Last Words Commentary
I’m from the Deep South and there was a time when the words “I’m going to tell your mother” were the most powerful words to deter any unseemly behavior. Young boys and girls and even grown men and women dreaded the words and found them more paralyzing and motivating to do the right thing than the words of any law enforcement agent.
On Monday, after the death of a fellow Marylander and Baltimore resident, I thought of these powerful words during the rioting and wondered who would have the courage to say them. I watched as a peaceful protest by concerned members of the community was besieged and interrupted by violent rioters, teenagers who sadly destroyed businesses in their beloved city. The Maryland attorney general has not only charged the officers involved with the death of Freddie Gray with manslaughter, but also concluded that his arrest was unwarranted and illegal. (Note: The policemen and woman arrested are by law innocent until proven guilty.) Still my heart was torn, because a young man Freddie is now dead senselessly. A mother is without a son; a twin sister is without a brother, an aunt is without a nephew and a grandmother is without a grandson.
I mention these four women, because in the African American community particularly, women play an enormous role in most households and the rearing of children. This has always been the case in America. But often it is forgotten that African American mothers, like all mothers, have the power to direct and correct their children in ways that even law enforcement cannot.
This was true on Monday, when some young, wayward, African American teenagers took to the streets of Baltimore, rioting and looting local businesses in the name of Freddie Gray. On that day, Americans did not know who Toya Graham was. Graham is the now famous, unemployed, African American mother of six, who learned that her teenage son was among the rioters pelting police with stones in Baltimore. Graham immediately went down to the mall to find her son. Upon finding him, she smacked him several times and took him home. “I was so angry with him that he had made a decision to do some harm to the police officers,” said Graham about her son. She said she did not want her son to “became another Freddie Gray.” Her actions were videotaped by a local news channel and went viral throughout the U.S. media. She was applauded and lauded by mothers everywhere it seemed, for her act of bravery to show the world that she cared about her son.
What a triumph for mothers, and particularly African American mothers, who are often maligned in the press and not recognized for so many children who become successes due to the sacrifice and discipline of their mothers (and fathers).
Old-schoolers in the African American community (anyone born before 1975) can remember how it was and how the times have changed. Often I hear the reframe from African Americans: “There was a time when, if you got into trouble at school or in the neighborhood, your teacher or your neighbor would tell your mother, and when you got home, she would whip you. Then when your father got home, he would whip you. And if you had good grandparents, they would talk to you too.” We recall those days with great nostalgia and I am not condoning beating kids. But today, many mothers have forgotten the awesome power they wield over their kids…particular in a time when poor decisions can lead to an untimely death for black boys and men.
Toya Graham will be remembered along with or as much as the riots of 2015, and she rightly should be. She did something extraordinary; she took us back to a time when we were better as parents, as neighbors, as children, and even as policemen. We were our brother’s keepers and everyone in the community took their roles to heart, knowing that we cannot get through this life without each other. It is clear that America in 2015 has a leak in its boat. But it is clearer that we are all in that boat and all around us is water, so the only other alternative is to drown. Only the foolish man has yet to realize this.
This generation of children is crying out for direction and discipline. Mothers, you have the power to create people,adults who are a reflection of who you are. Show your kids that you care. Discipline them, so that when anyone says “I’m going to tell your mother,” it will be more powerful than any policeman with a gun could ever be. That’s the power of a strong mother. That is the crime deterrent that is lacking today. Maybe Americas should adopt this phrase for every wayward act that we do to each other, knowing that our mothers would be disgraced if they only knew. Toya Graham’s son’s actions were not a reflection of her values and who she was, so she changed his actions immediately. Fortunately, she was brave enough to teach us what we once knew in America: Discipline starts at home. I am almost certain that if we used the threat “I’m going to tell your mother” more often, we would not have to use the threat of police enforcement as often. This I know.