch duty in Sanford, Fla.

However, both parents vowed that Trayvon's death will not be in vain.

"It does hurt, but we have decided to turn the hurt and the pain into power," Fulton told hundreds of teenagers and child advocates at the Duke Energy Center.

That means fighting for the rights of children by speaking out and by engaging the nation to make their viewpoints known on Facebook and Twitter.

Martin said he and Fulton never envisioned being parents burying a child, but in doing so they learned when you stand up for what you believe, others will stand with you.

"We could have easily just opted out to rant, rave and just have the nation in an uproar," he said. "We chose to do what we felt was right for our son and that was to keep his legacy going -- not let his name be in vain -- not lead his death being in vain."

Fulton talked lovingly about her son -- how he was emotional and affectionate and even at 17 wasn't afraid to hug and kiss his parents.

"He liked to go to the movies.  He liked to go to the mall.  He liked to dress nice.  He has to smell good.  He used to talk on the phone all the time with the girls.  As far as I know he had no girlfriends.  He had just friends.  The school has told me otherwise," she said to sustained chuckles and smiles from the audience.  "He was just a loving guy."

Those memories are what drive Fulton to make sure no other family goes through what she and Martin have experienced.

"It's important for us to talk to you now so there is not another statistic like Trayvon Martin and not only the Trayvons, but the girls as well," she said.

Children's Defense Fund President Marian Wright Edelman said that sort of communication is more valuable now than ever before.

"We lose eight children every day to gun violence in this country.  That's one every three hours," she said.  "We usually lose an average of 3,000 children a year to gun violence.  We lose more children in one year to gun violence than we have lost in American battle casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq."

"What is the matter with us that we're not going to stop the killing of children?" she asked.

Martin said he's doing all he can to reverse that trend. Trayvon is his motivation.

"My child was my hero and he saved my life," he said.  "Not to be there to save his life in his time of need is real troublesome, but I take that and use it as a stepping stone to continue to build for him."

The lifesaving story began on an afternoon in 2004 when Trayvon was 8 years old.  Martin spent the day at a park watching his son play football.  As dusk approached, they went home and Martin put grease on the stove to cook chicken wings and fries.  Because they were so tired, both father and son soon fell asleep.  

Three hours later, Martin woke up to the sound of a smoke detector alert.  The grease had caught the kitchen on fire.  He tried to smother the flames with a towel, but pulled the pan off the stove and splattered himself with hot oil.  He passed out from the shock.

"I can recall waking up and calling Trayvon's name and by the time he got to me he was asking, 'Dad, what is wrong?  What's wrong?'  I couldn't tell him what's wrong," he said.  "So, at 8 years old he drug me out of the kitchen out onto the walkway at the condominiums where we were staying and ill-advised, he ran back into the house, got the phone and came back out and called 911."

Martin was in the hospital for five months and Trayvon was with him as much as possible.

"Even if he was here today, I still owe him my life," he said as his eyes began to moisten.  "It's tough."

Zimmerman has been charged with second degree murder in the case and is awaiting trial. Fulton was asked what will happens if he's acquitted?  She had a quick response.

"I think if I can deal with not holding my son and hugging my son and not talking to him, I can certainly deal with whatever the court rules and whatever decision the court makes," she said.

Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump urged the country to let the court system work.

"We continuously pray for calm and to let authorities levy out justice and to not do what we accuse George Zimmerman of doing and that is trying to take the law into his own hands," he said.  "We have faith in the justice system, but as Miss Fulton has said, we have faith in a higher authority as well."

Dr. Maya Angelou was the keynote speaker for the National and Racial Healing Town Hall where Trayvon's parents appeared.  She pledged her support for them and urged others to do the same.  

"I am a member of the Martin family and you are, too," she said. "It gives them hope and strength. In the worst of times, there is hope."


Angelou looked out over the audience of young faces and said that everyone is a rainbow in someone's eye.

"I don't want to see five more Trayvons and Trayvettes killed," she said. "Search for and seek justice.  Don't be poisoned by hate."

Fulton said as the conference ends she wants the young attendees to gain self-esteem and remain as positive as possible at all times.

"I also want them to connect themselves with positive people and be around positive people -- people that are doing something and going places," she said.  "Leave the negative alone.  That's the main point I want them to do is focus on the positive."

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