By C.K. LeDaniel
As mothers of Black boys and men, our joys are sometimes mitigated by worry as we watch our sons navigate through a world that often places their well-being, their freedom, and their very lives at risk. One of the ways we help each other cope is by sharing knowledge and support. MOBB United’s Education Committee launched our Book Club with both of these ends in mind.
Please meet Kumari Ghafoor-Davis, Chair of our Education Committee. She is a graduate of Columbia University School of Social Work, and she is a Parent Coach with her own consulting company, Optimistic Expectations. Together with Uchechi Eke and myself, Kumari is also the Co-Lead of the MOBB United Book Club. I asked them both some questions so that all of our moms can become more familiar with what we are doing and hopefully join us in our readings and discussions.
Hello Kumari, can you tell us a little bit about the MOBB United Book Club?
Yes, of course. Our Book Club was launched on March 18 with the book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” by Michelle Alexander. We selected this book in part because it is featured in the documentary, 13th, by Ava Duvernay, which MOBB United watched together and discussed in our first ‘Watch Party.’ The issue of mass incarceration is central to our purpose as we seek to advocate for our sons and #protectthem from a system of law enforcement that makes them vulnerable not only to the tragic use of force by police officers, but also to arrest, imprisonment, and the social, economic, and political disenfranchisement that results upon release. Alexander shows us just how this system came to be and how it is perpetuated.
Yes, she does! In the book, Alexander explains that mass incarceration was designed to reinstate the segregation of slavery and Jim Crow by using different and more socially acceptable language in the years that followed the Civil Rights movement. Code words like ‘Law and Order’ and the ‘War on Drugs’ were used to pander to racism among working class Whites, allowing politicians and moneyed interests to maintain and expand their privilege and power. The result, as we see now, is an overwhelmed and underfunded judicial system and a for-profit prison industrial complex with a population that has quadrupled in the past four decades -- a population that is disproportionately represented by our sons.
Uchechi, you are one of many international members of the MOBB United community. What made you want to be a part of this organization?
The reason I joined MOBB United, even though I'm based in England, is because the system of white supremacy, racism and injustice is global. Black boys on both sides of the Atlantic are subject to stop and search laws, are charged with harsher sentences for first time or non-violent offences, are imprisoned at disproportionate rates and suffer discrimination at all strata of society. It's harder for our sons to gain meaningful employment. To secure finance. To buy a home. To live in peace and be afforded dignity and respect. My 3-year-old son may be too young to understand or has not yet felt the effects of racism, but he will soon learn that the world he lives in is unwelcoming and hostile. That structures are in place to deny him parity with his peers. That systematic oppression is practiced across the Diaspora.
Thank you for that. It’s important for us here in the U.S. to develop a global consciousness about race as well, even as we grapple with daily issues at home.
Kumari, can you tell me what motivated you personally to get involved with the book club?
As the mom of four black/brown boys, I worry daily about their safety. I cringe when our oldest, aged 24, leaves the house. When he is driving away in his car or hopping on the bus to work, I worry, despite the fact that he has a college degree and wears a suit every day. Sometimes it feels like our boys are never safe, like we cannot protect them, like the odds are stacked against them. Michelle Alexander shows us that they are. And it’s important for us to understand how they are. You know, knowledge is power!
Yes, it is! And so is community. What would you say is the purpose of our reading this book together?
“The New Jim Crow” is a heart-wrenching read. It’s painful, and even more so enraging to learn about the deliberate actions of politicians and lawmakers to put African-American males, our sons, behind bars.
People have told me they cried while reading it.
That’s true, and by reading this book together, MOBB United moms are able to support each other through the process.
Uchechi, how do you think it helps to read the book together?
A book club, just like the Facebook group, is an important forum not only to share experiences but to elevate our state of consciousness. The “New Jim Crow” is a timely and necessary read. In no uncertain terms, it arrests your attention and provokes emotions. It clearly and poignantly paints a picture of the real forces at work. The prison industrial complex is a deliberate system set up to deny our sons freedom. Incarceration does not rehabilitate. Our boys are torn from their families. Separated from their communities, tortured and brutalized, mentally broken, and left spirituality bankrupt. These are hard truths, but the profound impact found in Alexander's book helps lead us moms in banding together to effect change.
How can MOBB United moms join the book club, Kumari?
We began to post the book club in the MOBB United Facebook group in March, so they can search for the posts there with the hashtag #mobbunitedbookclub and note their interest in comments, but we have also moved the book club over to the MOBBUnited.org website. Moms can click Community in the upper-right corner of the homepage, click Forums, and then click “The New Jim Crow”. I expect that we will be engaging in some poignant and intense conversations there, as we read about the truly malicious plans that have been made to set our sons up for failure and as we talk about how we can work together to keep the boys and men we love out of jail. Doing so in the safe and supportive environment of moms with Black sons in common is also a way that we can promote self-care as we work towards change.
I agree. I’d also like to point out that the Health and Wellness Committee has a sub-committee for MOBB moms with sons in the criminal justice system. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us, Kumari?
As moms, our voices will be heard and this book will help us to keep our journey, vision and goals, in sight.