Free-ish: While Celebrating Black History Month, I Still Fear for My Black Sons

I didn’t want kids. Yeah, I said it… I never wanted children. It wasn’t from a lack of desire to be a mom, but more from a nagging, heartbreaking fear. I was afraid of bringing a beautiful, innocent baby into this cruel world; a baby who might have to endure even a little of what I did.

Nearly 40 years ago, like most 5-year olds, I was excited, a bit nervous, but eager to start kindergarten. Little did I know the hate that was waiting for me inside that building.

Back then, we prayed in school before lunch. All the kids would line up and hold hands. As I reached out to grab the young boy’s arm in front of me, he immediately snatched it away. He said, “My parents say you’re dirty and the dirt will rub off on me if I touch you. Get away!”

Confused and a little sad I went on about my day. On the playground kids ran away from me yelling, “Oreo!” I thought, What did a cookie have to do with me? I ran home, feelings crushed. My parents explained that it wasn’t “me” but the color of my skin the kids didn’t like.

Until that day at 5 years old, I never saw my differences. I never noticed that my Black father and white mother were different from other families.

It didn’t stop there. No, it was year after year of not fitting in, nights spent crying myself to sleep asking God, “Why me?” I would often get mad at my parents for bringing me into this world, knowing that I would face this heartache. It was then I made a pact with myself that I wouldn’t allow this happen to another child. I wouldn’t do it.

I got married relatively young, to my college sweetheart. My husband came from a big family and always dreamed of one day having his own, but he accepted my wishes, even though I never explained why. After 12 years of marriage, and 18 years together, I finally decided that we would try for a child. At 36 years old, I had a beautiful baby boy. I beamed with pride as strangers approached with sweet compliments. “He is so cute!” “He is so well behaved!” “Look at that beautiful curly hair!”

About a month after his birth, a news story flashed across the TV screen. It was the murder trial of George Zimmerman for the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. A chill went through my spine, fear setting in. As I continued to watch, I learned that this young Black boy had gone to the store to buy Skittles. He never made it home to his mom. The tears sprang from my eyes uncontrollably as I held my baby boy tighter. The paralyzing fear overwhelmed me. What had I done? What did the future hold for this beautiful baby?

Two years later we welcomed another baby boy, and while I enjoyed strangers doting over both children, I found myself more skeptical of their comments. Wondering, in the back of my mind, when my sons’ cuteness would wear off and my babies would instead be viewed as a threat to some.

Why haven’t we been able to shake this ever-present American fear of Blackness? While Black people are no longer physically enslaved we are still bound by society. We are free-ish.

All moms worry about their children, but as Black moms, our worries go beyond protecting them from bullies, wondering if they will fit in or feeling nervous at their many firsts. Black women fear that someone may want to inflict real harm, even kill our boys just because of the color of their skin. Thoughts constantly consume our minds: Will they be gunned down just for walking or jogging down the street? If they get stopped by the police for having a broken tail light, will they make it home alive? The questions go on and on.

As I was saying my nightly prayer, “Dear God, please form a hedge of protection around my boys, please don’t take them from me before they’ve had a chance to live their lives,” I had a thought about Black History Month and all the heroes we celebrate. I imagined Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s mother worrying about her son and perhaps reciting a similar prayer for his safety. I can picture Coretta Scott King trying to shield her own babies from the cruel world they were being bought up in. The grief that consumed Mamie Till after the death of her 14-year-old son Emmett Till and her courage to have an open casket, so the world could see what his murderers had done to his small body. I can see Sojourner Truth paralyzed with fear about bringing her son into this world, eventually fleeing slavery with her infant daughter and fighting in court so that her son might be free-ish.

Then I’m drawn to those current-day mothers making history right now — still fighting for their sons and the freedom of other young Black men. The so-called Mothers of the Movement including Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, who fought to criminalize the harmful use of chokeholds, and Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, who has worked tirelessly to reduce gun violence, running for political office and continuing to be a source of support for other mothers.

I’m not mad I broke the pact I had with myself. My babies have taught me to be a better person, to experience a love like I have never felt before. Motherhood has fine-tuned my sense of purpose. I am heartbroken that after all of these years, we are still fighting for freedom, for acceptance in this world. The only thing I can do is continue to pray for the protection of all Black boys and men, that the rest of the world will come to know them the same way their mothers do … so, no other man is left in the street, using his final breaths calling for his mama.

Add these children’s books starring boys of color to your kids’ bookshelves. 

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