After her son Michael Brown was tragically gunned down by police in Ferguson, Mo., Lesley McSpadden could have crumbled. Instead she refused to let that devastating personal tragedy — and a national flashpoint on racial violence — destroy her.
Emboldened and unbowed, McSpadden is making her voice heard by running for the Ferguson City Council in 2019. In doing so, McSpadden joins other black mothers striving to make a big impact on racial justice by taking matters into their own hands, politically and spiritually.
She is joined in her political aspirations by, among others, Lucia “Lucy” McBath, whose son was fatally shot in 2012; she was moved to run after her teenage son Jordan Davis, who is black, was shot and killed in Jacksonville, Florida, by a white man who said the teen’s music was too loud.. She handily won the Democratic nomination in Georgia’s 6th congressional district in July and is now neck-and-neck with Rep. Karen Hendel, who only took the seat after the most expensive House race in history (against Jon Ossoff) in June 2017. The district is considered 14.7 percent more Republican than the national average.
And, though she is not runnings for office, Sybrina Fulton — whose son, Trayvon Martin, was confronted, shot and killed while walking home — has dedicated her life to social change after her son became a powerful symbol for the Black Lives Matter movement. Her work includes advocacy for gun control and a retreat for other mothers whose lives have been touched by the violent deaths of their children.
At the Million Hoodie March on March 21, 2012, in New York City, I held the microphone up to Sybrina as she spoke from the heart, as only a mother can. “Our son was not committing any crime. Our son is your son. I want you guys to stand up for justice and stand up for what’s right,’’ she told the crowd.
Women like Sybrina, Lucy and Lesley endured with dignity and poise, despite being thrust into the glare of a national spotlight while grieving for their devastating losses. They are truly the unsung heroes in the struggle against racial violence and police brutality. They are determined to make sure no other black mothers and children suffer the same sorrowful fate.
And even as they are speaking truth to power, they are also ready to be in power. They want to change the dynamics of government by taking their rightful seats at the table where laws are hammered out and critical decisions affecting their underrepresented communities are debated.
If Lesley wins a seat on the Ferguson City Council, she will become another recent member of color on a formerly majority-white council, helping to oversee the police department responsible for her son’s death four years ago this month.
A win for either would be a real, and not just a symbolic, win for all black members of their communities, giving them hope that their voices are heard and their lives do matter. What could be more effective, more gut-wrenchingly honest, than the wise, experienced thoughts of a City Council member whose young son died at the hands of the law? What could be more symbolic than a woman whose son was killed by a racist taking a seat in a newly-Democratic House to provide a strong, passionate voice for gun control on Capitol Hill and a leader on racial equity issues?
I’ve stood with McSpadden and Fulton — as well as too many other moms and grandmothers — as they told the world what it was like to have their young sons shot dead. I’ve seen both Lesley and Sybrina behind closed doors in their personal anguish.
They have already overcome so much. After her son’s death, McSpadden got her high school diploma, wrote a book (“Tell the Truth & Shame the Devil: The Life, Legacy, and Love of My Son Michael Brown”) and testified in support of a police body camera bill in Missouri. On April 23 this year, she spoke at a panel discussion on police violence at Harvard University, saying, “We have to get behind people who look like us and get them in these elected seats so that they can really do what’s right by the community, and I’m going to start with me by running for the Ferguson City Council.’’
In the years after her son’s death, McBath turned her pain into power and her struggle into activism by joining the Mississippi chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and becoming a strong-voiced advocate for gun reform.
We need more people like McSpadden and McBath who, in working to right wrongs where they live, can do right by all of us.
Children are often told to listen to their mothers. There’s a reason for that: Moms often know what’s best for their kids and will do anything to protect them. It is time we listen to these mothers, who are now trying to protect all of our children.