Do you remember the demonstrations at malls, court houses and hospitals where people staged die-ins? I remember dropping to the ground when the signal came. I remember the slow passage of time as the Park City Mall grew quiet and all I heard was my heart. When I arose, I looked up to see my son and his best friend. I had not known if there would be arrests or conflicts with counter-protestors so I had not told him about it.
I wanted to protect him. I told myself I couldn't guarantee his safety. There had been threats from people who hated Black Lives Matter movements. We didn't know for sure how the police would deal with us. Would they let us disperse? Better not to bring my son or any of my children, I told myself.
But what was I teaching my son? You are a target. Keep your head down. Let mommy take the chances. Don't you stand up.
Months later when people traveled to Baltimore to hold the City accountable for killing Freddie Gray. My son called me.
"Take me to Baltimore."
"Why Baltimore? What do you want to do there?"
"People are protesting. It's happening there, Mommy!"
This time I did not say no, but I did not say yes.
"Wait," I said. "Let me call around."
I consulted my friend who had supported organizers and movements in Ferguson. Safety was my first concern. Tell me that it's too unpredictable to go I begged without saying it out loud. My friend gave me no such advice. Instead he was very practical about how to be in an unpredictable situation confronting public officials, including the police.
I waited a few days to call my son back. By then other high school matters were on his mind. Soon after the prosecutor announced her plan to indict the officers.
I felt relieved. I had kept him safe. Yet, a small part of me felt we had missed an opportunity.
Recently, my son sent me a short narrative that exposed his anguish, rage and sense of impotence at interpersonal racism and the fact that Black Lives Don't Matter much too often. I wept as I read his outpouring.
"At least once a month I see a video of a Black man beaten and or killed by police... I have to make sure I’m not a threat because if I make someone scared or uncomfortable they can shoot me. They can shoot my ass and get away with it. I’ve been internalizing these messages for the last four years, and it’s changing my body. It’s changing my brain and my emotions. It’s making me go into survival mode, where I, a human being, become an animal because that’s what I’m constantly told I am..."
So, what are we to tell our beautiful Black and Brown boys?
As a mother, my instincts scream "Keep the child safe!" But if he does not participate in demonstrations, group actions and even risk arrest how will he know that he is powerful, not just an extension of what the dominant society says?
Tonight I'm going to screen the first play that I've written where my son said: "It made me feel like I had to go out and freaking do something!"
The play, "To Cross an Ocean Four Centuries Long" features an enslaved woman, Hannah, who lost her son. I was entrusted with her story after wrestling with the autobiography of Quaker abolitionist John Woolman. She came to me while I slept. I resisted because there were no documents to back up her story. But finally, I got up around 4am and wrote her story. Her grief, her adaptation to that loss wrenched my heart. She could not keep her boy safe.
Tonight we will screen the filmed version of the play. I will once again cry with Hannah. I will think about the mothers of Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, and Mike Brown.
I will think about my son.
However, this time I will think about how I will support him at his school. This time I will urge him to resist, to organize, and to act on behalf of his people, all people.
Feb. 10 @The Ware Center 8pm Come watch my film "To Cross an Ocean Four Centuries Long: Slavery and the Nature of Hope"
Purchase the film.
COME OUT AND BE INSPIRED! Feb. 21 @Hanover Presbyterian Church Wilmington DE @4pm: Gospel Vespers Feb. 24 @Lancaster Theological Seminary @4pm: a performance lecture Feb. 28 @Lancaster Blues and Roots Festival @noon: INSPIRA Feb. 29-March 2@ Hamilton College, Clinton NY March 25 @Chester Senior Center @6pm: INSPIRA March 26@ Haverford College @7pm: INSPIRA March 31, Swarthmore College @4:30pm: To Cross an Ocean Four Centuries Long
Peace and love! Amanda