If raising a Black child in America wasn’t hard enough already, imagine the challenge of raising Black sons during a time of increased racial tension, marked by the high-profile shootings of Black men and boys at the hands of police.
The recent deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were enough to send one mother over the edge, prompting her to launch a support group for women like her who were experiencing the same looming fear that her sons may also suffer an ill-fated encounter with police.
Mother of two Depelsha Thomas McGruder started the Facebook group “Moms of Black Boys United” with hopes of providing a sense of support to other women who were raising Black sons. McGruder is a native of Atlanta but now lives in the greater New York City area.
According to her organization’s website, Moms of Black Boys United (MOBB) “is a group of concerned mothers who aim to make a difference in policy and perception impacting how Black boys and men are treated by law enforcement. We represent every race, age, socioeconomic background, marital status and education level. What we share in common is that we all have Black sons whom we love dearly, which fills us with both pride and fear.”
McGruder told Atlanta Black Star that the support group, which was launched in early July, was something she had been thinking about starting for some time. But it was the deaths of Sterling and Castile that ultimately gave her the push she needed.
“I woke up the next morning and saw a family in Minnesota on the news, and I was trying to make sense of it,” McGruder said in reference to Castile’s shooting death, which occurred just one day after Sterling was gunned by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “I couldn’t figure out who they were. I didn’t know if it was from a previous case. I didn’t know if they were related to Alton Sterling. When I found out it was actually a separate family who had lost a loved one to the hands of police brutality, I just became paralyzed almost. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t get out of bed, I was overcome with sadness and I felt hopeless and helpless and I didn’t know what to do.”
Finally hopping out of bed to make breakfast for her sons, aged 7 and 4, McGruder decided to turn her feelings of fear and hopelessness into a cause to help women with Black sons like her.
“So the food is still cooking, I walk over to my computer and I just type in ‘create group’ MOBB – Mothers of Black Boys,” she said. “And I sent it to about 30 of my friends, just whoever came to mind first off the top of my head. I didn’t really think much of it.”
Her Facebook group quickly jumped from 30 members to 150 members, as friends of friends began inviting other mothers to the group. An hour later, the page boasted 500 new members, rising to 1,000, then 2,000. McGruder said she left to go to the grocery store and came back to find that her group now had over 4,000 members.
“People spontaneously started just posting photos of their beautiful Black sons and talking about their many accomplishments and their dreams and aspirations,” the mother of two told ABS. “And also sharing their fears for their lives, based on what we’re seeing in society today. And so it grew to more than 21,000 moms from all around the country that same day, like by the time I went to bed that night.”
McGruder attributes the exponential growth of Moms of Black Boys United to the urgent need for discussion around the topic of police brutality and the fact that many mothers share the same fears, concerns, frustrations, anger and anxiety surrounding the issue. That fear is often exacerbated by the lack of accountability on the part of police who are involved in these deadly shootings. For example, the officers who killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice as he played with a toy gun in a Cleveland park never faced any criminal charges in the child’s death. A similar trend has played out in the fatal shootings of Black men and boys like Oscar Grant III, Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.
“If you’re a mother of a Black son, whether it’s a boy or a man, you live with never-ending, daily fear of what might happen to them when they go out into society,” McGruder said. “Whether that’s at school or interacting with law enforcement. Looking at these cases in the news, the more cases you see of a Black man or boy being killed by police and there being no punishment, no accountability, no penalty for that, it makes you feel more and more hopeless about your ability to even protect your child from something like that.”
The MOBB founder also expressed her anxiety over seeing her sons grow up, fearing that they’ll soon be perceived as threats to society.
“My sons are only seven and four, and right now I still hold their hands everywhere we go,” she said. “But I’m looking as they’re growing up and my son is turning eight next weekend. How much longer can I walk down the street holding this child’s hand? He’s tall you know. So it’s just this great fear that the bigger they get, the more they’ll be perceived as a threat to society, and that’s an awful feeling.”
McGruder describes her constant worrying as a self-diagnosed disorder, similar to that of post-traumatic stress disorder. She considers it a kind of anxiety “because you live with this constant…fear for your children’s lives and safety.”
Aside from providing nationwide support to mothers of Black sons, MOBB United also seeks to influence policy that impacts how African-American men and boys are treated by law enforcement officials. While there are other serious issues to address, like Black-on-Black crime and the fight for women’s rights, McGruder said she wants to focus on police brutality so that other mothers, like those who appeared at the Democratic National Convention, won’t have to suffer through the same tragedies.
“That’s one of our main focuses; our sons will not be hashtags,” she said. “We’re trying to prevent this from happening again. We plan on using all of our passion, our resources, our expertise, our connections to join together, to partner with law enforcement officials, politicians – whoever wants to join us in solving this problem.”
McGruder also made it a point to emphasize that her organization is not anti-police, just anti-police brutality. She said she believes most police officers go to work every day with great intentions to protect and serve. However, there are a handful who abuse their power and use excessive force — ultimately giving the good cops a bad name. MOBB United hopes to partner with law enforcement officials to create realistic solutions and effective policies that impact how Black men/boys are profiled and treated by police.
Right now, the organization is operating under a five-point approach to creating such solutions:
- Influence policy
- Change perception
- Demonstrate our power
- Partner strategically
- Promote self-care
McGruder has since broken the organization into committees for which different members can sign up. She’s also in the process of appointing state captains in an effort to transform the support group into a nationwide movement. So far, MOBB United has a presence in New York City, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas and Portland, among others. Group meet-ups have also been planned in Westchester County, New York; San Antonio; Los Angeles; and Columbus.
“We’re at the early stage. We’re trying to figure out the best way to structure organizationally, but we definitely want to have a presence in all the states,” McGruder said. “Whether they will be formal chapters or some other structure, we’re not sure yet. But we absolutely want to have activity in multiple states.”
The organization’s policy and platform committee is currently working to identify policies they feel will have a reasonable impact on the way law enforcement personnel interact with Black men and boys. According to McGruder, committee members include attorneys, law enforcement officials, and those married to law enforcement officials.
“So we’re getting the expertise of people who are in the field and know it,” she said. “And they’re going through and narrowing down which ones we want to focus on because it’s very important to me that we have a clear focus and that we’re not all over the place.”
“I’m trying to solve this major problem for us in terms of police, racial profiling, harassment, brutality, killing of Black boys and men,” McGruder continued. “If we can solve that, we can move on to something else. But I think it’s very important for us to stay focused.”
While MOBB United is just getting starting with a long road ahead, McGruder says she hopes the organization is no longer needed in the next five years. She hopes the group will have served its purpose of influencing policy that impacts the interaction between police and boys/men of color.
“Overall I hope that we will be a resource for mothers, a resource for mothers of Black boys who are on this journey,” she said. “They can come to us for credible information and support. I also hope that we will be a trusted partner with law enforcement officials, that they will know that we’re an organization that wants to partner with them to solve this problem and work together to better our communities. I hope that we will be credible lobbyists on Capitol Hill, state capitols and city halls all across America. That we will be a voice in shaping policy as it impacts Black boys and men and particularly how they’re treated by law enforcement and beyond.”
For more information about MOBB United and how you can get involved, visit www.mobbunited.org. You can also follow the organization on Twitter and Instagram at @mobbunited.