6 Black Moms on the Frontlines in the Fight Against Racism
Black moms around the country are on the frontlines of the fight against racial injustice. Here are six moms whose powerful voices and actions are creating change.
As thousands take to the streets around the country to stand up for Black lives and demand justice, Black moms have been leading the charge. One of the most powerful images of the movement was shared by an expectant mom who goes by Thema. In the stunning black and white image, the activist bares her pregnant belly, holding a sign that references the killing of George Floyd and reads, "We are NOT carrying for 9 months, then struggling during labor for 9 hours just for you to kneel on their neck for 9 minutes."
The viral photo proves another powerful message shared on fellow demonstrators' signs: "All mothers were summoned when George Floyd called out for his mama."
But from speaking out about racial disparities in health care to injustices faced by victims of sexual trauma to inequality in education, Black moms, in particular, have been in this fight for ages.
Here, how six Black moms and activists are leading the charge and what they want other parents to know.
The senior vice president for MomsRising.org, a nonprofit advocating for women, mothers, and families and Brooklyn, New York-based mom of two, Monifa Bandele is a longtime activist working toward police reform and with the Black Lives Matter movement.
"We're fighting to demilitarize schools and winning," she shares of her work. "Just this week, we've seen three school districts cancel contracts with local police in order to instead use that money to address the critical needs of today's students. That’s progress. The safest communities in America are places that don’t center the police. We need to include schools as we reinvest in a shared vision of community safety, infrastructure, and recovery that does not over-rely on the police."
Now is not the time for small fixes, says Bandele. "We must dream big and reimagine systems of safety, so that they work to make everyone safe," she notes. "We reject funding systems that endanger Black people and deprive our communities of the basic rights, safety, and freedom that those who are privileged in our nation have long enjoyed. If government and budgeting processes are participatory and engage and invest in underserved communities, we can build a future together that doesn't rely on police and punishment."
Dr. Jasmine Johnson
A doctor, physician activist, and mom of two from Durham, North Carolina, Jasmine Johnson, M.D. is fighting on multiple levels. In her work, she cares for women with pregnancy complications and works to bring attention to racial injustice in health care—like the fact that Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women.
"One of the common threads for many Black women who have experienced adverse maternal health outcomes is that they were not listened to by their health care providers," she notes. "Structural and societal racism prevents equity in health care. We need to respect the voices of Black women. We also need to diversify the medical workforce. We need to listen to train the future of medicine in antiracism work."
The mom of two acknowledges that racism in medicine and society can be uncomfortable for Americans to discuss, but it's time to speak up when you see racial injustice in action. "In order to combat it, we have to first acknowledge that it exists," says Dr. Johnson. "We have to call it out. It is this country's culture of silence and indifference after witnessing injustice over generations that has gotten us here. It is going to take more than thoughts, prayers, and well-meaning texts to your Black friends to get us out."
Dominique Jordan Turner
Dominique Jordan Turner is the CEO of Chicago Scholars, a nonprofit that provides low-income or first-generation college students with mentoring and counseling to succeed in higher education. She's also a mom and co-author of a book called Little Black Pearls for Little Black Girls, which she wrote with her daughter to counter negative images and messages about Black people that bombard Black girls from the time they come into the world.
"After the death of George Floyd, my daughter shared with me a picture she drew," says Turner. "It was of a young Black girl standing in front of blue and red police lights, her fist raised in the air, and surrounded by the names of the Black lives lost to senseless and reprehensible acts of violence. While I was so proud of her artistic ability and her ability to comprehend what was happening in our country, it made me incredibly sad that my 11-year old's hope and innocence was being stolen."
It has only strengthened her resolve to fight for social justice. She encourages parents, organizations, policymakers, corporations, and citizens to say "Black Lives Matter." "And we need to act on it," she notes. "What can that action look like for us as parents? It’s about recognizing that race and racism is a social construct that is taught, often at home."
Rose Aka-James is the National Membership Manager at Black Mamas Matter Alliance, a network of organizations and individuals who advocate for maternal health, rights, and justice, a maternal health professional, and a soon-to-be mom of two from Atlanta, Georgia.
"Racism is personal and political," she says. "It's a global public health pandemic with lasting generational impacts on Black people's health, wellbeing, education, attainment of wealth, safety, and survival. Police brutality, COVID-19, and continued inequities in health outcomes further exacerbate the Black maternal health crisis here in the U.S., by inflicting an additional undue burden of emotional, physical, economic, and environmental stress on expectant, birthing and parenting mothers."
The Georgia activist and mom says she hopes parents everywhere realize that "racism is a learned behavior—there is nothing innate about it." She urges parents to examine the biases they may not be aware of and the values they instill in their children, noting, "Standing up against all forms of racial oppression, sexism, classism and the disenfranchisement in your workplace, community, and amongst your friends and family is a life-long process to creating sustainable racial justice for generations to come."
Follow Black Mamas Matter Alliance on Instagram.
Anita Kopacz is a spiritual psychologist, writer, activist, and mom of three based on Nyack, New York. She's also on the board of the Center for Safety and Change, a nonprofit serving victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and other violent crimes in Rockland County, New York and the founder of a T-shirt campaign called Zero F's Given that helps fund programs focused on the healing of Black and Brown survivors.
"I created the campaign to raise awareness and help victimized and disenfranchised populations heal from sexual trauma, find their voice, and reclaim their power," says Kopacz, who was inspired to create the campaign as a survivor of sexual abuse herself and because she says it was hard to find a healing space where people looked like her.
Kopacz notes that this not just a moment, it's a movement. "Things need to change," she notes. "As a Black mother, I’ve have wept over our people being killed long before George Floyd called out for his mother. My small part in helping my community heal from sexual trauma is but a drop in an ocean of healing that we all need, regardless of race."
Ayesha Bell Hardaway
A law professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and mom of two, Ayesha Bell Hardaway is also a co-director of the Social Justice Institute (SJTI), a nonprofit that provides development and learning opportunities to social justice educators.
"The social justice work that I do as a professor and a lawyer is rooted in my natural inclination to be an advocate and servant leader," says Hardaway, who is focused on securing liberation for those marginalized and oppressed by systemic injustices in America.
Hardaway reminds other parents, "Black women, men, and children have been brutalized, terrorized, and dehumanized since being brought to the place we now call America." But this current movement, which she says began with the founding of Black Lives Matter in 2013, gives her hope. "It's aimed at tearing down systems and practices that have continued to oppress and threaten the lives of Black people despite prior progress," says Hardaway. "Our young people are demanding it, so I have faith that it will come to pass."
Follow Hardaway on Twitter.