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We Can't Breathe



On this past Mother’s Day, I penned a post about the sadness I felt as a mom particularly when I thought about the death of Ahmaud Arbery. When the video surfaced of Mr. Arbery’s killing, I thought about his death constantly and thus was not surprised when my brain offered no respite from such thoughts, even on this past Mother’s Day.

Given the surreal nature of Ahmaud’s death and the fact that it caused many Americans such acute pain, if someone had told me that right after charges were made in the his killing, with the African American community still grieving and on edge from so many stressors, that another black man, George Floyd, would die at the hands of officers, I would have wagered that would not happen. I would have lost.

The fact that Mr. Floyd was murdered while pleading for his life, with his attackers demonstrating a total lack of concern about what they were doing or the presence of onlookers, made his death even more horrifying. Videos (which are beyond gruesome to watch) have surfaced of Mr. Floyd’s death which irrefutably show the reality of yet another unprovoked murder of a black man.

Mr. Arbery ran for his life, no doubt believing, like we all do when faced with frightening, unexpected danger, that he could get away. You have to believe that and so you do whatever you can to escape. That’s natural instinct. When you touch a hot stove, you instinctively pull your hand away. If you see someone running toward you with a gun, you run as fast as you can. Sheer instinct.

As horrific as Mr. Arbery’s death was, Mr. Floyd’s was no less so. The difference I think is that surely Mr. Floyd had no hope he could escape. He was unarmed, outnumbered, all movement restricted. Mr. Floyd was pinned down by someone trained in the use of force. Unable to escape, unable to breathe, he begged for help and called for his mother. He called for the one he loved, who cared for him. When I learned that his mother in fact died two years ago, my heart broke. We don’t have to be taught to call for our moms. That too is instinctual. Hard fall off a bike? Mama! Got cut from the basketball team? Mama! Broken heart? Mama! It’s the universal call for help. When moms are out in public and hear an anguished cry from a child, it immediately stops us in our tracks, we turn and look, inwardly assessing if our help is needed, even if our own child is standing safely at our side, unharmed. I can’t breathe! Mama!!!

Mother’s Day is gone, but today I want to return to that previous blog titled, “The Ground Keeps Shaking”, in the hopes that all mothers, no matter the race, economic status or geographic location might hear the cry of Mr. Floyd and the cry of all who have been murdered. If you are breathing and have a pulse, yes, I am talking to you.

I ask that you do, what moms do instinctively. Stop what you are doing, when you hear the cry and see if the one crying out in pain is ok. I can answer that one for you: We are not ok. We too are moms and our children are being killed. Think about that. Close your eyes and imagine what the pain of that reality feels like for African American moms. We live with that fear and that reality every single day. It greets us as the sun rises in the morning and prevents us from sleeping at night.

I humbly ask today that you step up and respond to this cry. As givers of life, as anchors in your families and communities, as moms: Don’t look away. I absolutely know you hear it. Set your intention today, right now, this very minute, to gather your strength and do what you can, to commit acts of civic engagement, to work within your circle of influence, to steady the ground beneath us, for the good of us all. It is then that the ground will stop shaking and the crying will stop.

(The following blog was previously posted on May 10, 2020.)

The Ground Keeps Shaking

My sister’s son Marcus died unexpectedly some years ago. He was a young husband and father. To me, he was the best son a mother could hope for. To get a visual of the impact of his death and what happened to our family after he died, think about this: Picture the ground constantly shaking beneath you. You step and try to move to a part of the ground that seems solid, but then it too starts shaking. You can’t escape it. You wake up, it’s shaking. You grab your morning cup of coffee, it’s shaking. You go to work, it’s shaking. You come home, it’s shaking. You go to sleep, it’s shaking. You wake up the next day and it’s shaking yet again. It is the worst possible rendition of Groundhog Day. You try everything you can do to make it stop, to regain your stability. You try to avoid places where you know it is particularly unstable.

One place I tread lightly is Mother’s Day. My observance of Mother's Day is always somewhat muted because my sister doesn’t have her loving, doting son to celebrate her awesomeness as a mom. It seems insensitive of me to celebrate when my sister no longer has Marcus to celebrate with her.

This is just my own personal hang up. My sister happily celebrates Mother’s Day and sincerely encourages me and everyone else to do the same. Anyway, how can you not celebrate when well wishes via texts, Facebook posts and numerous calls are constant throughout the day?

However, this Mother’s Day brings new sadness. This Mother's Day I am thinking about another mom missing her son. Her son who died unexpectedly as he went for a jog. He was young, and he too died way too soon. Ahmaud Arbery. Ahmaud’s murder is a reminder of what evilness lurks amongst us this Mother’s Day, and every other day we wake up and breathe. Is it still safe to breathe? I have to ask since we are killed doing all manner of ordinary behavior: if we jog, if we walk in our own neighborhood, if we are in our home.

I am profoundly sad, and I am so very weary. The racism and disregard for our lives in this country feels like it is causing some type of dissection in me and I pray that it is not cutting away the good parts of who I am. The part that loves all people and even still fiercely loves this country. I don’t want the bad parts to overtake the inherent hope and humanity within that tempers who I am and who I strive to become.

I offer my most sincere condolences to Ahmaud’s family and particularly to his mother Mrs. Wanda Cooper-Jones. I imagine this Mother’s Day will be unimaginably hard for her. Mrs. Cooper-Jones, please know there are people you do not know, whom you may never meet that mourn with you and are heavy with grief at the senseless act of violence that ended your son's life. We mourn with you and pledge to keep our unmoving eyes on the judicial system with full expectation that justice will be served and somehow, someday the shaking will stop.


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