Dear Diary,

Am I the only person in America who isn’t applauding the Baltimore Mom of the Year who disciplined her son on national television? Instead of clapping, I used my hands to wipe away the tears streaming down my face. I cried, because Tonya Graham must worry about her son losing his life to gun violence—at the hands of police officers or other young men who look like her beautiful boy in a city plagued with poverty and violence. I cried, because her son most likely isn’t receiving the high quality education my nephews obtain everyday in a school with highly effective teachers, a library stocked with books fresh off the presses—which they read at advanced levels, and an array of afterschool programs to keep them off the streets and involved in activities that prepare them for college and the workforce. I cried, because Tonya Graham’s son, and thousands of brown boys like him, aren’t getting the opportunities they need to succeed in a world that often sets them up for failure because of the color of their skin or the zip codes in which they reside.

The problem reaches back further than Tonya’s arm that slapped her son. I won’t judge her for doing what she did—a slap to the head is far better than a bullet to the brain. The impact is significant, possibly lifesaving. But I ask the question, what impact is the community, as a whole, making on Tonya, a single mother of six children?

I’m sure she is doing everything she can to keep her son on the right track, but sometimes, no mater how much we try to properly parent, our kids veer off the straight and narrow. Our children need to be steered and embraced by a pastor, teacher, social worker, mentor, mother and father—who may not be in the home but is in the lives of his children. We must prioritize our kids and propel their needs to the forefront of policy discussions. Just last week, a legislator, who heard an African American high school student talk about his single mother working two jobs, turned to me and said, she doesn’t care about her kids. I quickly jumped to her defense and responded, I’m sure she loves her son very much, so much so that she sacrifices her time with him to make enough money to feed and clothe him.

We must work to get people to “get” it. Get why we must break cycles of poverty. Get why we must push for adequate and fair school funding. Get why we must eliminate racial disparities.

Yes, racism exists, but do we blame another race for the issues we face as Black Americans? I posted my opinion on my Facebook page and an unnamed friend remarked, The responsibility here lies with white society, and the need to acknowledge racial bias and privilege and then dismantle racism. Although I agree with the person’s points about innocent people getting killed by officers over the years, I can’t wait for someone else to solve a problem that could result in the loss of my nephews’ lives. I can’t tell them it’s OK to throw rocks, disrespect authority figures or commit crimes that increase their risk of being victims of police brutality. I can’t debate whether or not people should peacefully protest or destructively riot. I can’t judge a mom who did her best to save her son’s life and knocked some sense into him. And as my friend Crystal prolifically responded in that Facebook thread, I can’t think my parenting style is better than someone else’s (We don’t have to agree with the methods of how someone raises their kids. Just because we don’t agree does not mean we’re right. We don’t know the circumstances a parent has to go through to maintain their household…I’d rather the church look down on Sister Graham’s cussing and slapping then look down on her son’s casket any day.)

So what can I do? I can be a voice. I can advocate for our smallest citizens—our children, children who are too young to vote yet impacted by the actions or inactions of government. I can speak up.

Speak up like Cindy Mendoza, who runs a local parenting group, Pittsburgh Brown Mamas. She assists young mothers with developing personal templates for effective parenting within a socially supportive environment.

Speak up like Robert Saunders, who founded a nonprofit aimed at eliminating the “school-to-prison pipeline,” a disturbing trend where students are funneled out of public schools and into criminal justice systems. Through his program From Street Corners to Wall Street, he’s teaching young people to become investment bankers not drug dealers.
Speak up like Jason Rivers, who lost his brother to gun violence and works to prevent this from happening to others. He manages the We Promise program, which empowers African-American young men to take ownership of their future and obtain The Pittsburgh Promise scholarship—a scholarship that only 139 of the 583 Black male graduates in 2013 qualified for.

So how will you speak up for all the lives we’ve lost? All the injustices being committed? Will you applaud the Baltimore mom who according to my friend Crystal negates stereotypes and proves that Black folks do care about their kids and will snatch them up in an instant? Will you cry? Will you pray? Or will you do something to spark change? Speak up for all the young black boys whose lives matter more than society will ever know. Come together as a community and make our collective voices heard.

About The Author

Vlog Mom/DFTM Creator

Not long ago, Heather Hopson hosted a television show in the Cayman Islands. Today, she's back home writing a different kind of story as a new mom. In her 15 years working as a professional journalist, this by far is her best assignment! Growing up, she dreamed of becoming Oprah Winfrey. She was the features editor for her school’s newspaper and a teen talk show host for her city’s most popular radio station. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Michigan State University. After graduation, she worked as a television producer and reporter at CBS, NBC and Fox affiliates throughout the U.S. Instead of heading to Chicago to join Ms. Winfrey on her set, she bought a plane ticket to the Cayman Islands instead. She arrived five days before a category five hurricane! She lived in paradise for seven years, hosted an award-winning television show and traveled the globe with a government delegation. She also served on the board of directors for Big Brothers Big Sisters and spearheaded a Send a Kid to Camp campaign. Then, she relocated to Washington, D.C. to obtain a teaching certification and instruct 8th grade reading at a high needs middle school. She later returned to her hometown of Pittsburgh, PA to raise her daughter Caitlynn, now 4-years-old. During her 10-month-stint as a stay-at-home mom, Caitlynn inspired her to create this blog, and Diary of a First Time Mom was born on Mother’s Day 2012. Two years later, she expanded the family to include 20+ writers. Currently, Heather serves as the communications director at Allies for Children. In addition, she is the owner of Motor Mouth Multimedia, which ranked #49 in Startup Nation’s Home-Based 100 Competition sponsored by Discover Card and Sam’s Club. Recently, The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments selected Heather to receive an Emerging Black Artist award to develop Diary of a First Time Mom.

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