Following a loss by only 331 votes in the race for Miami-Dade County Commissioner District 1 against former Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert, Sybrina Fulton said she is continuing to advocate for change within the community.
As an activist and government worker, Fulton said she was an active part of the community her entire life before deciding to run. Now, three months after the heartbreaking loss and just days before another election, Fulton said she is looking forward.
“Right now I can’t tell you if I’m looking at another seat or if I will be a candidate for that seat again,” said Fulton. “I told myself I would take a break and go on vacation so once I get to go on vacation and come back I can decide what I want to do.”
Along with writing her second book, Fulton is working with her organizations, The Trayvon Martin Foundations and Circle of Mothers, to fight against gun violence and provide support for grieving mothers.
“I’m going to continue working with them and that is going to never stop because that is my passion and that is what I am about,” she said.
The groups were founded following the death of her son Trayvon Martin who, at 17-years-old, was shot and killed by George Zimmerman in 2012.
Queen Brown, a member of the Circle of Mothers and volunteer with the Trayvon Martin Foundation, has been working with Fulton since then.
“Whether it’s marches or meetings, whenever I leave her I always leave feeling more empowered,” said Brown.
Brown said both act as safe spaces, though the Circle of Mothers is a private, more personal group, while the Trayvon Martin Foundation is more for the larger community.
“I have never missed a Circle of Mothers. I find working with her to truly be a blessing,” said Brown. “It’s tragic, but from the time she lost her son she has brought a different level of strength into this family, we are in now with the Circle of Mothers. She seems to bring us hope.”
Brown said that during meetings Fulton has presented laws and policies to the group and explained how they will affect the community.
“She is a no-nonsense person — very serious. If you were listening to her talk to us you would think that she was the oldest person in the room because of the level of wisdom she brings and she is younger than I am,” said Brown. “She has a unique way of seeing both sides of issues with laws and presenting them to us.”
And Hope Buchanan, the principle consultant of the Travyon Martin Foundation, said Fulton gives her a sense of purpose.
“Watching her strength as she leaves a footprint for generations to come gives me immense pride and joy,” she said.
Fulton had more than 20 years of experience in five different Miami-Dade County departments, prior to her retirement.
“A lot of people think I just dropped out from somewhere and was JUST Trayvon Martin’s mom,” said Fulton. “I have another son Javarious Fulton who is doing really well and I have my own work I do.”
Fulton’s first position was when she worked as a console security specialist with the General Service Administration monitoring building security systems with properties in the county.
Fulton continued working with the government when she worked for Miami-Dade Health, Safety and Environment for several years tasked with writing policy and procedures for the housing agencies.
“I was a hearing officer for public officers in Section 8,” she said. “I learned a great deal about writing policies and procedures and now I am enforcing those same policies and procedures that were written.”
Fulton began to work with the Public Housing and Community Development department, working with the family self-sufficiency program helping residents with low to no income become more self-sufficient.
“I saw that most people felt that it was generational because their grandparents and parents lived in public housing. They don’t know that there is a different life where they can be much more profitable,” she said.
As a code enforcer for Miami-Dade County, Fulton said she improved things less so by issuing citations than by giving information about the relevant law and working with residents.
She then joined a management intern program, working in aviation and learning about budgets, human resources and other departments.
She said her experience influenced her campaign focal points: economic development, affordable housing and reducing gun violence. She announced her campaign via social media in May.
“It actually was a rumor that was out about a year before I even decided to run. When I heard the rumor, I wasn’t even interested,” said Fulton.
“The reason why I felt like Commissioner for District 1 was a better fit for me is because I knew Miami-Dade County from the inside as an employee, and I also knew it from the outside as a resident,” she said. “I knew that this was the right community for me.”
Fulton, is a product of Miami-Dade’s education system from kindergarten through college, receiving her bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in communication from Florida Memorial University.
“With that particular degree it rounds you out for anything that you are going into and allows you to be versatile,” said Fulton.
During her time at Florida Memorial, Fulton pledged to the Zealous Zeta Tau Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., a historically Black sorority.
“We do our fundraisers and our fun events, but at the end of the day it’s about our business – making the community better and our sorority stronger,” she said. “The women that I have encountered are very phenomenal women. They’re very strong and powerful women and I identify with them. I wanted to keep that same level of strength.”
Fulton said she felt she was the best fit for Delta Sigma Theta, but she did do research on other sororities prior to officially pledging.
“Even before I decided to pledge, a lot of people were telling me ‘do your research, do your research’ and you really don’t know what that means, well to me that meant to research other sororities,” said Fulton. “I couldn’t go any other way, it’s in my bloodline. I have an aunt who has been a Delta for over 50 years, I knew so much about sisterhood and community service, that was the only way to go.”
Miami Gardens resident Shaura Phillips, said she was happy that Fulton was running.
“It’s not easy to put yourself out there but she did it anyway because she actually wants to make a difference for her community,” said Phillips. “The fact that she lost by such a small margin tells me people resonated with her message and are ready for change.”
Broward County resident Jessica Weatherspoon, who follows Fulton on social media, agreed that it was exciting to see Fulton was running.
“For me, it was, not only is she a Black woman, but she also is an activist who brings a unique perspective and life experiences that would have been really valuable to a place like Miami,” said Weatherspoon. “I did see she has a lot of experience in the government fields which is very valuable to the position.”
Weatherspoon, who was disappointed by Fulton’s loss, said that the issues on her platform are all issues that still need to be addressed.
“With affordable housing in a place like South Florida, there are so many ridiculous obstacles put in place that make it hard for people to even have a place to sleep for them or their families even if they work full time,” she said. “It’s way past time for a change.”
Following the news of her loss, Fulton took to social media to express her gratitude to her supporters, saying positive change will come in time.
“331 votes – that’s like a couple of streets. It could have easily been a different outcome if people had easier access to the polls,” said Weatherspoon. “It’s funny because I think people get overwhelmed with the number of things that there are to vote for on both the national and local levels, but situations like this serve as a reminder that your vote does count.”
Fulton said she learned a lot during her campaign and experienced a lot of dirty politics that she didn’t involve herself in.
“I stayed away from the dirty politics. There’s a lot that goes on in campaigns and there’s a lot of things that are being said, but I just remained on my course — the straight and narrow. I was very direct that I wanted to put people over profit. I see a lot of times people get in these positions and they forget about the people and become self-serving,” she said. I wanted to make sure that people put their trust back in politicians,” said Fulton. “That was my intention for running.”
Since her loss, Fulton has participated in recent events like Souls to the Polls and has been featured in TIME100 Talks.
“I don’t just invite myself into things, things come to me and I decide I want to attend. Every time people see me somewhere or they see me speaking or connecting with the family, someone that’s connected to the family or from the organization invited me in. I never go just on a whim, I have to be invited before I leave my home. My life is so average, people think that I’m someone else and I just am who I am.”
Correction: After publication, Hope Buchanan occupation has been revised. Her occupation is now updated in the story.