Sometimes I wonder if, had it not been for women and children, would there ever be real change in the world?
Women in Liberia were responsible for stopping civil war there. Women and especially children were the ones who faced fire hoses and dogs in Birmingham, Alabama, as the South tried to hang onto segregation. College students endured amazing humiliation and some pain as they defiantly sat at lunch counters in the South, demanding to be served. Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of a bus; Fannie Lou Hamer demanded that there be justice for all, especially and including, black people. Ida B. Wells Barnett fought to wake up a complacent and disinterested Congress about the horror of lynching in this country.
And mothers, heartbroken over the deaths of their children, have been a force to contend with, over and over.
Mamie Till, the mother of Emmett Till, refused to let America miss out on what a lynched human being – who happened to be her son – looked like. She demanded that her son be sent home to Chicago to be buried; it is said that the stench of his deceased body, though it was in a coffin, could be smelled from blocks away as he was brought home for burial. That didn’t matter to Mamie, though it must have broken her heart. This was her baby. He had been lynched. Someone, no, everyone, would know …
It was those things that I thought about as I listened to a woman this past weekend in Valdosta, Georgia. There was a rally held in that city to energize and mobilize people to help fight for justice in the case of Kendrick Johnson. Johnson’s body was found in a rolled up wrestling mat earlier this year. Officials said it was an accident, that Johnson apparently died while trying to retrieve a shoe, but his parents never bought that explanation and pushed for an independent autopsy, which revealed that the young man, only 17 years old, had died of non-accidental blunt force trauma. The rallies are being held to draw attention to the case, and to inspire law enforcement agencies, including the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, to open an investigation in the case.
At that rally, a young mother approached Ruby Sales, who is keeping tab on these suspicious deaths of young black men. This mother, who had driven to Valdosta from someplace in central Florida, told a horrendous story of what happened to her teen son. He was shot by police officers, she said, and was left on the side of the road to die.
He didn’t die.
What sticks out for me is this woman’s courage, tenacity and determination to get justice. She is a single mother. Her funds are limited. She doesn’t have a high-powered attorney to plead her case for her.
All she has is her mother’s love, not unlike that of Mamie Till.
These women are what the Bible calls “Rachel, weeping for her children.” Specifically, the verse, which is found in the Book of Jeremiah, chapter 31, says, “A voice in heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping. Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
How many mothers are “out there.” seeking justice? How many young mothers are fighting the scorn of a system which basically blames victims, too often, for what happens to them at the hands of law enforcement? How many mothers are “mourning and weeping” because their children are suffering, or have died, and there has been no justice?
I realized, as I listened to this woman in Valdosta, that my role as pastor has expanded some. My heart bled for her as I listened. Justice in this country is not a given; indeed, many people have tasted injustice, made all the more painful and difficult to endure because we exist in a country that promises that there is “liberty and justice” for all.
Not so much.
As she talked, I stopped taking notes and looked at her eyes. I saw “motherpain,” a term I have just made up, but which is not a new phenomenon. She needed strength for this journey, a journey she is not going to stop, no matter the barriers and frustrations.
I prayed with her, and hugged her. Her journey and quest for justice will be long and difficult.
She is not the only mother fighting for her child. She is not the only mother who will, again, fight for justice in a world which is so reluctant to mete it out. Our world is bent on saving the status quo, which is not, in the long run, all that concerned about justice for us common folk.
So, the mothers and children will continue to be the Davids of this world, going against Goliath, with so few resources, but hearts full of love. They will be going up against a society where the Prison Industrial Complex would rather they sit down; they need bodies to fill their new prisons for profit. Justice isn’t an issue. Profit-making is.
And so, I’ll continue to pray and offer hugs to these women as I listen to their stories, functioning in an expanded pastoral role. I am learning that one does not have to be in a church …to be a pastor . Mothers and children will make change in our world, but it won’t be without experiencing a fair amount of loneliness and fatigue, and, probably, some harsh criticism from people who will want them to go and sit down and be quiet. They will wonder why God has allowed their situation to happen, much less linger on. They will need a pastor.
Because for sure, they won’t stop fighting. They can’t. They musn’t. “Motherpain,” accompanied by “motherlove” will drive them. And at the end of the day, somebody is going to hear their cries for justice.
A candid observation …