I'm a Mom and the Founder of a National Social Change Platform: Here's How I'm Raising My Black Sons in Today's Culture

By founding Moms of Black Boys United, I turned grief into action. These are the ways I encourage moms of Black sons to find the support they need and raise their sons.

An illustration of moms and their sons.
Photo: Illustration: Emma Darick.

In 2016, after watching the horrific viral videos of the deaths of two Black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, I was angry, sad, and frustrated. As the mother of two Black boys—one of whom is on the autism spectrum—I was also motivated to make a change.

I invited 30 friends to join a private Facebook group I started named Moms of Black Boys United (MOBB United). My goal was to offer a safe space for all moms of Black boys to communicate concerns about their safety during encounters with law enforcement and others in authority. Within two hours, there were 1,000 members. By the end of the day, more than 21,000 moms from all across the country had joined.

It became clear that I was answering a need. But it also became apparent that to truly address our concerns for our sons, I would need to build a real organization. So, along with a core group of dedicated moms, I rolled up my sleeves and officially began my work as founder and president of MOBB United.

In 2016, we formed both a 501(c)(3) and a 501(c)(4) organization. Moms of Black Boys United, the 501(c)(3), focuses on providing information and support for moms of Black sons and promotes positive images of Black boys and men. I was thrilled when Vanessa McCullers, a mom who was active in the group, agreed to become executive director. We formed MOBB United for Social Change, Inc., the advocacy arm with the goal of influencing policy and legislation at the local, state, and federal level, and eradicating harassment, brutality, and unwarranted use of deadly force by law enforcement.

I've learned a lot about raising Black sons, fighting for change, and keeping family safe throughout the years. Here are some of my biggest takeaways.

Community Matters

Today, our MOBB United community has grown to over 170,000 members in the Facebook group and local chapters throughout the country. Our membership is an inclusive, safe space for all moms and female primary caretakers of Black boys and men of every ethnicity to find support, connect with other mothers, participate in healthy debate on issues related to our purpose, and make change.

Last year, MOBB United was selected by Facebook as one of 77 organizations globally (and one of only 14 in the U.S.) to participate in the 2020 Facebook Community Accelerator. It's a global initiative that invests in leaders who are building communities worldwide. As an organization that began with a Facebook post, we were thrilled to be awarded $55,000 in grants to help grow our community. The funding helped us implement national calls, webinars, and seminars that educate moms on topics ranging from autism and mental health awareness to how the criminal justice system works and recognizing bullying and discrimination.

As I look at my sons and the beautiful Black boys and young men that fill our Facebook feed, I am grateful to know we are a community that is making a difference. While we may not have the power to diminish the pain of a mother who has lost a son, at least there is now a resource and a voice for nearly 200,000 mothers of Black boys to find support in moments of grief, rage, joy, and happiness.

There's Strength in Numbers

Over the past four years, we have made important headway. When Ahmaud Arbery was killed in South Georgia last year, our rapid response team rallied moms to band together with other social justice organizations and we succeeded in advocating to get the Georgia hate crimes bill passed. This legislation allows judges to increase punishments against perpetrators that target victims based on perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability, or physical disability.

Our work has also included connecting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and the Congressional Black Caucus, as well as state and local officials throughout the U.S. to advocate for policy changes. These policy changes include advocacy for the Justice in Policing Act introduced by Senator Cory Booker and Vice President (then Senator) Kamala Harris in June. Its provisions include establishing a federal registry of police misconduct and enhanced accountability for police officers who commit misconduct as well as several other provisions that will ultimately protect Black and Brown boys, men, and all citizens.

Listening Matters

One of our programs, SONStories, involves providing a platform for young Black men to shed light on racial disparities from their perspective. Through spoken word, poetry, rap, music, and other art forms, we are giving our sons the chance to be heard in their own words and promote positive images of Black boys and men. The goal is to influence how they are treated and perceived by law enforcement and society.

It's Important to Teach Children How to Interact With Law Enforcement

It is clear from the police-involved killings of George Floyd, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and so many others, that part of our work must involve teaching Black boys how to interact with law enforcement. We want our sons and law enforcement officers to make it home safely every night.

One lesson I have learned since starting MOBB United was shared by author Sanya Gragg during a monthly national call featuring five preteens from Michigan who had a terrifying encounter with police while walking home from playing basketball in their neighborhood. She shared an acronym—ALIVE—for interacting with law enforcement that I teach my own sons:

Always use your manners. Responding with titles of respect such as "yes sir" or "no sir" will go a long way.

Listen and comply. Your child may not agree with the reason a police officer is questioning them, but it is important to listen and comply.

In control of your emotions. The encounter may feel unjust and your child may be upset, but it's important to control visible emotions, get through it, and get home safely. Once safety has been secured, parents can help children deal with the situation.

Visible hands always. If your child is pulled over in the car, teach them that both hands should be on the steering wheel or dashboard. This includes passengers, too.

Explain any movement. I'm reaching for my driver's license/registration/proof of insurance, for example.

Both moms and supporters who are not moms of Black sons are encouraged to follow MOBB United on Twitter and Instagram. We share information and images that celebrate our sons and support, educate, and uplift other moms.

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