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.
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.
Do you ever wonder whether or not you should respond to ignorance, afraid that you may offend someone? Well, until just recently, I was that person. But then I watched actor Freddie Highmore (whom you may know as Norman in Bates Motel) in a new television series called The Good Doctor. It's about a young autistic surgeon, Dr. Shawn Murphy, who, because he has no natural filter, says what needs to be said when it needs to be said. I thought about the freedom that a person like him must have, whether he's aware of it or not. I'm not autistic, but I envy the freedom that the character has to say whatever comes to mind. I don't always feel that I have the freedom to say things that might offend people; I try to employ my filter of political correctness. I guess you can say I'm a little sensitive myself. But the older I get…the struggle is real!
Some people prefer to communicate hard truth indirectly -- through sarcasm. I don't. And Dr. Shawn Murphy doesn’t even understand it. (“What is the purpose of sarcasm?”, he asked in the 2nd episode). So what does one do? Dr. Murphy just says the hard truth. I know a few real people who just say it, too. Quite a few of my friends, as a matter of fact, are bold and blunt with it. How do they do it with no worries of offending people? Do they just not care? Did they used to care, and at what point did they stop? One said around the age of 40. I can totally relate because when I turned 40, my patience for crap flew out the window. My late Aunt Ruth was the candid one in our family. She’d be so blunt sometimes, one might feel their ears bleeding once she got done with them. I told myself I didn’t want to be like her when I grew up; but now, I understand why she didn’t hold back. Why not just be real? No reason. I get it Aunt Ruth; may you rest in peace (and truth).
I shared my thoughts on my private Facebook page with some friends about the new television show. My original post:
Later, as I was thinking about these bold friends and blunt aunt, I marvelled at them. It must feel good to not keep truth inside just because someone else can't handle it. I told them I love them for it and to never change. Their responses gave me life and emboldened me to speak on a matter that bothered me a great deal.
I had been struggling for a couple of weeks with the decision to say or not to say how I feel about a certain Facebook post by a “friend” of mine, in which she posted her views about the state of America that's being discussed all over social media. She made an announcement that she was “Saying so long to Facebook!” and plans to focus on happy things like “pigs, pugs, and hedgehogs” because Facebook was too negative. At first I replied to her with a pretty neutral answer -- with all of the political correctness I could muster. I let her know that I didn't agree with everything she said. In other words, I let her get away with the ignorance spouted. But it bothered me for days -- not only learning that a “friend” of mine was so ignorant, but that I did nothing about it. She had posted something almost as ignorant just after the November 2016 presidential election, and I had let that slide, too. But, after discussing my sensitivities with my friends in my private post, I decided to give her my very real reply.
Sometimes the truth has to be told. Will my “friend” change her views? No, but maybe God will change them for her. I'm leaving it up to Him. Unlike her, I cannot stick my head in the sand and pretend the issues do not exist. They impact moms of Black sons directly. But, do you know what I won't be anymore? Politically correct.
Sorry? Not sorry.
My “friend’s post” (which her other friends absolutely loved):
“Saying so long to Facebook! I am beyond disgusted, sick and tired and fed up with all the negativity on here and the world. I know I can't take away what's going on everywhere but I can remove myself from the garbage on here. Too much politics, views, protests, feelings hurt, complaining over petty crap such as when sticks are being picked from the hurricane , and on and on. In the 10 plus years on this site I have never voiced my opinion but now I am.
1) get your ass off your knees, legs, whatever your doing and honor this country! Men and women are fighting and have fought for you to even be able to stand on that damn field making millions throwing a ball.
2) Trump is president and will be. Get over it! Move on. Put your efforts of bitching about it into maybe being kind to someone for a day. The bitching and complaining isn't going to fix our leader of this country. Just support him and pray he makes the right decisions.
3) The shooting last night is awful! For a coward to take all those lives should have done us all a favor and taken himself out from the get go and been done.
4) final thought is to just enjoy each day and thank God each morning is another day.
Love to you all and please feel free to reach out anytime! I'm on instagram as bkryston. I'm sticking with that because following pigs, pugs, and hedgehogs makes me happy 😂”
My first politically correct reply:
“While I don't agree with eeeeeverything you said because we're different people with different backgrounds and very different a life experiences, I do believe in #selfcare. Do what you need to do, hun. I'm not on Instagram, but maybe our paths will cross later in life. Enjoy your babies!”
My second REAL reply:
“I'm sure you'll get this reply because no one really leaves Facebook for good. Offense or none, I have to say this, in love, but unapologetically.
I understand that you may not be able to relate to people who have experienced racism and undue hatred simply because of the color of their skin. You're white with blond hair, and so are your daughters.
You'll never have to worry that they'll not have fair opportunities in life because of that mere fact.
You won't sit up at night worrying whether they'll make it home safely after hanging out with friends or coming home from work or walking down the street because people don't hate them; they are white with blond hair.
You won't worry that a racist cop will decide their lives are not worth anything and KILL them after pulling them over for a minor traffic offense. You won't have to feel anger and betrayal about that cop being able to keep his job after committing murder.
You won't have to get in an elevator with a white stranger and wonder if that person hates you for no reason. You won't have to stand in a grocery line and wonder if the person in front of or behind you hates you and your kids for no reason. You won't have to feel the hateful stares of people when you decide to not salute a flag that represents a country that hates you and your children. You never even have to make the decision to protest hatred. You won't even understand how big that single decision is, knowing that it could cost you everything.
You won't have to worry about your white blond daughters not being able to go to good schools, eat in restaurants, shop in stores, work for companies, live in neighborhoods, etc. without being discriminated against. They won't have a reason to protest because it's more likely that they won't experience injustice. They can just be their white blond haired selves and know all is well.
Thank God for that, Brittany. But while you're thanking God, ask him to open your eyes to understand why people WHO DO know what it's like to be hated for no good reason are hurt and mad enough to not want entertain you and your white blond haired daughters by running a ball down a field in a country where a President says it's okay hate people who are not white with blond hair.
NOW, enjoy your babies! I do NOT say this with sarcasm. We were neighbors for more than 3 years. I shared milk with your baby when you ran out and didn't feel like running to the store. My Black daughter was your pet sitter who fed your precious pugs and no-tail cat, and she watched your daughter for a few so you could take care of some things. We laughed and enjoyed neighborhood parties together. My Black son showed you and your family nothing but kindness. All the while, this ignorance was in you?
I'm going to enjoy my babies too, but I'm also going to have to work harder than you to protect my kids from hatred. I'll continue to teach them how to handle it when it does come their way for no good reason, from people - maybe like your daughters - who don't know how to empathize because their mom just wanted to watch a football game and enjoy her worry free white life.
I still love you and your husband and babies, though. If I had not gotten this out of my system, I may not be able to say that with honesty. Your post planted a seed in me that could have been bitter, had I let it. I'm not writing this because I'm offended. I am writing it because I am in despair, like the other people in this country who have skin darker than yours and are expected to shut up and accept hatred.
I hope and pray this makes you think so you can raise your daughters to not expect people who are not as privileged as them to "get your ass off your knees, legs, whatever you're doing and honor this country!" THAT HATES THEM BECAUSE THEIR SKIN IS DARKER THAN THEIRS.
And leaving Facebook is not going to make the injustice or the protests against it disappear. It will be everywhere you go until the eyes of you and others who think like you are opened. Meanwhile, I'll continue volunteering my time to produce this newsletter for MOBB United for Social Change, Inc. (MUSC)/Moms of Black Boys United, Inc. so may I can affect change and not have to attend my own son's funeral one day because of racism and ignorance: http://www.mobbunited.org/general/custom.asp?page=Newsletter003
When I see you again, I'll smile and love on you and your babies as I always have.
But will you be able to smile at me and my children, Brittany?”
(I shared this most timely image
with her in my reply.)
I'm not 100% sure my “friend” will read my message, but maybe one or more of her friends will, and maybe someone will change their perspective. Maybe not, but at least I wasn't silent. I have a renewed resolve to speak out against racism, with love though. With love.
This very revealing experience reminded me of why I volunteer my time with Moms of Black Boys United, Inc. I love my son. We all love our sons. Founder Depelsha McGruder has said many times that this fight is not a sprint but a marathon. While my written response to ignorance is not the solution to the problems of hatred and injustice that plague America, it does contribute to our goal of changing negative perceptions of Black boys and men. And so much work is being done to influence policy impacting how Black boys and men are treated by law enforcement and society. This work must be funded. 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. Also, please learn more about fundraising efforts and what else you can do to help.
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.