Mom of The Year?

Toya & Michael

When I stood up and asked keynote speaker, Glenn Singleton about the implications of media framing and constructing our cultural stories and experiences,  particularly in the city of Baltimore, Glenn immediately took those attending The Dalton School’s Conference – Diversity to Community, back to a particular slide in his presentation which flashed an all to familiar image.

In the wake of  Freddie Gray’s murder in Baltimore, media outlets were often negligent and haphazard as they interpreted the complex facets of a community’s – a nation’s, visceral and explosive reaction to Freddie’s murder as a result of systemic police violence. Accompanying a viral video of swinging arms and cascading curls against a beautiful spring yellow jacket,  was Toya Graham’s statement that she did not want her sixteen year old son, Michael to become a “Freddie Gray”. She was confident she was protecting her reproductive right as a mother to raise a son free from the fatal statistics of environmental hazards and police violence that her son’s zip code and skin color imposed upon him.

As independent school mothers of black children, Lynne Hurdle-Price and I were mindful not to judge Toya Graham’s dramatic display of discipline as we understood and grappled with her gut reaction overshadowed by a mixture of love and fear. And, as mothers raising black children we lamented about the context and implications of Toya’s actions. We could identify with the reproductive justice issues that mothers raising black children face under the uncertainty of safe and thriving conditions within systems – justice, health, housing, employment and education, that are not equitable and are not safe.

Lynne and I began to question what we would have done in that chaotic and dangerous moment. Would we have reacted in the same manner? We wondered about the types of conversations Toya may, or may not have had with Michael before and since that “mom of the year” moment. What if Toya had a similar moment on an ordinary day, would she have been arrested for child endangerment? We couldn’t help but try and unpack a system of slavery, codes, and Jim Crow that fostered an atmosphere of parenting with fear, restraining black children from being ordinary boys and girls, and instead encouraging extreme obedience, being seen and not heard, all in a concerted effort to avoid the unwanted and wanton attention of people who had the power and desire to harm.

As mothers, unpacking and re-negotiating how we can move from interrogation to communication with our children is far from over. Lynne and I invite you to join us on this journey. Over the next couple of weeks, we will interview each other on our parenting styles sharing why we parent the way we do. Since Lynne happens to be a speaker, trainer and conflict resolution strategist, on June 2, she’ll facilitate a webinar (online workshop) with parents of children of color, particularly those navigating independent schools. Save the date, June 2, (registration to follow) where Lynne will engage us to consider how:

Being a student of color in an independent school comes with its own challenges and pressures. Our children need to know that they can talk with us about whatever is on their hearts and minds. In this important reality-based webinar Lynne Hurdle-Price will provide the opportunity for parents to:

  • Discuss how to engage in after-school Conversation not Interrogation
  • Explore the science of deep conversation 
  • Learn three techniques that Open The Door To Real Conversation

…check out Lynne’s recent post: Top 5 Ways to Engage In Conflict Without Causing Beef


Please share your thoughts on this post commenting below, and take our quick RIISE instant poll regarding mom of the year: In light of the complexity of raising black children amidst police violence, would you have responded in the same way as Toya Graham?

related post: The Verdict: A Letter to My Son


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One Comment

  1. Posted May 6, 2015 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    Correction: I want to take this opportunity to clarify the context in which the term reproductive rights is used in this post. I am referring to a mother’s right to see her children thrive. However, it implies that only birth mothers have this right. This is not inclusive of all who raise and mother children. I believe it is a right that all mothers and care-givers see children thrive.

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