An open letter to Wanda Cooper-Jones, Mother of Ahmaud Arbery
We’ve never met, but I feel that I know you. And you know me. I know your fears. I get your frustrations. I feel your anger. I understand your outrage. I share your heartbreak. And I cry your tears.
As this Mother’s Day approached, I was a little down because I have Sickle Cell Anemia and haven’t been able to hug or be physically close to my sons in months. When my baby boy came home from Colorado State to finish his semester online, I knew I’d have to wave and blow kisses to him from a distance, but looked forward to the day when I can hug and love on them again.
And then...I saw the video of your beautiful baby boy, being hunted down like an animal and lynched by an angry mob, armed as if they were going to war. And my sobering gut-punch was that even after this pandemic is over, you won’t get to hear your baby’s voice, see his beautiful smile, or hug and love on him again... ever.
And I wept like Ahmaud was my baby...not just because they’re so close in age or because neither GA nor SC has a law against hate crimes. Not even because both states have ultra-expansive citizen’s arrest laws.
I wept like Ahmaud was my baby because he’s your baby.
And your story resonates with every black mother who prays that a ride with his boys, night out with friends or Sunday afternoon jog in his own neighborhood, won’t be the last time she sees her son alive.
Your story echoes the fears of every black mother who has long since lost count of the number of times she has had “the talk.”
Your story reverberates on the hearts and minds of every black mother who wrestles within herself to find that delicate balance of love, nurturing support and discipline that’ll give him what he needs without smothering and being overly protective.
Your story haunts every black mother who wants to give her son the space and freedom to grow and mature, but is horrified by the fact that he’s under siege in this country—profiled, hunted, gunned down… for simply “being” black.
As I thought about your baby, I was reminded of a 16-year old white male student in my community, who self-produced his own video PSA by firing multiple “rounds to the dome” of a pair of Nike sneakers, used as props to represent the silhouettes of young black men he hates and wants to kill.
As I thought about your baby, I was reminded of a traffic stop on May 12, 2018, right outside of Atlanta, after my oldest son and I picked up my baby boy from the airport. He was home for Spring Break and it was Mother’s Day weekend, so we got a bite to eat at J. Alexander’s because I love their carrot cake and can’t get it in South Carolina.
It was well after midnight when we got back on I-20. The boys were driving and I had the back seat all to myself. Suddenly, there were blue lights in the rear view mirror. My son said he wasn’t speeding and it dawned on me as the white male officer approached my car, that just like Philando Castile and Trayvon Martin, they didn’t have to be “doing” anything. I quickly reminded them to leave their seatbelts on, turn the music off, get their wallets out, roll the windows down and put their hands where he could easily see them.
The officer already had one hand over his gun holster. All I could think about in that moment was my baby boy’s six foot three inch, 250-pound athletic frame and whether that alone might constitute a “threat.” His first words were, “Nice car you’re driving here. Where’d you get it?” When my son responded, “It belongs to my mom,” the officer smirked, “Well, I guess you can prove that, right?” And I thought, “Oh my God…he’s gotta open the glove compartment!” I quickly said, “Officer, I’m his mom and this is my car.”
His eyes were so fixed on my babies, he admitted he hadn’t even seen me. Suddenly, there was a bright light in our faces and I calmly asked if he would allow my son to retrieve the documents. He never even said why he stopped us, but quickly verified everything and just like that…we were “free” to go.
On this Mother’s Day and your baby’s 26th birthday weekend, I just want you to know that you’re never alone. We are kindred spirits…sisters in the struggle. Whether we’re dealing with the actions of unlawful cops or unreasonable citizens, your story is my story. Your baby is “our” baby.
As you mourn with other “Mothers of the Movement” and mothers like me, who stand with you in solidarity and support, I promise I won’t stop fighting until all of our babies are “free.”
Free to walk, drive or jog. Free to live and love. Free to just “be.”
I love you and continue to pray for you, my sister…