"Dear Son": 4 Moms on Raising Black Boys in America

Every mother was summoned, as the popular protest sign says. Here, a few share the hopes and fears they have for their sons growing up as Black boys in America.

Raising Black Sons
Photo: Courtesy Kay Hillman

When does a young Black boy transition from a cute kid to a potential threat? At what age does he start being judged purely by his skin color and not his character? On February 23rd Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed, 25-year-old Black man, was shot dead while jogging in a neighborhood near Brunswick, Georgia, after being pursued by two white men who said they assumed he was a burglar. On May 6th, Indianapolis police shot and killed Sean Reed, a 21-year-old Black man, after a car chase. On May 25th George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died in Minneapolis after a white police officer pressed his knee to Floyd's neck for over eight minutes, to restrain him for allegedly possessing a counterfeit twenty dollar bill. He was laid to rest beside his mother in Houston on Tuesday.

These recent events have energized Americans across the country to protest against police brutality and racism. Although these are hardly the first race protests America has seen — the current Black Lives Matter movement was started by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi in 2013 in response to George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the killing of Trayvon Martin — it appears the movement is approaching a tipping point in a battle against racism that is older than this nation itself.

And who's often finding themselves at the center of the movement's resurgence right now? Mothers. Those who felt "summoned when George Floyd called for his mama," as the popular protest signs say, and those who fear for their own sons' safety in a country hellbent on harming them.

Mothers of Black children carry with them a fear that their kids' names could be the next headline. That wearing a hoodie, playing with a toy gun, or going for a jog could one day get their son killed. Inequality and anti-Blackness in America stands as a threat to every Black person's potential to succeed in life; more pointedly, especially for Black men, it stands as a threat to their life. And mothers know, no matter how diligently they work to protect their children, it may not be enough to ensure their safety against brutality.

Here, four mothers share letters to their Black sons to explain how they are processing recent events, and what they wish for their children as they grow.

Raising Black Sons

Valencya Thompson

School Psychologist and Founder of Write The Vision Creative Works and Fertility Hope Ministry, Age 37

Her son: Josiah, 8 months old

Dear Son,

You are too young to know the ugly in this world, but the reality is the systems you were born to exist within do not see your youth at all. At five and three years old, your brother and sister are nearly full grown and ripe to be hated. At eight months, you are not far behind them.

If I could, I would keep you protected forever from all hurt. If I could, I would avoid having this very conversation over the coming years. But, today, this is reality. The truth about ongoing injustice is spreading. There is a shaking of the foundations in our nation and throughout our world. It appears we are on the brink of a revolution this generation has never seen. I pray change is on the horizon. Until then, Daddy and I will continue to nurture, protect and equip you. This, I vow for as long as we breathe. You are the gift. Your life is the goal. I pray for discernment on how to educate you for each phase of life as a Black male in a cruel world. I will fight for you when you do not have the words. I will hold you when you feel weak. I am bound to pour into your lives with such great fervor and conviction, you will have no reason to believe any lies the system tells. You are fearfully and wonderfully made! Your lives matter to God and to us. I pray the love we pour into you will be so abundant it provides the courage to love yourselves and others — even when the world feels too cold. Even when faced with adversity. Even if it has taken the rest of the world a little longer to see exactly what we see.

Your Dad wants you to know you have the power to take control of your destiny. Do so through getting an education and building businesses to establish an economic base. Act as a man with integrity. Exercise humanity and do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Live well!



Raising black sons in america

Christina Lewis

Executive Administrative Assistant, Age 39

Her son: Caeleb, age 20

Dear Son,

I know this world that I brought you into is often painful. The things that you have had to see and experience would cause anyone to ask if this world is worth bringing life into. After centuries of injustice (I can’t believe I’m saying centuries), your generation should be living freely in a world of equality by now, but you are not. When you were a beautiful baby in my arms, I never thought that one day you would have to protest, let alone witness a police officer beating a protestor right in front of you. For that and so much more, I’m sorry. Although I rebelled against my family’s ignorant beliefs when I chose to marry the person I love, who happened to be a Black man, that wasn’t enough.

I brought you to New York City so you could freely embrace who you are and celebrate the beauty of diverse cultures. Still, I feel I failed because I should have educated myself better so I could understand what exactly the Black community has had to face. I admit that there are areas that I have been blind and ignorant in. So, I’m owning up and working on changing that.

I want you to know that although life doesn’t seem fair and you often feel like a single drop in this huge lake, even a drop causes ripples that spread far and wide. You are not helpless nor hopeless. You are powerful. You matter. Your voice is strong and resonating. You are so resilient and that is what enemies of real liberty are afraid of. So whatever God puts in your heart to do to bring the long overdue change, do it. He’s in you and He’s backing you. Your father and I are backing you. And I will fight right along with you and the Black community until you, your father, and your sisters can walk and live as freely as I have.



Raising Black Sons

Elisha Sempa

Social Value Manager, Age 40

Her son: Micah, age 7

Dear Son,

I love you with all my heart. You are a joy, handsome, talented, and so full of hope and destiny. Your view of the world is still so innocent but as you grow, I know you will wrestle with life’s bigger questions.

Typing this letter, I smile when I think of you, but I wish that I did not have to write this at all. The current stirring in the world is causing an absolute resolve and stirring in my heart too. Whilst Daddy and I do everything we can to lay a firm foundation in you, I also recognize that we have to equip you for the world you will one day navigate.

The recent murder of George Floyd has mobilized people around the world to demand justice be served. This is the most recent, highly publicized case but what makes it even more heartbreaking is that this is not new, nor is it isolated. It has awoken in me the desire to use my voice and push for change where we live because racism and injustice will never be OK.

Black boys and men face injustices every single day that are fueled by the same ignorance, mistrust, hatred and fear that killed George Floyd. You won’t know what this means yet, but it pains me at the thought of your skin color being weaponized or criminalized. I also understand that not everyone will view you as beautiful, like I do.

I realize I haven’t always challenged racism even in the small micro aggressions like I should and for that, I am sorry. Honestly, it does get tiring. However, I promise to never be too tired to oppose the mindsets and systems that try to block your ability to progress. We commit to do all that we can to ensure that you can breathe easier and be and do all that God created you for.

Love you forever.

Raising Black Sons

Kay Hillman

Business and Social Media Marketing Strategist, Age 28

Her son: King, age 4 months (also pictured at top)

Dear Son,

Today the world watched another Black person be killed by a cop.

I am tired...

Every day I turn on the news or scroll through social media and I see my people crying out for help. We are suffering. We want justice. We want to be treated with respect.

We have been dealing with the genocide of the Black community since we were first dragged to this country in chains. The very ground we walk on is filled with the blood of our ancestors, and here we are in 2020 still being killed in the streets.

I am exhausted....

Son, my vision is that you grow up and become a strong and proud Black man, just like your father.

I want you to leave your home and not worry about any harm coming your way. I want you to walk the street and no one clutch their purse tighter or cross the road when you walk by. I want you to be treated with respect and dignity.

I don’t want you to wonder if the police will protect you. I want you to be able to go for a run. I want you to be safe in your own home. I watch you and pray over you every night.

If I can leave you with a little advice, remember this: Life is not what you're dealt, it's what you create. Don't let the color of your skin be what holds you back, let it be what pushes you forward. Always continue to gain knowledge. Knowledge itself is not power but the use of knowledge is. Use it.

Son, it’s not easy being Black in America, but it is an HONOR to be Black. Be PROUD to be Black, my beautiful baby boy. I am fighting for you today and every day, because your Black life matters.

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