Image campaigns to change perception of Black boys and men (photo, video, books, theatre, etc.) Educational seminars for members and the community at large (13th, Bullying, Legal Equalizer, Know Your Rights, Trauma, isow.com, Vision Board session, etc.) Forums and panel discussions Quarterly or monthly image campaigns Driven by Communications Committee Monthly virtual seminars with guest speakers Driven by Education and Engagement Committee in coordination with other committees for content and speaker ideas.
Brothers are the best brothers! They are nurturing, protective, loving and fun! Here is some inspiration from an abolitionist poem: Am I not a man and brother; Ought I not, then, to be free? Enjoy these awesome photos.
Michelle Carter’s voice fills with pride when she talks about her 15 year-old son, Donovan. “He’s incredibly mature and responsible. He doesn’t see himself as doing something remarkable—to him, he’s just doing what he’s supposed to do,” said the proud mom, who is a member of the Moms of Black Boys United, Inc. Private Facebook group. Donovan is the father of twin toddler girls, named London and Paris, and he won custody of his daughters so that he could take responsibility for them, take care of them, and raise them in the supportive, loving, and conscientious way that he was raised.
A typical day in Donovan’s life is packed with responsibility and challenges. He wakes up early in the morning to get the girls ready for their day and to get himself ready for school. His stepmother comes by the house to take the girls while Donovan heads to school. He’s a good student who is engaged by his classes and teachers. He takes school seriously and even plays on the school football team. After school and any extracurricular activities are finished, Donovan heads home to parent his two daughters, doing everything from playing with them to feeding them dinner, bathing them, and putting them to bed. His proud mom works the third shift, and while she’s at home to support him after school, Donovan is self-motivated and takes charge of parenting his girls on his own.
Donovan admits that at first, he was overwhelmed by the responsibility of taking care of his daughters, especially when they were infants. But he went to see them everyday in the NICU, learned to care for them.When he saw that their mother was in a challenging situation, he decided that his home, with the support of his mother and his stepmother, would be the best, most stable environment for them. When the judge granted him custody of his girls, he stated that he was proud of the man, and the father, that Donovan was becoming.
His teachers and his coaches agree. He continues to do well in school, and his teachers know about his situation and are heartened by the fact that he is committed to his education while raising two daughters at a young age. He recently signed up for vocational school, and will begin to pursue a career in the culinary arts, for which he has always had an interest and an aptitude.
Donovan still makes time for his friends and for being a teenager. When the girls’ mother has them for the weekend, he’ll go over to his friends’ houses and enjoy being a kid. But when he’s on the clock as a parent and a student, his incredible maturity and resolve shines through. Michelle believes that even though he knows that he’s made mistakes in his past, he has taken full responsibility for them, and has a natural inclination to do the right thing. In turn, he’s been rewarded with two loving, playful, happy daughters who are being raised by a committed father.
Sometimes, our sons are presented with extraordinary opportunities, and we ought to shout it to the world! Our princes are doing BIG THINGS! How is your son shining his light? If you have a *Content story idea, please share with by commenting in the Gifted Sons post on Facebook, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org so we can feature him in our MOBB United for Social Change (MUSC)/MOBB United Messenger publication. Didn't know we had one? Visit www.mobbunited.org today to learn more about the organization. You’ll find the latest Messenger publication under the Community menu. We're waaaaaay bigger than the private Facebook group!
*Content topics include: Image campaigns to change perception of Black boys and men (photo, video, books, theatre, etc.) Educational seminars for members and the community at large (13th, Bullying, Legal Equalizer, Know Your Rights, Trauma, isow.com, Vision Board session, etc.) Forums and panel discussions Quarterly or monthly image campaigns Driven by Communications Committee Monthly virtual seminars with guest speakers Driven by Education and Engagement Committee in coordination with other committees for content and speaker ideas
“Go Down, Moses” is commonly known as a “Negro Spiritual”, although it may have earlier origins as a rallying song for escaped slaves who joined Union forces in the Civil War. It is also reported to be a code song for slaves traveling the Underground Railroad out of Maryland. If you are familiar with this song, you may know more about Passover than you think you do. Here are some of the lyrics:
When Israel was in Egypt's land
Let my people go
Oppress'd so hard they could not stand
Let my people go
Go down, Moses
Way down in Egypt's land
Tell old Pharaoh
Let my people go
This song is the story of Passover, which is told annually as part of a ritualized holiday celebration. It is a story of liberation from slavery and retelling it on two consecutive nights every year is part of the Jewish tradition of never forgetting—and thereby never repeating.
It also is a story of righteous women, like ourselves! The Talmud says that, “In the spirit of the righteous women our ancestors were redeemed from Egypt.” Who were these women? There were two midwives, Shifra and Puah, who were commanded by the Pharaoh to kill all male sons born to Jewish women. But the midwives defied the Pharaoh, claiming Jewish women delivered too quickly for them to attend the births. The civil disobedience of Shifra and Puah allowed for Moses to be born. Moses’s mother, Yocheved, in an effort to save his life, sent him down the river in a basket, entrusting him to God. Pharaoh’s daughter, Batya, found the baby Moses and rescued him. His sister, Miriam, who was waiting in the reeds by the river, persuaded Batya to allow her mother to nurse and raise him in the palace, without Batya ever knowing of Yocheved’s true identity. Thus these five women allowed for Moses to be born, to grow, and ultimately, to lead his people to freedom.
Another Jewish tradition is asking questions and engaging in discussion around the story of Passover. As my own consciousness has been increasingly awakened to the modern day slavery that is mass incarceration and how it impacts our Black sons, I have brought this issue to our Seder table. What is mass incarceration? Mass incarceration is a for profit prison industrial complex that has overwhelmingly targeted Black men. It is racial profiling by law enforcement officers inside and outside of our schools. It is so called “law and order” policies systematically designed to target and harshly sentence our sons. It is a legal system with biased District Attorneys protected from bias litigation. It is the pressure on innocent people without proper representation to enter into plea deals to avoid draconian mandatory sentences. It is cash bail that forces innocent poor people to languish in prison and be derailed from their educations and careers and families. It is correctional supervision that denies civil rights. It is free, or virtually free, prison labor. It is the 13th amendment, which states that, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime...shall exist within the United States.” If we are to say never again at my family Seder, we must say it for all of us.
Many people share at their Seders the words of Rabbi Hillel, an important Jewish leader from 2000 years ago: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?”
My fellow mom, Crys Baldwin—one of MOBB United's passionate volunteers—has been known to use a paraphrase of this quote to rally us to action. Passover is a fitting time to remind us all of why we righteous women are here: to help lead our sons out of the current iteration of slavery, because if not us, then who, and if not now, when
Not everyone understands the plight of Black boys and men in America, much less the plight of moms of Black boys, but it's nice to know that our sons themselves do understand. Mom Desiree Robinson is happy to share her 15 year-old's perspective. Mack Walker's article, titled “To the White Lady Who Racially Profiled Me in My Neighborhood”, was published in the VOX ATL online publication. Mack is credited as VOX’s audio editor, who “serves on the VOX Board of Directors and is an amazing person, if you take the time to get to know him."
Moms of Black Boys United, Inc. and MOBB United for Social Change, Inc. (MUSC) are sure you will be amazed as you read these eloquent expressions and will appreciate Mack’s words as much as we do.
*The following post was shared originally in the Moms of Black Boys United, Inc. private Facebook group, and mom Desiree Robinson gave us permission to share it publicly. If you are a mom of a Black son and member of that group, you can read the original post and comments.
Our princes are gifted and talented! Members of the Moms of Black Boys United, Inc. private Facebook group share photos with us so we can share their joy and pride with you. Enjoy this gifted sons photo feature!
Moms, if your 18-year-old Black son came to you and said, “I want to be a professional video gamer,” what would your reaction be? Close your eyes for 5 seconds, and imagine that scenario. If you put yourself in Aundrea Caldwell’s shoes, you might think, ‘WHAT THE...?! Boy bye!’ or something like that. But, there’s a twist here. What if your son also has Asperger’s Syndrome, a disorder on the autism spectrum, and has been playing video games as a way of coping with his challenges since he was 2 ½ years old? Then what would your reaction be? Aha...
Well, I have to say, speaking with Aundrea made my face hurt from the grin I wore just about the entire time she talked about her son, Cameron, who is a first-year college student. Listening to her speak with such pride made me so happy. I wanted to cry at one point because I certainly can relate to this mom’s joy as she witnesses her son blossoming into a young man who already knows what he wants to do with his life. He has decided—with confidence—that he’s going to be a professional gamer. Cameron has the right person in his corner, too. Aundrea, who is originally from Dallas, TX, and also has two daughters, has been advocating for her son since the moment she realized there was something special about him.
“I always knew something was different but couldn't put my finger on what it was,” she explained, as she recalled the moments she was perceiving this difference. His kindergarten teacher brought it to her attention that she believed he was demonstrating autistic behaviors, which helped confirm mom's concerns. When Aundrea shared her concerns with Cameron's other teachers as he got older, they didn't believe her and assumed he had behavior problems. It was not uncommon for her to find him off in a corner by himself on some days when she picked him up from school. Aundrea talked with me about some of the behaviors that Cameron exhibits that are due to Asperger's, including some social delays and heightened sensitivities that are common among young kids on the autism spectrum. Cameron doesn't like wearing new shoes, for example, and going outside creates a level of anxiety for him that it wouldn’t create for other kids. “Interpreting social cues is difficult [for him],” she added.
We shifted gears to discuss Aundrea’s concerns about her son getting older and becoming more independent. For now, she’s addressing the issue at hand, which is the fact that her son will soon be driving around in the community by himself. Cameron just got his learner’s permit, and yes, mom has had the tough conversations with him about possibly experiencing undue prejudice as a Black man in America. One of the scariest thoughts she has, like many other moms of Black sons, is about him encountering law enforcement while out driving alone. So she has told him to, “keep his hands on 10 and 2, and call me. Put me on speaker,” if he is pulled over by an officer. Aundrea took proactive measures to visit their local police department with Cameron in tow, to introduce him to the chief of police. (I don’t know about you, but I’ve wanted to do this for my own son, who doesn’t have Asperger's Syndrome but is simply Black. I can relate to the fear moms of Black sons have of what could happen to them in this racially charged American climate.) She explained to the chief that Cameron has Asperger’s and asked that he encourage his officers to have a level of patience when dealing with people like her son during traffic stops, as they may not process commands like the average driver.
Aundrea's advocacy efforts are paying off, as she gets to watch Cameron come into his own, reaching milestones like his recent graduation from high school in Fremont, CA. She teared up when she told me that the school didn't acknowledge his successes, so she took it upon herself to treat her son to a trip to Europe in celebration of all he’d achieved. They visited Paris, Nice, Monaco, and London. He played a “Street Fighter II” video game in Amsterdam and was fascinated by the old game.
Now, this proud mom has given us a glimpse inside their recent weekend trip to a video gaming competition called “The Genesis 5” in Oakland, CA. It was a weekend full of excitement, to say the least, for “Darkblade”, Cameron’s gamer tag, as well as for his mom and two younger sisters.
You'll enjoy listening to this interview with Aundrea before the video game competition, as well as this interview with Cameron after the competition. He asked mom to get him a Mountain Dew before our interview so he could be pumped! Cameron told me from his own perspective what it’s like dealing with Asperger’s, and he shared his feelings about college and plans for professional gaming. He even offered some advice for parents of kids with autism. You may have to wipe a few tears of awe.
It was nice to read the many encouraging responses to Aundrea's posts sharing their experience with this community of moms, shared here with her permission. Thousands of understanding moms, some of whom also have special needs Black sons, became an impromptu cheerleading team for Cameron. Aundrea didn't even know that Moms of Black Boys United, Inc. is almost 200,000 women strong and said she was overwhelmed by the back-to-back notifications on her phone as the support and encouragement kept rolling in. Aundrea said she often has felt isolated over the past 15 years, like she was the only Black woman raising children with autism. She's grateful for the outpouring of support from our online community of moms.
The journey before and after Cameron’s diagnosis at 9 years old came with continued challenges, not only for him, but for her as well—in her interactions with his teachers throughout his elementary, middle school and high school years, as well as in her personal relationships with loved ones. She has had to make some hard decisions as she made adjustments in her parenting. She was determined to do what was best for her son and for her other children; one of her daughters also is on the autistic spectrum. Aundrea is writing a book titled, Wait! Did you say Autistic? A Mother’s Journey of Acceptance and Advocacy, about their autism journey, will will be released this Spring. She wants to educate others on the facts of the social disorder. She wants people to understand that all little Black boys do not have behavior problems and that there are ways to guide them to success. “They can thrive,” she exclaimed. “When you know in your heart that...God gave you this child, and there are no second chances, you have to do this thing right. I encourage moms to continue to advocate. I don’t care who you’ve gotta cuss out, and fuss at, remove out of your life; there are no other options. It’s non-negotiable.” Aundrea hopesto start a non-profit later this year that focuses on leveraging technology to support Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) children.
We're so proud of Cameron Caldwell. We are also proud of Aundrea and the many other moms like her who advocate tirelessly for their Black sons. It’s all about them.
Encouraging our Black sons to shine is incredibly important to many members of the Moms of Black Boys United, Inc. Facebook group. We hear countless stories of young Black boys and men defining their ambitions, chasing their dreams, and exceeding their goals. In many of our sons’ lives, mentors play a positive and impactful role, inspiring their mentees to carve out a future that is fulfilling and allows them to make their mark on the world.
Maria Thrasher, a mom of twins, recently relayed the story of her son’s experience with a local mentoring program organized by 100 Black Men of Greater Charlotte, NC. When she moved her family to the Charlotte area, her children were entering middle school, and the family did not have the strong network of support they had previously enjoyed in their hometown of Columbus, OH. A single mother, Maria felt that her son could benefit from the influence of a positive male role model.
When her son, Austin, interviewed with Brian Willis, the organization’s outgoing president, Brian was so impressed with the middle-schooler that he personally requested to be Austin’s mentor himself. In the years since, Austin, who will turn 16 years-old this February, thrived under Brian’s mentorship. Maria reported, “In the last four years, Brian has been present at every school event, every important moment, and has made himself available to talk any time that Austin has needed him.” Brian’s family has developed a close relationship with Maria’s family, and Maria has appreciated the friendship she has built with Brian’s wife, as well as his wife’s influence on her daughter, with whom she shares similar interests.
The overall mentorship program hosts a Saturday Academy, during which mentors tackle different topics relevant to the boys involved in the program, including the series of shootings of Black boys and men by police throughout 2015 and 2016. According to Maria, they confronted the issues head-on, having candid conversations about the dangers Black boys and men face, and talking about the ways that Black boys and men should handle confrontations with police officers and begin to develop a trusted partnership with Mecklenburg County Police.
They also take trips, allow mentors and mentees to spend time with other mentors and mentees in the program, and host a cookout each summer that offers experiences for bonding and recreation. The group participates in community service projects together, modeling kindness, generosity, and civic leadership. The boys also are exposed to men who are professionals in a variety of fields, from doctors and attorneys to the local police chief, athletes, financial planners, engineers, and CEOs.
Maria says that Austin would call Brian a father, a brother, an uncle, a motivator, a wise councilor, a teacher, and his biggest champion. She views the program as invaluable, giving her son a sense of self-assurance while simultaneously holding him accountable and maintaining high expectations of him and the other boys in the program.
Jasyme Tolber and her twin brother, Austin Tolber, Jr.
Maria poses with her twins, Jasmyne and Austin, Jr.
Several hours across the same state of North Carolina, in the town of Kinston, Kristal Suggs lives with her remarkable son, Chris. When Chris was 14 years old, he was processing onslaught of nightly news reporting on local youth violence and shootings. Determined to change perceptions of Kinston’s youth population, Chris founded Kinston Teens, a youth mentoring program which serves elementary school kids throughout the year, plus a summer mentoring program that is the cornerstone of the organization’s work.
Chris enlisted teens to mentor these younger kids, giving the teenagers a sense of accomplishment and the fulfillment that comes along with being a role model, and allowing the grade school children the opportunity to talk, play, and find companionship with older kids who could relate to their worries, dreams, and questions about the future. During the summer program, the mentors and their mentees participate in building vision boards, doing team building exercises, and sharing experiences that have challenged them, soliciting feedback in order to grow and develop creative solutions to problems in the future.
Chris also launched the Black Youth Network, which brings together young Black leaders from a variety of communities to share ideas, inspire one another, and convene both online and in person. These young leaders attended last summer’s Summer Youth Program, allowing kids from a number of states to participate in leadership and team building exercises.
If leading these two organizations wasn’t enough for a high school student to manage, Chris also graduated high school in 3 years and is currently in his first year as a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has arranged for a youth leadership council to run the program, though he remains involved, as he feels a strong sense of dedication to his small town and the kids who live there. For more information about Chris’ work, visit www.chrisjsuggs.com.
Chris J. Suggs spends time with the young people of Kinston, NC, as a part of his local mentorship program.
Chris J. Suggs, pictured with Nickelodeon Halo Awards 2016 host Nick Cannon, is honored for his tremendous work at the awards ceremony.
Our sons aren’t the only ones getting involved in mentoring programs in their areas. A Cleveland-area mom reported to us that her husband started his own mentoring program in 2012, when he saw a need for children in his community to develop relationships with Black men who would become positive male role models for boys starting as young as middle school age and even serves young men up to 22 years of age.
The program aims to expose kids to men of differing educational backgrounds and professional expertise, to help them understand the possibilities that are available to them as they grow up. The mentors and mentees hold weekly meetings, which invite open conversation and the sharing of concerns and ideas. It is this Cleveland father’s belief that a simple conversation can change someone’s path in life, and he says that the mentors find it fulfilling to see the kids they mentor grow, both personally and academically.
Since many of the kids in this program come from working parent homes in which they must often be “the man of the house”, the program offers them the chance to be kids and to lean on their mentors for advice and guidance as they navigate the world in which they are growing up.
Moms of Black Boys United, Inc. is incredibly proud of these sons, fathers, and moms for creating opportunities for our boys to thrive and become young men with dreams and ambitions both diverse and fulfilling. As our sons become tomorrow’s leaders, we’re sure that they will carry their mentorship experiences with them, eventually giving back to the younger generation.
James Weldon Johnson said, "We have come over a way that with tears has been watered, We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered, Out from the gloomy past, Here now we stand at last, Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast."
Francis Scott Key posed this question, "Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave; O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?"
Two very different cultures will clearly have differing perspectives of what it means to live in this land...of the free?
The real test of freedom in our country rests with our soldiers who unselfishly serve in the Armed Forces. But what happens when a soldier realizes that the very country he’s “serving” might not be returning the favor? Are men of color feeling slighted when they put their lives on the line for those who have sought to discourage, discredit, devalue, and dishonor them?
The “land of the free” is a place where people of color are bound by institutionalized racism, police brutality, mass incarceration, and the school-to-prison pipeline. Social injustice continues to plague people of color, while the armed forces continue to solicit their help with defending a country that in many ways has failed them.
We reached out to “a few good men” (sons of mothers who belong to the Moms of Black Boys United private Facebook community), as well as to their moms, to get their take on this noble career and how they perceive their own “fight” for justice while serving this country in the Armed Forces.
Enjoy reading and hearing some of their thoughts! (Interviews have been edited for space.)
Mom: Kyra Ayres Jones
Son: Michael, 23 & Kyle, 19
Military Branches: ARMY, AIR FORCE Listen to Interview
Question: What do you want the world to know about your boys?
I'm so proud of both of them! Michael started off in the Reserve, and his plan was to go to Reserve and then go back to college and finish his degree and later enlist as an officer. He is in Georgia now and very determined to finish his degree in Physical Therapy. (Currently a Dental Assistant.)
Kyle came home one day and said, “I’m joining the Army,” and I didn’t believe him! He had done 3 years of ROTC and decided in his senior year that he didn't want to do it anymore. So when he told me he was joining the Army, I said “Boy, go sit down somewhere!” He called me from the recruiter’s office and asked me to sign the papers, and I told him not until we talk. I had him talk to my brother to make sure he knew what he was getting himself into. So 3 weeks after he graduated from high school, he went right to Boot Camp. I was a complete basket case because they both left at the same time.
Question: In our society today, we see racial tension in the news and the police are murdering our young men in our world. What is your take on this and has this impacted either of your boys while in the military?
It has not impacted Michael in the Air Force. I was very nervous about them leaving home, especially Kyle because he is so young. I think people tend to prey on them (young boys) because they’re young and inexperienced. I am constantly talking with him about things they encounter. I think people tend to take advantage of the fact that some of these kids are on their own and they don’t have any experience so our lines of communication are wide open (while they're serving), and we talk about everything!
Question: What has been your biggest fear with two sons in the military?
That they won’t come home.
Question: Have you found the MOBB United Facebook community to be helpful to you?
Yes, especially while they were in basic training. That was the first time they were away from home, and I couldn't pick up the phone and call. That was very rough for me; like I said, I was a complete basket case. It was helpful to know there were other moms going through what I was going through with their children who could relate to me. So we comforted each other.
Question: What are your thoughts about your sons serving a country that isn’t always fair to Black males?
I would rather that my boys had chosen a different path. I know that's selfish, but I do feel that this country does not value our young men. They don't appreciate them, they don’t value them, and they’re definitely not going to protect them. So I have to stay in prayer daily because this is the path they’ve chosen. I understand that they’re looking at it from a financial point of view, as well as they don’t have to pay for school and they won’t have debt from student loans. I understand that, and I support everything they do to better themselves, but I just feel that this country doesn’t appreciate their sacrifice.
Question: Do you think your sons would agree (with you that this country doesn't value/protect them)?
Yes, I think to a certain degree; I believe they would. They’ve both been blessed that they have not been victims of racial profiling. They've not experienced racism first hand, thank God; so I don't know if they would fully understand how I feel about them serving this country.
Question: Have either of them had any encounter with the police prior to serving?
Kyle was pulled over while he was in the military and because he was in uniform the Caucasian officer was very polite; he thanked him for his service, told him to be careful and sent him on his way. I was on the phone with him when this happened, and I immediately went into panic mode and told him to put me on speaker. It's so sad the people who are supposed to protect us...that we're afraid of them!
Question: Have you thought about what might have happened if he was not in uniform that day?
I have. I was so glad he was (in uniform). Once the officer saw him in uniform his approach was completely different! He was speeding, so I’m pretty sure that if he had not been in uniform, the officer would not have been as cordial to him as he was.
Question: Any final encouragement for other moms whose sons are serving?
Keep them lifted up in prayer. As long as they have God with them, they’ll be safe, so I pray every day, and I encourage them to pray as well. I would say keep your sons lifted up, talk to your son(s) about everything, and keep the lines of communication open because they experience things that we don’t think of because it’s not part of our day-to-day lives.
Question: Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share?
When my brother left home, he was like my son (age 19), right out of high school. He had done 2 years in the National Guard and then decided to enlist. I believe my mom was nervous as well. Our father passed away when we were young, so my brothers didn’t have that male role model. But I saw the difference, and as he got older, I saw the maturity level in him. I think he needed the discipline that the military provided for him.
I also see that in my younger son. He was a little rambunctious, and he took every opportunity to go against authority, but I already see the difference in his attitude.
In some instances, it does help them to mature. I see a difference in my son, and he’s been in the military for about a year and a half.
Mom: Dianna Floyd
Son: Nathan Pena
Military Branch: NAVY
No Audio Interview
Question: Tell us about your son -- something that you wish the whole world could know about this special prince you brought into this world.
Growing up, he wanted to be a Black history teacher, a sports coach, or a doctor. He was always fascinated with the human body and with blood. He is a considerate, loving, polite, well-mannered young man and always has been. My son works in Medical on a ship, and he inspects everyone as they enter and exit the ship. A few years ago, my son and I were on a flight to Houston, TX where we had to handle some family business. While traveling, Nathan was in uniform. It is customary for some airlines to bump military personnel up to 1st Class when they are seated in coach. That particular day, I was sitting in the row behind my son. The stewardess walked over to my son and said, “We would like to ask you to move up. We want to show you how we treat military personnel who serve our country. We appreciate you for serving!” Nathan’s response: “Thank you, but I will only move up if my mom can move up as well.”
Question: What fond memories do you have of his upbringing?
I had a village to help me raise this boy. My father, who retired as a Major in the Army, was so strict. We walked a straight line! He sparked fear in all the children and grandchildren. Whenever any kids in the family acted up, they were threatened with, “I’m gonna take you to your grandfather!” and quickly they straightened up!
Every Saturday, all the grandchildren went to spend time at my parents’ house. It was a big weekly family gathering, and we would all sit around and listen to my father teach us all Black History. This was required learning in our family. One of Nathan’s teachers in medical school one day asked my son how he knew so much about Black history. He told the person he was taught as a kid.
Question: How did you feel when your son told you he would be joining the military?
As his mom, I was in the Army for 10 years but came out with honorable discharge. Nathan’s father was in the Army, and his grandfather was in the Navy. We are a military family, so it would have been strange if he weren’t interested in serving. I really wanted him to go!
Question: What kinds of conversations have you had with your son about interacting with law enforcement?
I currently work several jobs to make ends meet. For one of my jobs, I serve court papers for a lawyer and a judge in Greenville, SC. They wanted me to take a class to teach my nephew, grandson, cousin how to handle themselves (what to do and not to do) if pulled over by the police. Here’s what I had to teach them:
Always say ‘yes sir, no sir’; be very polite; don’t be a smart (butt)! I got a baseball card holder for each of them so they could use it to contain their driver’s license and registration. I told them to always keep this in their sun visor when traveling. I taught them that if they get pulled over, to grab the license and registration from the sun visor with one hand; keep that in one hand and rest both hands on top of the steering wheel; when the officer approaches you, already have your window down. DO NOT move your hands. When they ask for your license and registration, hand it to them slowly and then put both hands right back on the steering wheel.
It’s scary we have to teach this...to our sons AND daughters too.
I tell my children I want to see them (come home)!
Question: As a final thought, what advice would you give to our young men in today’s society and the fact that we’re seeing so many fatal shootings of our black men at the hands of police officers?
Dianna took a deep breath and said: Be careful...be cautious...pray…come home safely! I wish they (police) would get more training. The military should train the police force; I believe things would be better.
The military trains you how to hold your anger. They teach you the right way to do your job. A lot of these officers are not getting the proper training and I wish we had more black male and female officers out in the police force!
Why are they (White officers) so afraid? The way they walk up to the car and approach Whites is so different from the way they approach Blacks; their body language and voice tone is just different.
Question: What can we do to make them change those perceptions?
Have them come in our inner city; have programs. The police should meet the young people in the schools and get to know who they are. They should take more time to learn about our culture.
One thing about the military, when you must travel to foreign places, you’re made to learn about the culture and the laws of the people in the land you’re visiting. And while there, those who are in the military are like a family. Police officers can learn from this.
Mom: Alicia Arroyo Wilson
Sons: Charles, Jr., 29; Brian, 26; Quintin, 21; Christian, 18
Military Branches: ARMY / MARINES
Question: What do you want the world to know about your sons?
I have AMAZING sons!!! For one, being Black men, they are on the endangered species list. I have not had any of my children a part of the court system. They are all high school graduates. They are using the military to help them get the education my husband and I couldn’t afford to give them and do even better.
Question: How do you feel about the issues of color we face?
I’m afraid all the time for my boys. Even though I know they’re on the right path, especially for my son who’s a police officer. He’s called an Uncle Tom for being a cop but he’s a good cop and a good person. When he goes on his calls he doesn’t see Black or white, but he goes out to help people and make a difference. I worry about him more than my other boys.
Question: Do you think diversity will help the police force?
When I was coming up, I came up in the projects of New York City. The Black police officers there knew how to relate to us. We lived in the projects in NY and we were poor, but our children didn’t know we were. These privileged kids are coming into the police force and they can’t relate. I’ve seen police officers going into grocery stores and helping moms out, giving them food to take home to their kids to feed them.
Question: What can we do to help our sons during racial tensions we face?
I do let my kids know, no matter what I got your back. I support you 100%. I’m here for YOU, and I will go to war for my kids!
Question: Have any of your children had an encounter with the police?
Quintin was being harassed by a particular officer. He was the President of the Advisory Board and I was the Vice. Quintin looks older than what he is and he complained about an officer always messing with him. I told the cop to leave my son alone! The Police Department knows my family but Brian had an encounter.
Alicia’s Son, Brian Wilson joined in on the conversation….
My parents lived in a housing area frequented by cops. I had a concealed weapon permit, which I had since I was in the military. I rolled through a stop sign, so I was pulled over. As soon as he approached, I let him know I had a permit. They called for more officers to come over. I told him he could take the gun. He told me to stay in the car. I realized he was nervous so I got out and let him take the gun. They played with it, but I always keep a round in the chamber.
Question: How do you think that would’ve gone had you not been in uniform that day?
I think it would’ve gone differently.
Question: What is your biggest frustration as an African American male serving in the military and now the police:
Other African-American males automatically assume, when I’m in uniform, that I’m against them. It’s almost as if they think I’m being controlled by the White Man or something. What they don’t know is I grew up on food stamps.
Question: (BACK TO ALICIA) Any final thoughts for other moms whose sons are serving?
Thank you to the group (MOBB United). I’m on that page every day trying to encourage others going through stuff with their kids and then receiving encouragement back. We as moms have to find our support group! We are so busy supporting our husbands and children that we get lost in the mix of trying to make sure our families are good. I don’t care how much more or less you have than me, I will treat everyone the same. With the way things are going now, we need one another. Us as women in general (all colors); we need one another!
I wasn’t going to join the Facebook page initially. It wasn’t until last month that I posted a picture of my son Brian and his wife, who is white and I thought let me see how this group will respond to this. The love that came from that post let me know this is a real group here! I am definitely going to stick with following this group. I try to go in and respond to the posts but there are so many!
Mom: Gwendolyn McKenzie
Sons: Marcus McKenzie
Military Branch: ARMY
Question: What would you like the world to know about Marcus?
Gwen: He’s positive, loving and he strives to do the best. He’s well rounded. He can pretty much fit in anywhere! He doesn’t like to just be sitting. He’s helpful. He’s just a great kid, polite. He always shines and I thank God for him. At the time I was carrying him I wasn’t ready for a second baby. It was prophesied that this baby was special and he is special. He’s got this special aura about him and his smile lights up the room. I have very helpful boys and they’re loving. They care about people and any time they can help someone they’re ready!
Question: What’s your greatest aspiration for your son heading into the military?
Gwen: I’ve always told them (my sons) to live and follow their dreams so they don’t have too many regrets in life. I don’t push them to do anything (specific). I want them to pursue their own goals. I feel Marcus is following his goals. I know he’ll be successful no matter what he’s doing.
Question: What went through your mind when you realized your son was going to the military?
Gwen: Panic fear and everything else, but I remember one time Marcus asked me: “If I went to the service and something happened, and I died, would you be mad?” I answered, “YES!” (Laughing out loud.) I felt silly after I answered that way, but I know he’s prepared and I know he’ll do well. I have to put my thoughts and feelings aside because it’s about him. I don’t want him to think he could have done something that I kept him from doing. I know he will be fine.
Question: Final thoughts?
Marcus: My personal belief is that not everyone will have it easy here on Earth. This isn’t necessarily our home. Some are prosperous, successful but they may be doing bad things along with getting that success. You have others who have it hard; Black people are that group that won’t have it easy. We still have to be strong as a people and know eventually we will be home one day. We all just have to be on the same level of respecting one another as humans.
Even if you have animosity toward someone, just know if you were in their shoes you’d want to be treated differently. If someone who’s racist told me something out of character, if they were in my shoes or I was in theirs, having that mindset kind of makes me think.
Gwen: In life you’ll have ups and downs. Life is not always going to be easy but you can’t give up - you gotta keep pushing. Those struggles make you stronger. For those who are ready to commit suicide, it’s just sad because they don’t know what was on the other side of that problem they were going through.
Me, growing up without my real mother and being raised by relatives, I was treated differently. But I believe there was a reason I had to go through that. Otherwise my boys wouldn’t have turned out the way I did. There’s good and bad (in life), but you gotta push through—to get to the good!
How many travel writers under the age of 10 years old do you know? Well, I'm excited to introduce you to 9-year-old Jace and his little brother, 8-year-old Merl. They are authors, travelers, and young Black princes making their way across the miles and making their mom proud.
This is the third part of our Black Sons Abroad series. We've been to Beijing, China with Bryson, 15; the UK with Kamsi and Noah, both 4; and now to Cuba, with Jace and Merl. Moms of Black Boys United, Inc. aims to reverse negative perceptions of Black men and boys. One of the best ways is to tell the stories of the big things they're doing and of their hopes and dreams. We are also learning from their own innocent mouths what they know and how they feel about police brutality against Black men and boys, a serious issue that has plagued Black citizens for centuries.
Jennaye Fennell, a school teacher raising her sons in Atlanta, Georgia, was very excited to allow her sons to share their experiences with Moms of Black Boys United. She believes that one of the best ways to change negative perceptions about our Black sons is to tell the world about their adventures while letting them live life to the fullest. Since she shares the school vacation schedule with her sons, they've traveled since they were babies. Their most recent trip was to Havana, Cuba.
We talked a bit about differences in how Black boys and men are treated in America and Cuba. Jennaye said she believes there is probably more crime in America, and she worries about her sons here in this country. While she and her young sons were in Havana, they didn't see many Black boys and men there, but they did observe police presence in Customs and on the streets. Because Cuba is a Communist country—a dictatorship where people cannot do things they want as easily as in democracies, like become authors and speakers—she appreciates the opportunities that her sons have in America to live life to the fullest.
Jace, 9, took a notepad with him on his excursions in Cuba because he's planning to write another book in their travel adventures series, “Fennell Adventures.” He wrote his first book to tell others about his travels to Hawaii, titled "Journey through Hawaii with Jace.” The book, which was released this past Spring, is a ‘choose your own adventure’ book, which allows the reader to decide how the story begins and ends, depending on the scenario. Soon after Jace's book was finished, his little brother Merl, 8, was inspired to follow in his footsteps and wrote his first book, “Journey through Texas with Merl,” which was published in the Fall. It's full of vivid, colorful images that take the reader right to the scenes.
While I talked to the boys about their travels and books, I also asked them what they know about racism and police violence against Black men and boys. I wasn't surprised at how thoughtfully Jace described racism as “unfortunate.” Though he has yet to live even a full decade in America, he has a clear understanding of the concept and said that it makes him sad that some people judge others simply by skin color. Jace said that when he sees stories on television about shootouts and robberies and thinks about how the bad guys may be arrested, punished really harshly or killed, he believes that Black men and boys are treated differently by law enforcement. He said there may be some police officers that think they are better than people who are a different race from them, and that those officers may be “...just bad people on their own.” When Jace first met a police officer at a book signing for himself and Merl, he said he wasn't scared or excited. And although Merl seemed a little shy, he let me know that he was a little scared when he first met a police officer because he thought he and his brother were in trouble. But then he learned that the officer was an author just like him. He knew then that he didn't have to be afraid. Merl eagerly told me about his love for swimming and basketball, speaking of a trip he'd very much like to take to the hometown of his favorite NBA team—the Boston Celtics. He wants to play for the NBA when he grows up.
These busy brothers are an inspiration, and their mom is a vital influence, with her determination to ensure that they enjoy life to the fullest and get the opportunities they deserve. Take time to listen to the full interview with Jace, Merl, and Jennaye, who also is their booking agent. Watch Jace and Merl's video, check them out on their YouTube Channel, and purchase their books on Amazon, if you like. Visit www.fennelladventures.com to see Jace's CBS interview, and enjoy the photos that accompany this story, including pics from Cuba, Texas, Hawaii, and the Fennell Adventures Press Kit.
This is just the beginning. How wonderful that they've gotten started so young, with mom encouraging and backing them all the way. Jace looks up to his mom because, in his words, “she always provides for us and makes sure we have everything we need. And that's how I wanna be for my kids.” Merl echoed his brother's sentiments. Keep setting that example, mom!
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.