My journey to power started with intense pain. Most people think the worst day of my life was when I received the phone call from Trayvon’s father that our son had been killed – but it was not. The worst day of my life was when I sat in the front row of the church staring at my 17-year old son in a casket because his life was taken by senseless gun violence. I had experienced loss before, but this was severe. It is a different type of pain to lose your child, as a mother there was now something permanently missing in my life – a giant hole in my heart. It has been eight years now and I still cry. I have bad days and good days, but I had to believe brighter days were coming and I must keep pushing forward.

In the weeks and months following Trayvon’s death, as I began pursuing justice for my son’s killing, people kept telling me that I was strong - but I did not feel strong. There was a disconnect between how people saw me and how I saw myself. I felt weak and helpless, unable to see any hope. But one day I looked in the mirror and told myself “I’m strong” and as I continued to tell myself that, I became strong. Many times, we look to others like our spouses, friends, and family for strength but there is a power within us that is only activated by a conscious decision to get back up and press on.

Once I realized the strength that I had within myself, I began to move forward with power. On some of the toughest days, I would repeat Proverbs 3:5-6 to myself, “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your understanding, acknowledge Him in all of your ways and He will direct your path”. I did not understand why I had been chosen for this position but I had to trust God.

This was not a position I would have applied for – no one wants to be in the position of defending your child who has been shot and killed. I battled with speaking out on behalf of my son for quite some time. And I even told God that he picked the wrong person, the wrong family, the wrong teenager – but God assured me that He picked the right person.

What compelled me was that I felt I had been called to be a voice for my son because he could no longer speak for himself. I could not save Trayvon but I could fight to save my son, Jahavaris, and other African-American youth like him so that other mothers would not experience the same pain. It was the daily decision to believe in the power within me and that my voice could help others that pushed me forward.

Once I made the decision, I started reaching out to other mothers whose children have been victims of gun violence and that led to me starting Circle of Mothers - a place of healing, empowerment, and fellowship for women who have suffered loss. I started traveling to visit the families of Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Jordan Davis, Tamir Rice and others. As I talked with these mothers who experienced a tragic loss similar to mine, it allowed me to not only find relief in community but shift my focus towards how to turn tragedy into action to stop the killing of young African-Americans.

This journey has taken me many places. I have traveled all over the country to speak out against senseless gun violence and racial discrimination. I never saw myself being involved at the forefront to this degree – attending protests and marches, going to the White House under President Obama, speaking at the United Nations in Geneva to running for office in Florida – but we must all do our part and end the killing of African-Americans. It may not be your loved one on the news today but tomorrow, it could be. We have to tap into the power and strength within us and do our part – from wherever you are and with whatever you have - use your power to be a voice for justice.

This upcoming election is life or death – we cannot continue to see African-Americans being shot and killed and people not be held accountable for it. We have to make sure we are making our voices heard. Your vote is your voice. Don’t silence your voice - each and every vote counts. People were arrested, beaten, and even died for your right to vote – now is the time honor their sacrifices by exercising that right. We must use our individual power to build collective power.

Read More: Reimagining Suffrage Through the Power of Black Women

To African American Women, I say – there is an African American woman running for Vice-President of the United States right now and that should be all the inspiration you need to get involved. We must encourage, support and lift each other up to move forward.

Just coming off the campaign trail, I am focused on my work as the Director of the Trayvon Martin Foundation. We are preparing for a virtual youth summit in the coming months, where we have conversations about difficult subjects that are not usually discussed in school such as, teen suicide, gun violence, and sexual orientation - just to name a few. The Trayvon Martin Foundation’s goal is to continue to be impactful not only in our local community but on the national level by empowering our youth and families.

As a nation, we are dealing with several issues right now like social unrest and racial discrimination, a global pandemic, hurricanes in Florida, fires in California – it can be easy to be discouraged. But we can change our shared pain into shared power to change things for the better. In spite of what we see happening in the world around us, we know that a brighter day is coming.

Since the 2012 death of their son Trayvon Martin, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin have committed their lives to transforming tragedy into change. Sybrina and Tracy, along with their son Jahvaris, created The Trayvon Martin Foundation to channel their immeasurable heartache into the immense strength needed to elicit positive change.

By sharing their powerful stories, they encourage diverse audiences – from students and legal professionals to community and family organizations – to become more educated on ways to keep their loved ones safe and empower everyone to become catalysts for progress.