Since the last edition of The Messenger, two more Black males have been in the news for being killed by police. 22-year-old Stephon Clark of Sacramento, CA was gunned down in his family's backyard while holding a cell phone. Officers fired 20 rounds, with 8 bullets piercing through Clark’s body. 34-year-old Saheed Vassell, a Jamaican immigrant living in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, was gunned down by NYPD because he was wielding a metal pipe. He was a welder and suffered from mental illness. These cases and many others like them serve as a constant reminder of how precarious life is for a Black man trying to survive in America. You’d think no place would be safer than the yard of your grandmother’s home, yet Stephon Clark couldn’t even find safety there.Another case that stopped me in my tracks was the April 12th case of a teenager in Rochester Hills, MI, who missed his bus, got lost trying to walk to school, and asked for directions. Instead of offering this 14-year-old young man (who was clearly determined to get to school to get an education) some help and guidance, neighbors immediately became afraid at the mere sight of him at their front door and shot at him instead. The boy only survived because the overanxious shooter forgot to take the safety off of the gun. (But yet we’re just being paranoid, right?)
With incidents like this, it is very difficult to know how to effectively prepare our sons for a world that is clearly hostile toward and afraid of their very existence. If your son is walking down the street, should you advise him to carry absolutely nothing in his hands for fear of any object (i.e., cell phone, wallet, pipe) being mistaken for a gun, thereby legally justifying his instant assassination? If our sons get lost, should they not ask anyone for help for fear of being considered a suspect vs. a child in need of adult concern and assistance?
Every day, the matrix of how to survive as a Black male in America becomes more complex and unclear. This is why MOBB United is dedicated to changing negative perceptions of Black males and to pushing for changes in policies that justify our sons being unfairly targeted and killed.
We invite you to join us in the struggle by becoming a member and/or volunteering today. This clearly is not a problem that will be solved overnight, but it is OUR responsibility to persist nevertheless—until our sons can walk down the street without constantly having to look over their shoulders and be expected to apologize for their presence.
This month, I have been heavily reminded of the reason MOBB United exists. As you probably know, the organization started following multiple police killings of unarmed Black boys and men that were unjustified, but were not punished under the law. Although our mission started in response to police brutality and unwarranted use of deadly force by law enforcement, it doesn’t end there. This is because police brutality that leads to death usually happens at the end of a very long process of constant harassment of Black men and boys throughout their lifetimes. When Eric Garner was choked to death by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for selling loose cigarettes, he had been arrested twice already that year. When Philando Castile was pulled over, allegedly for a broken taillight, and fatally killed while reaching for his license and registration, he had already been pulled over 49 times in 13 years.
Black males endure a life filled with misperceptions and harassment that begins before they even reach puberty. The suspicion they face doesn’t just come from law enforcement officers. Misperceptions of Black boys and men also abound with teachers, store clerks, and neighbors, who often assume on sight that they’re likely to be up to no good. Just this week, a friend’s teenage son wrote a column (that you will see featured among our stories this month) after a White adult female neighbor racially profiled him and alerted neighbors online of his presence in his own neighborhood. He was simply sitting down and talking with a friend outside her house. I’ve heard this same story dozens of times. Trayvon Martin died senselessly because of overzealous “neighborhood watch.”
Our boys’ skin and bodies are weaponized at a very early age. And yes, I said our boys. Because though there absolutely are challenges that other populations, including Black girls, face that are very worthy of consideration, support and advocacy, the Black (and brown) male experience of navigating life in America is unique. One of the things I often do in MOBB United meetings when speaking to new potential members is ask the women in the room to raise their hands if they have ever been harassed or targeted by a police officer. Very few, if any, hands go up. But when I ask whether any Black male in their family—son, father, brother, uncle, nephew—have been harassed, brutalized or unfairly targeted by police, inevitably, every hand is raised.
Needless to say, we believe in justice and equality for all people, and I know the value and power of intersectionality, which is recognizing that all of our struggles are overlapping and ultimately connected. That is why we enthusiastically support and join together with other organizations who are fighting for justice for all or for other specific disenfranchised groups. But when someone responds to a Black male’s experience by reminding them of all of the other people who have been harassed and killed TOO (without regard for the difference in their daily experience), it is the equivalent of saying “All Lives Matter” to the Black Lives Matter movement. Of course, Black boys and men are not the only people to be harassed and killed, but statistics show that they are most likely, in fact three times more likely to be killed by a police officer than anyone else. Unlike others, they are often deemed guilty and dangerous on sight, often without the benefit of conversation or negotiation, before their lives are changed or snuffed out forever.
This is why Moms of Black Boys United, Inc. and MOBB United for Social Change, Inc. exist. Our sons are worthy of having someone fighting for them. We seek to be a comprehensive resource and voice for moms of Black boys and men. We are striving to be experts in the Black male experience, which is fraught with people second guessing them, expecting less of them, and viewing them as superhuman yet not human at all at the same time. We are particularly focused on all of the factors that lead to Black boys being funneled into the school-to-prison pipeline. We are equipping moms and sons with resources to help them navigate systems—education, criminal justice, and mental health—so that they will be prepared to advocate successfully in any situation. We are advocating for policy change—at the local, state, and federal levels—so that after we’ve done all that we can to ensure our sons’ success, we know that they have a safety net of justice and accountability. If we are successful, the gains we make on behalf of our sons, who are often the #1 target for discrimination and brutality, will ultimately benefit all disenfranchised groups.
Clearly, we have a long way to go. But I urge you to join us in the struggle by becoming a member or donor of MOBB United. Thanks to everyone who supported us in any way during our first year. More to come!
Over the past year, MOBB United was busy at work advocating for the protection of our sons. We made our national debut at the Essence Festival in New Orleans this Summer and with the OWN Network on a show called “Checked Inn” this Fall.
Moms of Black Boys United, a 501(c)(3), hosted more than 12 webinars with guest speakers, partnered with university professors on research studies and a nationwide online public course, provided resources and support to moms and sons in need of help navigating various situations, launched #MomsontheFrontLine and continued to build on the #ProtectThem campaign, held weekly prayer and meditation calls, launched a self-care campaign, started a book club, co-curated a list of positive books for Black boys, and hosted mother/son MLK Day of Service activities in 11 cities.
MOBB United for Social Change, a 501(c)(4), held MOBB United Lobby Days at several State Capitols, held meetings with Congressional representatives in multiple states around the country, hosted a screening and panel discussion at the CBC Legislative Conference, hosted more than 20 local meetings to build membership, and mobilized moms to show up and speak out on key legislation in seven states and in more than 20 cases involving police brutality and discrimination against Black boys and men.
Yes, we have been busy! What’s most amazing is that we managed to do all of this with a very strong but mighty core group of volunteers. MOBBs from coast to coast have dedicated their time and talents to create advocacy campaigns, research policy legislation, call elected officials, design graphics, write public statements and social media posts, design educational seminars and materials, develop self care campaigns and activities, build resources for our database, recruit volunteers and chapter leaders, moderate our Facebook group, build and maintain our website and social media platforms, counsel and support MOBBs in need, create content for our website, and even produce and edit this newsletter! (Heeeyyy, Tiffany and C.K.!)
We would not be where we are without this group of dedicated moms, but the truth is, to sustain the organization and grow it to the next level, we need more people to get involved. Whatever your interests or talents may be, we can find a place for you. No matter how much or how little time you have to spare, we would love to have you. As Shirley Chisholm said, “Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth.” What better way to serve than by dedicating some of your time to joining together with other moms around the country to protect our sons. We are also in the process of selecting local chapter leaders, so I also encourage you to step up and get involved in your local area.
As I reflect on my year in MOBB United, my heart is full of pride for all that we’ve accomplished and filled with sincere gratitude for our faithful members and volunteers. THANK YOU, and enjoy the holidays!!!
If you’ve been following our organization for a while, you already know that there are two sides to MOBB United’s mission and approach. MOBB United for Social Change, Inc. (MUSC) is our membership organization, which is dedicated to advocating for policy change at the local, state and federal level. Through MUSC, we articulate a united agenda to push public officials and systems to pass legislation and implement changes that improve the lives of Black boys and men.
This month’s newsletter is dedicated to our sister organization, Moms of Black Boys United, Inc., a 501c3. I describe Moms of Black Boys United as the “doing our part” organization. While pushing the system to change through MUSC, we must also make sure we are doing all that we can to prepare our sons adequately for the challenges they will face and the opportunities that will become available to them.
Moms of Black Boys United, Inc. aims to be a comprehensive resource for moms of Black sons. Our vision is to become a “one stop shop” for moms, by equipping them with access to information and resources that enable them to advocate most effectively for their sons in all kinds of situations. Currently, we are focused on helping moms navigate the education, criminal justice and mental health systems. Our goal is to help prevent our sons from falling into many of the pitfalls and traps that are set for Black males. And when tragedy strikes, we want to have the resources to be there in tangible ways for moms and sons in need.
For those of you who’ve joined our Saturday calls, you know that we have regular speakers on all kinds of topics that are relevant for moms and sons – from Know Your Rights and How to Interact with Law Enforcement to Preventing Bullying and the School to Prison Pipeline. Over the next year, we want to expand from virtual seminars to in-person forums and discussions in cities all over the country to amplify our message and include community stakeholders in developing solutions. In addition, we want to continue to reverse negative perceptions of our sons by telling our stories in a variety of mediums.
The good news is we have the talent within MOBB United to accomplish all of this and more. What we don’t have is the financial resources. To date, our organization has been completely self-funded; but to grow and expand, we need your help. Please consider donating to Moms of Black Boys United, Inc. this month at mobbunited.org/donate. I hope you will take the time to read this month’s issue to learn more about Moms of Black Boys United’s efforts and how you can help.
Our sons are heading back to school, and heavy on my mind is what they may encounter when walking or driving home from school. In this age of “law and order,” it is our responsibility to make sure they are well aware and prepared for what the current climate may bring. If those who have vowed to protect and serve all citizens were to listen to our nation's leader, law enforcement officers have carte blanche to act as judge and jury on the streets, before someone is convicted of a crime. As a mom, the thought any of our sons becoming a victim of mistaken identity based on “fitting the description” of a suspect, then being roughed up by police with a direct endorsement from the President is a very scary proposition.
Except it’s not irrational when you consider that one year later, the cases that initially triggered my MOBB=disorder symptoms—the graphic police killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile in St. Anthony, Minn.—both ended with no one being held accountable for their deaths. The Justice Department declined to charge Blane Salamoni, the officer who killed Sterling, and a jury found Jeronimo Yanez, the officer who killed Castile with his girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter in the car, not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing.
In addition, since last year, the list of unarmed black males killed in deadly encounters with law enforcement has grown. Terence Crutcher, Paul O’Neal, Kajuan Raye, Tyre King, Alfred Olango, Reginald Thomas and, most recently, three unarmed 15-year-olds—Jordan Edwards, Jayson Negron and Darius Smith—have all been killed since last July.
And it’s not just the cases that lead to death that trigger our fear and worry. Black males face daily misperceptions and harassment, which increases the likelihood of them one day having an unwarranted deadly encounter.
Just ask Michael McGill, a high-level professional who was traveling internationally for work when he was suddenly stopped outside the Kansas City, Mo., airport by an officer and told to freeze and put his hands against the wall. Or the five innocent, unarmed 12- to 14-year-olds in Grand Rapids, Mich., who, while walking home from playing basketball in their neighborhood, were unexpectedly stopped and held at gunpoint for more than 10 minutes because police officers believed that they “fit the description” of suspects. Or Charles Kinsey, a therapist for an autistic patient in North Miami, Fla., who, while trying to help his patient, was assumed to be a suspect and shot by police instead. Or the multiple black men who have called police to report a robbery or threat to their home, only to be shot themselves once police arrived. Although they all made it out alive, the trauma from those experiences will live with them and their families indefinitely.
Yet in the backdrop of all of this ugliness and collective stress, I’ve had one of the most amazing and unexpected experiences of my life. To try to deal with the trauma from seeing graphic images of brutality and death repeatedly, one year ago today (July 7, 2016), I started a Facebook group for moms of black boys and men—initially sending it to about 30 friends—that grew to more than 21,000 moms from all around the country the same day. I really had no idea what would happen after that.
I could not have imagined then that one year later, the group would have grown to more than 177,000 moms from around the country and world, and evolved into two nonprofit organizations that are completely fueled and run by volunteers made up of the dynamic women I met on Facebook last summer.
Moms of Black Boys United Inc. provides vital information and support to moms of black sons and promotes positive images of black boys and men. MOBB United for Social Change, Inc., our advocacy arm, aims to influence policy that impacts how black boys and men are treated and perceived by law enforcement and in society as whole. We’ve developed a multi-pronged approach that includes influencing policy, changing perception, demonstrating our political and economic power, promoting self-care, and partnering strategically with other organizations who are working to solve these problems for black males as well as for others who face similar injustices.
MOBB United has mobilized and empowered moms of black sons all around the country and world to stand up and take action. We’ve hosted virtual seminars with experts on topics like “Know Your Rights” and “How to Interact With Law Enforcement” to “Recognizing and Preventing Bullying” and “Discussing Racial Tensions in Schools.” We’ve provided support in various forms to moms who’ve since lost their sons in deadly encounters with law enforcement. We’ve lobbied for policy change at state capitols, in commission meetings and via phone, letter-writing, email and social media campaigns. These moms are fired up and committed to doing all we can to protect our sons. We don’t want anyone else to experience the pain and devastation that the women known as the “Mothers of the Movement” have experienced.
We don’t call ourselves activists. We are advocates for our sons who are simply doing what every parent is supposed to do: nurture and protect our children. But when you’re a mom of a black boy, that requires you to know and do some extra stuff.
It requires you to know that black boys are more likely to be disciplined in schools for the same behaviors that other children display but are not punished for. It requires you to know that they are less likely to be referred to gifted and talented programs, even when they meet the criteria, and are more likely to be referred to special education. It requires you to know that there is a prison bed on hold for them if they don’t know how to read by the third grade. It requires you to know that there is a trap set for them called the school-to-prison pipeline that is highly profitable, and that states often sign contracts with private prisons that guarantee 90 percent occupancy. It requires you to know that black males are three times more likely to be killed by police than other citizens.
MOBB United is equipping moms with information that empowers them to be better advocates for their sons in all the institutions that interact with and influence them. You see, the problem is that our sons always “fit the description” and are assumed to be the aggressor. They are viewed and treated like wild, irrational animals. Not a person with hopes and dreams. Not someone who loves others and is loved. Not someone’s father, husband, brother, uncle or nephew. Not someone’s beloved son.
MOBB United aims to change this perception. We are committed to doing all we can to raise our sons to be respectful, kind, productive and, when appropriate, yes, compliant. We are committed to providing them access to a wide variety of educational experiences and enrichment opportunities to give them the best-possible chance at success in life. We are committed to building strong families and creating support systems. We are committed to being engaged parents in our sons’ schools, and involved citizens in our communities and local, state and federal governments.
But when we do all of that, we need assurance that the system works for us, too. We need to have confidence that our sons will be treated equally under the law. We demand accountability on the other side. And when rogue or unqualified officers unjustly kill one of our sons, we need to see a conviction, not excuses about how the officers “feared for their lives” from someone who posed no obvious threat. We want all of our sons and all law-enforcement officers to make it home safely every night.
Our work is clearly a marathon, not a sprint. But these women have helped me to move from fear to fortitude. Now, instead of being balled up in a knot in tears on my bed, I stand in a global circle of moms who I know understand my perspective, have my back and are committed to working together to find solutions. We will not give up. We will not accept this as normal and just the way it is. And united, we will change the narrative and ensure that our sons survive, thrive and build strong legacies.
The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff. (Re-posted from The Root's publication)
Depelsha McGruderis a happily married mom of two boys and an entertainment executive living in Brooklyn, N.Y. She is a graduate of Howard University and Harvard Business School.
Welcome to the first newsletter of Moms of Black Boys United, Inc. (MOBB United)! If you are new to the organization, we are thrilled to have you here. If you have been with us since our beginning on Facebook last summer, thank you for continuing with us on this journey. In case you’re not familiar with our history, MOBB United started as a Facebook group on July 7, 2016, immediately following multiple deaths of Black men at the hands of law enforcement. In particular, Alton Sterling was killed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on July 5 while selling CDs outside of a convenience store, and Philando Castile was killed in St. Anthony, Minnesota on July 6, 2016 following a “routine” traffic stop, with his girlfriend and 4-year-old daughter in the car. We all experienced the graphic images of their brutal deaths on the news and in the case of Mr. Castile, who was a beloved Montessori school cafeteria worker, on Facebook Live. The frustration, fear, anger and anxiety we all felt then is what initially brought us together. What has kept us together is an unrelenting desire and determination to prevent our own sons and anyone else’s sons from reaching that same fate.
Since the founding of MOBB United, we have continued to grow and evolve organizationally. MOBB United now also includes an advocacy arm, MOBB United for Social Change, Inc. whose primary purpose is to influence policy impacting how Black boys and men are treated and perceived by law enforcement and society.
Over the past year, we have have been strategizing, organizing and activating all across the country. Both organizations have been busy! Here are a few of the things we’ve executed:
Moms of Black Boys United, Inc.:
- Attended funerals and provided support for those lost to excessive use of force. A delegation from Texas traveled to Tulsa, OK for Terrence Crutcher’s funeral and presented his wife with a gift. A delegation from California traveled to San Diego to support the family of Alfred Olango and in Los Angeles, provided tangible support to the family of Reginald Thomas, Jr. Our team also created the funeral program for 15-year-old Darius Smith, killed by an off-duty US Customs Officer in Arcadia, CA, in a gesture of MOBB outreach. MOBB United for Social Change urged the City of Balch Springs to push forward on urgently needed police reforms in response to the unjust killing of Jordan Edwards.
- Launched multiple image campaigns, including the #ProtectThem campaign to bring more awareness to our cause and promote positive images of Black boys and men, and the #MomsontheFrontLine campaign to pay homage to mom activists who came before us.
- Hosted meetings or events in more than 20 cities
- Provided personal support and connections to members in need, including connecting a mom with an attorney for critically needed legal help, helping moms navigate school disciplinary actions, and providing “MOBB Aunties Away from Home” for sons away for college.
- Hosted virtual seminars on topics including Know Your Rights (in partnership with the Legal Aid Society and National Association for Public Defense), Bullying, the 13th Documentary, Dealing with Trauma, isow.com (financial literacy and planning for children), the Legal Equalizer app, Discussing Racial Tensions in Schools, The School to Prison Pipeline, the Criminal Justice System from both sides of the cell (Booker Geez: “Locked Up and Put Away”), How to Handle Interactions with Law Enforcement (with Retired LAPD Sgt. Cheryl Dorsey, author Sonya Whittaker Gragg and parents of the “Michigan 5”) and a special Father’s Day Weekend discussion on the criminal justice system and current cases with Civil Rights Attorney Lee Merritt.
MOBB United for Social Change, Inc.:
- Rallied around multiple policy change actions, such as a de-escalation bill introduced in Congress last year (HR 5221), Raise the Age in NY, and The Sandra Bland Act in TX.
- Partnered with Louisianans for Prison Alternatives (LPA) to advocate for a criminal justice reform package to overhaul Louisiana's draconian criminal justice laws.
- Traveled to let our voices be heard all over the country – at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Philadelphia, Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Conference in DC and in meetings with state legislators in Georgia, Louisiana, New York and California.
- Organized a voter education campaign to encourage members to learn who is on their ballot and to vote in their elections.
- Petitioned (via petitions, letters to officials, emails and calls) to hold law enforcement accountable in the cases of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Terrence Crutcher, Tyre King, Kajuan Raye, Paul O’Neal, Jordan Edwards, Darius Smith and Jayson Negron.
Although we’ve accomplished a lot, we’re really just getting started. The Leadership Team of MOBB United has spent the last few months refining our goals, strategies and initiatives and we are very excited about our plans for the next year.
We are grateful for your support and look forward to partnering with you to make a difference in the lives of our sons and the lives of Black boys and men everywhere. Thank you for believing. United, we WILL prevail!
Posted By Administration,
Friday, January 13, 2017
Last week, many of you participated in our virtual vision board party hosted by guru Lucinda Cross-Otiti. She taught us how to represent our goals and dreams for ourselves and our sons visually and in living color. By doing so, we are guaranteed to manifest amazing things in our lives. Saturday, January 14 is National Vision Board Day. We encourage you to share your vision boards with the group, even if they are still works in progress! We look forward to seeing your dreams come true over the next year. Lucinda encouraged us to set BOLD goals. My bold goal is to take MOBB United to the next level and for us to truly have an impact as a group of highly informed, engaged, motivated and powerful moms. Thank you for joining me on this exciting journey! xoxo, Depelsha
Click here to register. Saturday, January 7, 2017 at 9:30am EDT, join us for Mommy & Son Vision Board Party!
Make your own Vision Board with our own member & expert seen in Essence and on the Today Show, Lucinda Cross-Otiti!
All of December, our MOBB United Special Needs Moms will prepare for next year with their SUNs by creating and sharing their Vision Boards. Look for their posts that will help you gather materials & get ready for the session with the hashtag #MOBBUVision.
TAG and TELL a FRIEND
On Thanksgiving Day, while most of us enjoyed special time with friends and family, KaJuan Raye's mother was finding out that her 19-year-old son had been killed by police. He was on the way home and mistaken for a suspect. He was shot in the back while running away. The police officer said KaJuan pointed a gun at him, but more than a week later, no gun has been found. This case has not received a lot of media attention, but as Moms of Black Boys, we cannot remain silent when another mother's son is gunned down like an animal. We should not wait for the video and outrage. We must speak up and demand justice for this young man now. The police officer has been stripped of his police duties, but is on paid administrative leave. He should be charged immediately, and an independent investigation should be conducted by the Justice Department. Please join us in demanding justice for KaJuan by signing our petition and spreading the word. Let's bring more awareness to this case!
Moms of Black Boys United - Ensuring that our SUNs Survive and Thrive
M.O.B.B. United aims to provide information and support for moms of Black sons while promoting positive images of Black boys and men. Our goal is to influence policy impacting how Black boys and men are treated by law enforcement and society.