By Dr. Karsonya Wise Whitehead 

As painful as it is to admit, there is a dark cloud that hangs over our city. It is thick with our pain and made heavy by our tears. It is a very subtle reminder that maybe some burdens are so heavy, we cannot carry them alone. It is hard being a Black mother in America and harder still being a Black mother in Baltimore City. I have come to the realization that not everyone is built to withstand the emotional price that black mothers have to pay in this city. We must shoulder incredible pain while helping our children have moments of unspeakable joy. From the first day we drop our children off in a school that is not welcoming or bright or beautiful, we immediately learn how to swallow our pain, throw our back against the wind, and do what we can to make it through. We have both an unrelenting fierceness and an unshakable sense of foreboding. We understand more than anyone else that this city does not love or value or even appreciate our children. We know that no one is coming to save our children and that we must do all we can to hold them up, to lift them higher, to help them to see the genius of who they are. For some of us, our goal is to get our children home safe every night; for others, we just want to get them out of this city to a place of safety and refuge.

Dr. Kaye Wise Whitehead (Courtesy Photo)

As a researcher and a mom, I spend my days going through this city, visiting schools, talking to people, and trying to get a sense of what makes Baltimore tick. I want to know who we are and who we hope to become. I want to be able to speak our truth, articulate our pain, and then make some sense out of it. I want to be able to take this truth and tell it to my sons. Baltimore City teaches you how to have grit and testicular fortitude. It forces you to be resilient, to have intrinsic motivation, and to be able to see beyond this narrative to what you want to be on the other side. I want to write it across their heart. I want them to go places I have never been and engage in conversations that I will never have. I want them to be happy and healthy and whole. I want so much for them but as a Black mother in Baltimore City what I want more than anything else is for them to survive, to live, to see another day.

I thought about this last week as Baltimore City commemorated the 2nd Annual City Schools Peace and Remembrance Day. It was a day to remember the children who did not live to get to the end of the school year. Seniors who will never graduate and seventh graders who will never go to high school. We stopped to remember the first grader who will never learn to color or the junior who will never attend prom. We stopped to stand still for just a moment to weep for what we have lost. It was a moment that was painful and hard. It was a moment that calls on us to do more because this city is dangerous, and right now, it is out of control.

Last year, nine names were read; this year, Dr. Sonja Santelisis, the Baltimore City Schools CEO, read 12 names, and after each name, a bell was rung. Twelve names. Twelve bells. Twelve children who lost their life due to senseless gun violence. Nikki Giovanni once said we must invent the future through our blood and tears, through all this sadness. Here in Baltimore City, as Black mothers, we are now being called to do just that. We must take our pain and turn into a future promise for our children. We must take our mourning and turn it into a movement. We must partner with Mothers of Murdered Sons and Daughters, Inc., the Baltimore Ceasefire, and the Baltimore Algebra Project, to name just a few, and help them to do the hard work. Sisters, as painful as this may sound, no one is coming to save us. We must save ourselves because these are our children. We love them. We see them. And now we must lean in and protect them.   

Let this roll call of Baltimore City school children who died be the last one that is ever read in this city: Taylor Hayes, 7; Montrell Mouzon, 14; Markell Hendricks, 16; Cameron Anderson, 17; Mekhi Anderson, 17; Lamont Green, 17; Michael Handy, 17; Corey Moseley, 17; Des’Mon Anderson, 18; Marcus Brown, 18; Damian Claridy, 18; Markise Jackson, 19.

Dr. Karsonya Wise Whitehead ([email protected]; Twitter: @kayewhitehead) is the #blackmommyactivist and an associate professor of communication and African and African American studies at Loyola University Maryland. She is the host of “Today With Dr. Kaye” on WEAA 88.9 FM and the author of the forthcoming “Letters to My Black Sons II: The Birth of the Black Mommy Activist.” She lives in Baltimore City with her husband and their two sons.

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