Reclaiming Our Way promoting the well-being of African American children & families


Four Black mothers share pain of losing sons and a resolve to achieve justice #BlackLivesMatter

Many thousands of people will be out on the streets marching today, in cities across this country. The rallying cry is justice for families and communities whose women, men and children have been killed at the hands of law enforcement officers, and others acting with a sheer disregard - contempt even - for Black life.

Just this past week, four mothers of African American men and boys murdered at the hands of police officers, and one acting in a vigilante law enforcement spirit, sat together for the first time for an interview and discussion about their families' experiences, and their continuing quest for justice for their sons.

The four mothers included:

  • Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, 17 years old when he was killed by a 'neighborhood watch' person in Florida
  • Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Gardner, 43 years old when he was killed by a police officer in New York City
  • Lesley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown, 18 years old when he was killed by a police officer in Missouri
  • Samaria Rice, mother of Tamir Rice, 12 years old when he was killed by a police officer in Ohio

From the CNN piece...

Their sons -- Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner -- have become symbols of a raging national conversation about police brutality and racial injustice.

The mothers of these four unarmed black men and boys felled by bullets or excessive police force have no doubt their sons would still be alive if they were white. No question, they say.

Describing the role of racial profiling in the killing of her son, Sybrina Fulton describes...

The main reason why he was shot and killed was because this neighborhood crime watch was looking for an African American who had been breaking in houses around there, and he picked the wrong teenager. My son was not breaking in any houses, my son was not committing any crime.

Anderson Cooper then 'innocently' asks... "How do you change that perception?", presumably speaking of our greater society.

Fulton's reply is very telling, and clearly explains the wide gulf (more here and here and here for starters) between African American and white perceptions of law enforcement, our respective reactions to the recent high-profile killings of African Americans by law enforcement, and the urgency required for responding to this pattern:

Well, I actually think we need a little divine intervention. Because, I don't really believe that people are going to just change overnight. And it's a more deeply rooted hatred that people have for African Americans. And if you're not an African American... A lot of people don't understand. They don't quite get it. They just think that we are complaining about something that doesn't really exist. And we are living this every day.

I won't spend much time on this, but here's one of the problems I have. Isn't it kind of ironic that Anderson Cooper, one of the most widely recognized news personalities of our time, a white man whose recognition among many is as someone who 'gets it' - and on such a huge network as CNN no less - is asking with his characteristically concerned and innocent tone, how 'you' change that perception? And I get that he was probably using 'you' casually, but I'm not feeling it. His institution represents the problem involved with 'changing that perception'.

I absolutely appreciate the news coverage, and the opportunity to have this group of mothers tell a part of our community's story, but this passive-when-it-wants-to-be news approach is insulting and offensive. Andersoon Cooper, and CNN for that matter, both know exactly how to change that perception. Instead, however, and as a great deal of their Ferguson coverage illustrates, they reinforce that larger societal perception of Blacks as being violent, lawless and to be feared.

The stories of this group of mothers, though, is absolutely worth listening to. The spirit in their voices is powerful, and their steadfast determination not to let the brutal killings of their sons - our collective sons - be forgotten is absolutely admirable.

Let's be clear that lynching is not a thing of the past. This nation's government and legal systems, with media complicity - just have a more sophisticated way of allowing - even encouraging, one could argue - these sorts of horrendous acts of racial terrorism and brutality.


Five ugly and uncanny parallels between lynchings and police killings in America (Shaun King)

Many of us have long compared the killings - executions in fact - of African American women, men and children at the hands of law enforcement officials and everyday citizens to the realities of lynching in generations past.

A piece at Daily Kos last week, by Shaun King, highlights a basic set of parallel considerations. I encourage folks to check out the full piece.

The following are the major points he unpacks briefly in the article...

1. The universal agreement is that the number of lynchings and police murders have both been seriously underreported.

2. The excuses given to justify lynchings and police killings are tragically bad.

3. The lynchings and police killings of African Americans are outrageously brutal and excessive.

4. Few instances in history exist where people are held truly liable for lynchings or police killings.

5. The character of the men and women who were lynched by mobs or killed by police is assassinated as a sick form of justification for the killing.

shaun king piece on lynchings and police executions

attribution: screenshots for video


Heartfelt and Emotional Letter from Trayvon Martin’s Mother, Sybrina Fulton, to the Brown Family #Ferguson

In the midst of the continuing journey of African / African American people in this country, our job - our responsibility - is to remember the individuals whose lives have been snatched away from us, and support the families who have been most directly impacted by this institutional violence.

We remember by keeping their stories alive, by telling the stories that affirm their (and our) humanity, and by fighting unceasingly for justice.

And as we continue to fight, we have to remain mindful of the reality that these incidents and tragedies are not isolated. They form and continue a pattern of abuse and terror inflicted on our children and families over many generations.

In the spirit of remembering, and as an example of our interconnected struggle, I encourage all to read the letter written by Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, to the Brown Family. A brief excerpt follows, and the full letter can be read at

I hate that you and your family must join this exclusive yet growing group of parents and relatives who have lost loved ones to senseless gun violence. Of particular concern is that so many of these gun violence cases involve children far too young. But Michael is much more than a police/gun violence case; Michael is your son. A son that barely had a chance to live. Our children are our future so whenever any of our children – black, white, brown, yellow, or red – are taken from us unnecessarily, it causes a never-ending pain that is unlike anything I could have imagined experiencing.


But know this: neither of their lives shall be in vain. The galvanizations of our communities must be continued beyond the tragedies. While we fight injustice, we will also hold ourselves to an appropriate level of intelligent advocacy. If they refuse to hear us, we will make them feel us. Some will mistake that last statement as being negatively provocative. But feeling us means feeling our pain; imagining our plight as parents of slain children. We will no longer be ignored. We will bond, continue our fights for justice, and make them remember our children in an appropriate light. I would hate to think that our lawmakers and leaders would need to lose a child before protecting the rest of them and making the necessary changes NOW…


What Trayvon Means For Renisha

This discussion took place last month, a couple of weeks before the recent verdict in the Theodore Wafer trial, the Michigan man found guilty of murdering Renisha McBride.  Still an interesting listen...

Although the killings of Renisha McBride and Trayvon Martin draw many comparisons, each case raises different legal questions. (HuffPost Live) takes a look at the comparisons and their racial implications, as well as what to expect from the pending verdict.

Originally aired on July 23, 2014


  • Benjamin Crump  (Tallahassee, FL) Lawyer for Trayvon Martin's Parents
  • Dr. Brittney Cooper  (New Brunswick, NJ) Assistant Professor of Women's and Gender Studies and Africana Studies at Rutgers Universit
  • David A. Harris  (Pittsburgh, PA) Law Professor, University of Pittsburgh


The Other ‘Talk’ We Must Have With Our Children – “We Must Continue to Fight for Justice!”

The Jordan Davis case led some parents to give their kids “the talk.”
But doing so absolves white people of their responsibility to unlearn stereotypes that scare them.

- Tonyaa Weathersbee, 02 12 14 @ The Root

There was a piece posted on The Root last week that captures my exact sentiments about the continuing injustices we face - more specifically our children, at the hands of white adults who claim to fear them.

The main point is that we have to be very clear about the messages we send our children when we only tell them to walk a certain way, talk a certain way, and to be overly deferential to white people they come across, be it on the street, in a place of business, in their own neighborhood, or in a local gas station parking lot.

Yes, we have to teach our children how to survive in a racist society. But we also have to teach them how to organize and resist so that ours, theirs and generations yet unborn can be guaranteed a brighter future.

This is not a game.

For all of you who have children, be they little girls or little boys... you know the stakes.

And the stakes is high!

Here's a brief excerpt from Tonyaa Weathersbee's article at The Root.

In the 2002 book Remembering Jim Crow: African Americans Tell About Life in the Segregated South, Charles Gratton recalled his mother’s instructions when she sent him to the grocery store. She told him, “If you pass any white people on your way, get off the sidewalk. Give them the sidewalk. Don’t challenge white people.”

Similarly, many black people who grew up during Jim Crow times remember being told not to look white people in the eye and to avoid doing things that might get them hurt or killed for being defiant or, as they would say back then, uppity.

A refusal to turn down music or take off a hoodie could translate into being uppity for whites like Dunn, who believe that black youths—who, like many of their white counterparts, are grappling with awkwardness and immaturity—owe it to them to suppress their attitude.

They don’t.

I get that it’s important to give black youths the advice they need to be able to live to fight another day, as Guns and others are doing. But we cannot forget the importance of fighting conditions, such as Florida’s “Stand your ground” law, that feed the idea that whites like Dunn can get away with fatally shooting a black youth like Jordan because he and his friends didn’t comply with their request.

We cannot forget, because something is horribly wrong when, more than a half-century after legal segregation ended, when we have a black man sitting in the Oval Office, Jim Crow-era instructions are being revived to protect black youths. These instructions have little to do with young black people being respectful to white strangers and everything to do with them being submissive to whites—with black youths giving white strangers permission to cling to fears about blackness by not being so, well, black.

And when we make black youths solely responsible for not frightening white people with their music or their style of dress or their swagger, we absolve white people of their responsibility to unlearn the stereotypes that are scaring them.

We cannot forget—because if we do, the next thing you know, we’ll be telling our kids to give up the sidewalk to white people.



Moving forward against ‘Stand Your Ground’

Phillip Agnew from Dream Defenders joins to discuss the fight against “Stand Your Ground” in Florida and what needs to be done in 2014 as the struggle continues.

As described in the brief clip...

Stand Your Ground is just one branch in a really poisonous tree that really shows how Florida cares about its young people.  And at the root of that tree is prejudice, profiling, and prisons for profit.

Other issues on the 2014 organizing and advocacy agenda include undoing the School to Prison Pipeline, and transforming Florida's completely privatized and abusive juvenile justice system.


Ta-Nehisi Coates @ The American Library in Paris – 17 July 2013

Here's a reflection on the Trayvon Martin tragedy by author, writer and blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates, over at The Atlantic.  In this discussion, Coates talks about the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, and really tries to place this tragic incident within a broader historical context.

As he works through a very brief discussion of race, racism and white supremacy as official American public policy, he argues that these incidents - as tragic and unjust as they are - are predictable and to be expected.

Coates concludes that until this nation wrestles with this historical truth, and commits itself to meaningful reflection and change, we'll be hard-pressed to undo this pattern.  This is absolutely, however, this nation's fundamental challenge.

(Approximately 40 minutes)




“Little Black Boy Wonder”



Harry Belafonte & Jay Z: Beyond the Headlines

Many of you may have seen or heard some of the recent and critical exchange between Harry Belafonte and Jay Z regarding the disappointing absence of many of the most visible African American entertainers from discussions about, and sustained organizing efforts focused on fighting, racism and other injustices.

I'd like to share a few resources that help to place this timely exchange in context. Bare with the length, but understanding what's really behind this exchange is important.

Harry Belafonte's critique is not a new one.  He's consistently critiqued the relative absence of (younger) African American entertainers in the continuing struggle against racism and other forms of oppression.  Included among these younger entertainers, Belafonte has named Jay Z and Beyoncé.

Among the occasions during which Belafonte has offered this critique is an interview published on August 7, 2012 at The Hollywood Reporter.  During the interview, Belafonte discusses the relationship between his own life as an entertainer and his underlying commitment to the struggle against racism, sexism, war and other forms of oppression.  He goes on to talk about the dangers of an increasing and unbridled capitalism which is concentrating the world's wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer people and institutions, and the potential for social media to challenge this through increased transparency.

It was after these comments, when asked whether he was pleased with the current image of 'minorities' in Hollywood, that Belafonte offered this additional analysis, referencing Jay Z and Beyoncé as examples...

Not at all. They have not told the history of our people, nothing of who we are. We are still looking. We are not determinated. We are not driven by some technology that says you can kill Afghans, the Iraqis or the Spanish. It is all -- excuse my French -- shit. It is sad. And I think one of the great abuses of this modern time is that we should have had such high-profile artists, powerful celebrities. But they have turned their back on social responsibility. That goes for Jay-Z and Beyonce, for example.


Harry Belafonte's comments got a decent amount of attention at the time, and are now back in the national spotlight after recent reactions by Jay Z to this critique.  During a July 19th interview, Jay Z shared his own disappointment with both the substance of Belafonte's critique as well as the way the critique was offered - in the public (white) media, and holding up Bruce Springsteen as the positive counter on issues related to race and oppression.

Specifically, Jay Z says that his very example, his very existence and presence, is 'charity'.  Comparing himself to Obama, he suggests that regardless of what either of them say or do (Jay Z contends that he supports causes he has a personal interest in), because of who they are and how they got to where they are professionally (hard work, grind, bootstraps, etc., etc.), they represent the best examples of hope and possibility for young people.  You'll get the point within the first 10-15 minutes of the interview.



What becomes clear from the interview is that Belafonte and Jay Z are speaking very different languages in terms of understanding the meaning of 'social justice' - at least the fullness of what that means to Belafonte.  Those who have followed Belafonte's career know that he's not talking about 'charity' and/or how much money one donates to different causes, although that's important.  He's talking about the responsibility of people who have greater levels of public influence (i.e. celebreties, entertainers, etc.) to use that very celebrity and influence in support of justice, and in opposition to racism, sexism, war and other forms of oppression. He's talking about their responsibility to speak truth to power.

Harry Belafonte realized this during the early stages of his career.  He's spoken at length about Paul Robeson's powerful example in this regard, as well as the examples of numerous white entertainers who have used their celebrity to publicly push social justice-related causes.  His autobiography, My Song: A Memoir, and the companion film documentary, Sing Your Song, are great resources for more of this background.

Here's a relatively recent interview with Harry Belafonte, where he elaborates on his own sense of responsibility for advancing social justice causes...



Most recently, during an interview at a Trayvon Martin-related and youth-led protest in Florida, Harry Belafonte explained the context of his 2012 remarks (particularly that they were not intended as a direct attack on Jay Z and Beyoncé), and elaborated on the way other entertainers received his comments in the spirit in which they were offered, and have renewed and/or intensified their commitment to the kinds of struggles Belafonte speaks of.  Moreover, he affirms that he doesn't think the media is the place where he and Jay Z should be having this exchange, and welcomed an opportunity to talk with Jay Z one-on-one so they can get to a shared understanding and appreciation of one another's perspectives.  This is consistent with Belafonte's long-standing practice of working hand-in-hand with youth and others to share lessons and continue the struggle.

I absolutely hope this happens.  There's a great deal of unrealized potential within the African American entertainment community (as with entertainers more broadly), and a deep and unnecessary schism between some among our younger generations and our elders. Both Harry Belafonte and Jay Z have the level of influence among each of these groups to bridge this gap. Of course there are many people who know this, and will continue working to prevent that from happening. May truth and justice win, and may we all do our part to bridge this gap.

When it's all said and done, I appreciate the example Harry Belafonte has always shown, and his consistent leadership and activism in support of justice for African people.


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Are African-American Men ‘Invisible?’

President Obama recently called on the nation to rally around young African-American men. But is that easier said than done? Listen as host Michel Martin asks a panel of dads on NPR (approximately 18 minutes)...

  • Eugene Robinson, Writer for The Washington Post, and father of two
  • Leonard Pitts, Columnist for The Miami Herald, and father of five
  • Gregory Ellison, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling at Emory University, and father of three

The transcript is also available at NPR.