My son entered the world almost exactly three years ago. A few hours before he was born, an earthquake struck, making the wheels of my IV pole slide along the side of my bed in our second-floor hospital room. Four days overdue and about to make his entrance, my son was already shaking the world with his presence, his beauty, his joy.
The quake jolted my husband and mom awake from their half-slumber on the uncomfortable bench beside my bed. It was around 4 a.m., and their presence comforted me. My mom wasn’t at my daughter’s birth, since we were living overseas. This time, I wanted her to be able to know her second grandchild from his first breath.
I’d been dreaming of a son for a decade. As a young adult, whenever I daydreamed about motherhood, the baby in my arms was a little boy. Parenting a girl was heavenly, but now I was eager to hold in my arms a precious little reflection of my husband. My heart leapt at the thought.
When a child comes into the world, we pour not only our love, but our hopes and dreams into them. We wonder: Will he be a deep thinker like his dad? Extroverted like his mom? Will he be an accountant like my father-in-law, his namesake? Will he run and climb and play, or be sweet and calm like his dad was as a toddler?
This inclination to wrap our babies in our hopes and dreams is universal. Moms of every class, color, and creed close their eyes as they breathe in their child’s scent and silently pray, envisioning a future for them where they can freely bloom into exactly who they were created to be.
But for many of our children, the world is not nurturing or kind. Parenting Black and brown babies means living with the reality that, as each birthday passes, our children somehow drift from being “cute” in society’s eyes, to being seen as a “threat.” Week after week, we are traumatized over and over by headlines that another life has been taken by the very forces whose stated mission is “to protect and serve.”
This statement alone can cause deep division. “Not your babies,” you want to reassure me. “That could never happen to those precious cuties.” I’ve talked to loved ones who genuinely believe that, no matter someone’s color, they won’t be in danger if they comply with police orders.
To be clear, breaking the law is not cause for execution. Compliant or not, every life matters.
But what of Elijah McClain, who was simply walking home?
Or Sandra Bland, who failed to signal a lane change?
Or Rayshard Brooks, who fell asleep at the drive-thru?
Or Breonna Taylor, who was asleep in her bed?
Or Botham Jean, who was home eating ice cream?
Or Daunte Wright, who was driving with an air freshener?
I wish this list was exhaustive, but it can go on. And on. And on.
Each of these men and women was once a child. And many more were still children when they died. Minutes before Derek Chuavin’s guilty verdict was read, police shot and killed 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant in Columbus, Ohio. Last month, 13-year-old Adam Toledo was killed with his hands up.
Ma’Khia. Somebody’s daughter. Adam. Somebody’s son. A baby who had her father’s nose or his mother’s dimples. A baby whose first word was “dada,” who loved Cheerios, and whose first wobbly steps are forever engraved in her mother’s memory.
A baby just like yours.
As George Floyd neared death, he called out to his deceased mama.
He sought comfort in the thought of the woman who had given him life, who had nurtured him, who had tucked him in at night and dreamt of the man he’d one day become.
The day after his death, the police report read: “Man dies after medical incident during police interaction.” It stated that “officers were able to get the [forgery] suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance […] he died a short time later. At no time were weapons of any type used by anyone involved in this incident.”
No mention of the 8 minutes and 46 seconds with a knee on his neck, as bystanders begged for Chauvin to relent.
Imagine what the narrative would be if we didn’t have a video of George Floyd’s death.
Does it cause you to wonder what other narratives we may be hearing, about other people’s sons and daughters, that may need to be questioned?
A single piece of writing can’t possibly challenge our upbringings, our experiences, and everything we think we know about race and policing.
But I hope it can remind us of our shared humanity.
I hope that when another precious life becomes a hashtag (oh, how I wish this were an “if” and not a “when”), you’ll allow your mother-heart to break alongside the parents of the deceased. I hope you’ll remember that at one time, he wrapped his tiny fingers around his mother’s for the first time, making her heart burst with joy. I hope you’ll step into that mother’s pain, and even be inspired to stand up and fight as you would for your own child.
The earth shook when my son entered the world. His sparkling eyes and effortless joy have changed my life forever. I can’t promise him that my every dream for him will come true. As he grows, he will slowly become aware of the systems that devalue his life and threaten his thriving. But my hope is that he will also see people from all walks of life refusing to let those systems go unchallenged, fighting until Black lives truly matter on our streets, in our justice system, and in our world.