#NoMore: When Mothers Unite, Change Will Come

When I went to protest in the streets of Houston, I did not know what to expect.  I got to the park late and had to drive to find the march that was weaving through the neighborhoods and heading towards the highway.  The police were attempting to contain and manipulate the movements of the peaceful protest in order to keep us from shutting down the highway.  We reached two pivotal points at the march that really had me emotional.  The first was when they stopped us in the middle of a neighborhood and surrounded us.  They attempted to stay stone faced but a few chatty ones commented as we stated our disgust with the system and our plans to continue protesting until our existence is acknowledged.  Seeing a large group of people herded into the middle of a street and surrounded by armed officers inspired to me to keep pushing because they were not taking us seriously.

After about 20 minutes they allowed us to march forward, but the police department had already set up a physical blockade on the next major intersection that lead to the highway.  The officers were mounted on horses along with dozens standing around watching us.  As we stood there face to face with people who have been hired to protect and serve, i began to cry on the inside.  My spirit began to scream NO MORE.  I screamed, “I went through 26 hours of labor to have my son, and I will not let you take his life away!”  I screamed, “NO MORE!”  The crowd echoed, “NO MORE!”  I began to cry because I had moved from just being passionate to being protective.  Protective of my son and his future, but also protective of an entire generation of young people who are facing aggressive and poorly trained officers everyday.

Mothers are powerful people.  When they set out on an agenda to get something done, there is little that can stand in their way to stop them.  Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) was founded in May of 1980 and over the past 34 years this organization, started by one mother, has made a tremendous impact on legislation and awareness.  Many of the women who share the same passion against drunk driving have also been the mothers of survivors of this circumstance.  These women have united and made a difference in the lives of millions across the country.

When you see the strength and resilience of Sabrina Fulton (Trayvon Martin’s mother), Valerie Bell (Sean Bell’s mother), and now Lesley McSpadden (Michael Brown’s mother), you see that they are fighting to keep it together for their family, the public, and themselves.  Their pain is being watched and replayed over and over by the media.  They are being asked to do interviews as they shed tears and share memories of their sons.  They want to see something change, but the solutions are a work in progress because justice did not come and set a new precedent, but continued the history of “not right now.”  Seeing these three women together made me realize that they are unfortunately connected by tragedy, but powerful tools to change their tragedy into a union of mothers who want more for their children.

Black mothers are not the only ones losing their children to police brutality, guns, violence, or drugs.  Latino mothers have to explain to their sons that interactions with cops can lead to death, so they must be careful and cautious in their words or actions.  White mothers are fighting against drugs being sold in their child’s schools or bullying online.  All mothers are fighting to protect their children from the negative aspects of this world.  We must stand together and fight against the system that is setting our children up to fail.  We have to decide that this is the end.  No more.  We will no longer allow our children’s lives to be in the hands of the government.

We are ridiculed if our child breaks a bone, plays on the playground alone at age 7, if they don’t get perfect grades in school, if they have a short attention span or they get frustrated because they are trying to understand in a pressured environment.  Our children’s education, safety, and future is in our hands.  We have to declare that we know what is best for our children and the government has to work back towards allowing us to be parents and not educational wardens, teaching for a test instead of through critical thinking.  We do not want our face thrown into the public eye because of tragedy, so we must stand together and say NO MORE!

No more.  Police Brutality.  No more.  Bringing drugs in our community.  No more.  “War on Drugs.”  No more.  Guns being dumped in our communities.  No more.  Miseducation of our children.  No more.  No more.  No more.

We as mothers cannot take this any more.  Be you.  Do you.  Tell your own story.  On your own terms.

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Bring Back Sunday Dinner

Our generation has steered away from traditional anything but one tradition that must remain is Sunday dinner.  Today we celebrated my husbands godson’s christening today and had dinner at another friend’s home.  Some of their family was present, as well as a few friends.  We spent time watching football, discussing rivalries and laughing at my child sing the Philadelphia Eagles fight song, much to my dismay.  Our friends family got on the road home and the men sat down to doze off to late afternoon football games.  Us women went outside to light the fire pit, make smores, and talk about life.

The few hours we spent talking passed by so quickly, and we got a chance to candidly discuss religion, spirituality, relationships, friendships, finances, futures, dreams, growth and found so many common threads in our success and many of our struggles.  Taking a moment away from it all to simply connect and be vulnerable was rejuvenating and empowering.  We all felt connected and less alone, despite feeling as if we were the only ones experiencing socks left on the floor or clothes randomly placed throughout the house! We affirmed that we are normal and many husbands do the same things.

I have been longing to connect with many of my friends again because so much time has passed since we just sat down to talk and laugh face to face.  Just a few years ago, we had no problem getting together just to catch up and create memories.  Now we have gotten so busy being homeowners, wives, mothers, fathers, husbands, students or just busy trying to get somewhere soon that we rarely stop to connect and recharge.  We keep saying tomorrow instead of making a plan today.  I am challenging myself to get out of my comfort zone and spend my weekends spending time with people, doing nothing but laughing and talking.

Money does not always have to spent to have a good time.  Pick up a few sandwiches, a bottle of wine and a few snacks (if the kids are coming) and enjoy each others company.  Don’t get too busy that you miss the chance to see your friends and hear about their accomplishments and be a sound board for their dreams.  The only way we can survive, is by being there for each other and extending that love that is needed to continue on.

I am so blessed to be around such amazing women and watch how God is moving in all of our lives.  I pray you pick up a tradition that reconnects you with your loved ones. Sunday Dinner.  Get togethers.  Laugh.  Cry.  Create memories.  Be you.  Do you.  Tell your own story.  On your own terms.

It is No Longer Just the Cost of Living but the Quality of Life

I am getting older and I am longing for a change of pace.  Although I live in the “suburbs” of DC, I still feel the pressure of the rat race every single day and it is exhausting.  I am longing for a simpler life that we can afford.  I want to expose my son to everything the world has to offer, including being apart of a tight knit community where people know your name.

We have been discussing moving to Houston even before we had our son and now it comes up in conversation more and more.  Houston is a great place if you have never been but what I love most is how every neighborhood has everything you need.  You drive outside of your suburban community and you arrive at the shopping center that houses your needs in a 4 block radius; Target, Krogers, Marshalls, Nail salon, Chuckie Cheese and great food! Although these seems like nothing, it helps to center the activities of that community into one central location.  You go to the same grocery store every week and you begin to connect with those who work and shop there.

I love DC and all it has given me over the past 11 years but something here is missing.  I know that every where we go there will be traffic, weather to complain about or disconnected aspects of a community but DC does not give me a feeling of being home.  The growth of the city is focused more on the young, hip and rich and less on working class families.  At one time I felt like I did not belong any place else, suddenly I feel completely out of place.

Some of it has to do with having a kid.  Strollers don’t fit into these cute shops and restaurants and people aren’t interested in hearing your baby have a temporary melt down in their cool, chic eatery.  Some of it has to do with having student loans.  I owe a mortgage in student loans and the pay off date doesn’t exist in this decade or the next or anyone close to that.  Some of it has to do with coming full circle.  Although I was born in Connecticut, my formative years were in Houston and I still have so many friends there.  I felt home when I was there and when I go, it always brings a breath of fresh air.

At this point in my life I am no longer focused just on the cost of living but on our quality of life.  Even if Houston is not our next stop on our journey, I know that our current location is coming to an end sooner than later.  I have accomplished more in these 11 years than I could have ever dreamed but there is so much more in the world and I think I could get a better view from a different place.

The book of life is full of chapters and subchapters.  This chapter of my life in DC has been long and filled with so many amazing memories.  I sense that it will be closing soon with all of its many subchapters finally coming to a complete end.

A new beginning is on the horizon and I am ready.  I don’t know when.  Maybe not today or tomorrow but soon.  Be you.  Do you. Tell your own story.  On your own terms.

If I Listened to Society, I Would Have Never Succeeded

Children like me are not supposed to graduate from high school early.  They are not supposed to go to a great college or university.  They are not supposed to finish and get their dream job.  They are not supposed to get dissatisfied with their career and go back to a great college or university for a second degree.  They are supposed to have a baby out-of-wedlock but they are not supposed to marry their child’s father.  Children like me are not supposed to own a home, complete a second degree and have opportunities to choose from.

If I listened to society’s message about being black, motherless, fatherless, poor or a mother before I planned, I would have never succeeded.  If I listened to society’s message about the value of an education at HBCUs, I would have never fought to stay at Howard every semester and would not have went back to Howard, declining scholarship opportunities at other law schools.  If I listened to society’s message about balancing a family and your dreams, I would not be investing all of my free time into making my dreams turn into a reality.

Society has a way of shaming, demeaning and humiliating women, mothers, poor people, minorities, working parents, those who are not sexual conformists or sexual purists, and anyone who attempts to advocate or speak up for these groups.  The messages that are highlighted in mainstream media, backed by “policies” and shown through biased images oppress, silence and discredit these groups. The instant and ease of access to social media, video recording and outlets that connect millions of people together have only begun to shed light on the truth of who we really are and who we can become.

YouTube videos, blogs, Instagram and Twitter hashtags have connected people from different walks of life who have endured similar experiences.  These mediums have allowed us to see that many of us are more alike than we are different, that we are powerful and we are beautifully complex and interesting. We have been exposed to amazing people with unique backgrounds, survivors of horrendous crimes and minorities who are making a difference in their communities locally, nationally and internationally.   We are beginning to accept that poor people are not the enemy and breastfeeding in public should be supported and not shamed.  We are applauding working parents, stay-at-home moms and dads and those who chose to do what makes sense for their own families at that time.  We are beginning to accept that civil rights should be equally applied to everyone despite who they love.  We are respecting the talent and value of a person despite their sexual identity.

The exposure to the possibilities of life and the truth of our existence has transpired because we have stopped listening to society.  We have taken control of our stories, the images we consume and strengthened our power by rejecting the limited scenarios that we have been offered to choose from.  Our power is to be feared.  An open and aware mind cannot be controlled.

They said I would never make it.  They said I should not go to college.  They said I would not finish college.  They assumed I would never find a job.  They thought I would become like my mother.  They wished that I would give up.  They hoped I would stop believing. Their words, thoughts and wishes did not work against me because I did not listen to them. I have succeeded because I did not allow them to define my success.

Stop listening. Succeed.  Be you.  Do you.  Tell your own story.  On your own terms.

Shaming Victims Empowers Abusers

Today was an emotional day for all of the wrong reasons.  I caught wind of some statements made by Stephen A. Smith on his show First Take.  He and his co-host were covering the 2 game suspension of Ray Rice due to his highly publicized domestic violence incident with his wife. Despite very few people knowing the exact details of what occurred in the elevator, Mr. Smith decided to glide into the discussion of domestic violence.  His statements have been transcribed and the two-minute clip is easily accessible.

The words that hit me in my gut were “let’s make sure we don’t do anything to provoke wrong actions” and “And I think that just talking about what guys shouldn’t do, we got to also make sure that you can do your part to do whatever you can do to make, to try to make sure it doesn’t happen.” followed by  “we also have to make sure that we learn as much as we can about elements of provocation. “Not that there’s real provocation, but the elements of provocation, you got to make sure that you address them, because we’ve got to do is do what we can to try to prevent the situation from happening in any way.”

I immediately read the entire transcript of his statements again.  I stopped to think about what I just read and decided that there was no way this man could have said these words on national television, so I read the transcript a third, fourth and fifth time.  I wanted to be clear about what was said, the context in which his words were used and to affirm any disbelief that I had of these words being used against victims of domestic violence.

I am not here to discuss the scenario that these comments stemmed from or to discuss how many women “provoke” men to hit them.  I am here to simply say that these types of statements, made by powerful people with platforms, based on extremely complicated & damaging situations are overly simplified.  They are overly simplified by dismissing the severity of a man hitting, punching, slapping, grabbing, shaking, pushing or verbally abusing a woman.  It not only shames victims, but it empowers the abuser.  Everyone is clear on the old saying, keep your hands to yourself, but no one has the right to dismiss a persons uncontrolled temper as simply actions that were caused by someone provoking them.

I shared a piece of my own story of watching my mother being abused as a 2 year old and it took me to a place of pain, because I know a man who used to say that she provoked him.  That something as simple as not speaking loud enough, looking away from him or not being where he wanted you to be, when he wanted you to be there was what provoked him to leave a boot print in her back.  So when a man says that you should not provoke a man to abuse you, I ask how.  How can a woman not provoke a man who has already resolved to abusing her? To controlling her? To making sure she knows her place in this world and in his house? How can she avoid the abuse when she is not working and has children to feed? How can she avoid the abuse when she does not have any transportation to flee from her abuser? How can she stop the abuse when everyone around her is in denial and refuses to help her?

My own story is not one that I share alone, but one that was echoed by many women over my timeline.  This story was shared by men and the abuse their mothers endured.  Domestic violence has left many women dead.  Domestic violence has left many children motherless.  Domestic violence has damaged many people’s self-esteem, life and livelihood.  Domestic violence is not a casual conversation to be governed by a PSA from a sports newscaster.  Domestic violence is not a topic that can be simplified and a general band-aid placed on for your comfort.  Domestic violence is real.

As we speak women are enduring the abuse of a man.  As we speak someone is being murdered for attempting to leave their abuser.  As we speak the search for an abuser who left a child alone while he killed their mother is happening.  Everyday.  We hear the same story over and over, but somehow we come right back to pointing fingers at the victim.  She created this problem.  She stayed.  She is dumb.  She should have known.  She, the victim is not worthy of our empathy because clearly she provoked him.

I want to go so much deeper into my own story, but to wade in those very dark waters would take me to a place I am not ready to go to.  To all of the men that decided that verbally abusing me on Twitter would convince me that all women provoke men, know that I am unbothered and will not waver in standing up for victims of domestic violence.  If you know me, than you know I do not play.  If you do not know me, come for me when I did not send for you on a topic that is too real to me, and you will find out quickly that you cannot stand toe to toe with me on a topic I have experienced and can back up with numbers.

This is the beginning of a deeper conversation.  One that many of us are afraid to have because although the wounds are not visible, for many, they still remain.  To those who have endured abuse, survived abuse, know someone who may have even died, I pray for you and know that you cannot be silenced.

If you are a victim, you should not be ashamed.  Shame on your abuser. Be you.  Do you.  Tell your own story.  On your own terms.