Black mothers, wailing …

This weekend, I realized anew that the work of justice … never ends.

It is what I thought as I observed the parents, relatives and friends of a young black man, Kendrick Johnson, who gathered to show solidarity and a resolve to fight to bring to justice the people whom they believed murdered him.

Even as the anger and angst over the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin simmers in this country, the shooting and killing of black youth  continues to balloon with very little attention given to this growing crisis.

Early this year, 17-year old Kendrick Johnson was found dead, rolled up in a wrestling mat in Valdosta, Georgia.  An early report said that he had died of asphyxiation while trying to retrieve a shoe from that mat.

Johnson’s parents, however, never bought the story and in June, had his body exhumed and a second autopsy performed. The results of that autopsy said that the youth died from “non-accidental blunt force trauma.”  They are seeking justice for their son, and have asked the United States Justice Department to re-open the investigation into Kendrick’s death. So far, they say, the answer to their request has been “no.”

Johnson’s parents are looking for support and assistance as they seek justice for their son, much like the parents of Trayvon Martin have done. To that end, they have called veteran civil rights activist Ruby Sales, founder and director of Spirit House, to help raise awareness and action on their son’s behalf.

Sales sees an alarming trend of black youth being killed under suspicious circumstances, and law enforcement either being involved in the killings or turning a deaf ear to the cries of the parents of the youth for justice. She gets calls on almost a daily basis from distressed parents whose children, mostly sons, have been killed and have not been able to get assistance or answers from law enforcement or local government.

Sales and the co-director of Spirit House, Cheryl Blankenship, went to Valdosta, Georgia this week for a rally that the community held for Kendrick. I was there as well, to record what was going on. Similar rallies have been being held consistently in Georgia since the results of the second Johnson autopsy were made public. Even as they stood in the hot sun at Johnson’s rallies, other mothers, hearing of SpiritHouse Project’s work, came to Sales. Many had tears in their eyes; all had stories that were hard to stomach. “Since this all happened,” said a young mother whose son was shot by police officers in Florida and left on the side of the road for three hours, “I have developed seizures. But I can’t stop. That’s my baby. I can’t stop.”

Her son did not die in spite of being left, but has been detained in a jail for the past 17 months. He has been unable to get needed medical care, stemming from his gunshot wounds, which he and his family requested, and was not allowed to complete his schoolwork so that he could graduate with his class this spring. Before being shot, he was a good student and promising athlete. He planned to go to college.  Now, said his distraught mother, he doesn’t even know when he’ll have a trial, much less get out of jail.

Many of the parents of the dead youth do not have financial resources to hire attorneys. Some have public defenders who, they say, have shown little to no interest in their sons’ cases.

Sales hopes that by getting the stories out about these suspicious deaths that not only will be the public be made aware, but will be mobilized to push for justice and also be inspired to offer resources that the parents themselves may not have. 

“These are no more and no less than lynchings,” Sales says. “It’s got to stop.”

Part of Sales’ vision and plan is to train the parents on how to effectively advocate for themselves and for others. “There’s no power in one or two sets of parents complaining about injustice,” she says, “but there is an enormous amount of power in numbers of parents coming together. (Policy makers) might be able to ignore the coffin of one young person; it would be virtually impossible for them to ignore, say, 35 coffins of young people, killed under suspicious circumstances.”

As Sales and Blankenship gather stories from parents, they are planning their next steps, one of which is to get the parents of these youth to Washington, D.C. to make a statement to their lawmakers and the nation about what’s going on.

Standing in the hot sun in Valdosta at the Johnson rally, Sales remembered “Ella’s Song.” Written and composed by Bernice Johnson Reagon, founder of “Sweet Honey in the Rock,” the song says:

We who believe in freedom cannot rest;

We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.

Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ sons,

Is as important as the killing of White men, White mothers’ sons …

We who believe in freedom cannot rest.

“This is important work,” Sales said. “We cannot rest.”


I’ll be tagging along with Sales and Blankenship, recording and writing what we hear and learn.  Any murder is tragic. However, however the growing murder of young Black people represents both a crisis for the Black community as well as for the nation.  As if this is not enough of a travesty, police and coroners dismiss these brutal   lynchings, shootings and beatings as suicides, accidents or acts of self-defense by police or individual vigilantes.

Black mothers crying for their children emit a wail that cannot be ignored. The wailing of Black mothers in this nation is getting louder and louder.

Perhaps we are at another turning point, or perhaps the move to get the stories of these killings out will change the heart of the nation from indifference to action. Perhaps, people of all colors in the nation will realize that none of us can rest until justice is a reality for everyone.

A candid observation … 

Girl Talk: “The Code”

Years ago, I made one of the worst mistakes of my life.  I had a good friend who had a boyfriend, and when they broke up, he and I got together.

We had had nothing going on when they were together, but after they broke up, he would come talk to me and pour his heart out, and I would listen. After a while, he and I started going out, and it ruined my friendship with my friend.

Duh. I didn’t know “the code.”

My mother died when I was quite young, and so there are discussions she and I never had. Had she lived, I am sure that she would have laid “the code” out for me… and I am sure that one of the first things she would have taught me is “thou shalt not date thy friend’s former boyfriend, husband, or love interest.”

I didn’t know.

Thing is, this guy – the one I lost a friend over – was not even CLOSE to being someone I would have picked on my own. I cannot understand what I was thinking – or not thinking. I suppose loneliness might have played a part, but I understand that loneliness is no excuse for breaking “the code.”

As a pastor, and a single pastor at that, I have learned to apply the “girl code” in my work. If I need to talk to a male member of my congregation, I am careful to make sure that when I call, I first talk to the wife or girlfriend, ask how she is doing, tell her why I need to talk to her husband, and then ask if I might speak to him.

It not only is polite and professional to do it that way, it honors “the code.”

Recently, a friend of mine became furious at another friend of mine, because, it seemed, “friend A” was interested in the same guy as was “friend B.” It seems that “friend A” had begun conversations with the guy first, and then “friend B” began talking to him, too. He, of course, talked with and flirted with both, but the aftermath of this little scenario was that now, “friend A” and “friend B” are not talking.


I know …someone will say that unless he has a ring on his finger, its open season, but doesn’t friendship mean something? To me, there is nothing quite as special as a good female friend; good girlfriends are true gifts. It seems to me that way too many of us women lose friends because we violate “the code.”

All this makes me think of pieces of wisdom my mother shared with me while she was alive. One was that if a guy grew up in a home where he saw his father beat his mother, he’ll probably beat you. Another was that you could tell the relationship a guy had with his mother by the way he treats you. And yet another was, “if he played around on your girlfriend, he will play around on you.”

I listened to her, and have to say, her words of wisdom have saved me many a time.

Had she lived long enough to have had the conversation with me about “the code,” I’m sure she would have put it in language I would never have forgotten, and would not have lost my friend over this…guy.  I don’t know where the guy is today, or what he’s doing. My former friend, I must say, is married, has children, and is doing wonderfully well professionally.

I don’t know if any of my female readers are in a situation where you are attracted to a guy that a friend of yours either wants to be in a relationship with or has had a relationship with, but stop before you move. Friends are rubies, precious gems, not easily replaced. Better that you sigh and set your sights elsewhere than to damage or kill a friendship that may never come again.

Thou shalt not destroy a friendship over a guy. A good friend is more than “just a friend.” She’s often a sister, the sister, perhaps, that you never had. A sister-friend tends to “be there” when a guy just cannot relate or understand. Sister-friends are the ones you can call at midnight and pour your heart out to, and they are just there. They tell you, in love, when you’re wrong, they support and celebrate you when you are right. They push for your success, and they carry your burdens when you are “there,” so you absolutely know you are not alone.

They are too precious to lose.

From experience…a candid observation.