Press Release - These Moms Are Turning Grief Into Action—and Reclaiming the Narrative Around Their Children's Deaths
The mothers of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Dontre Hamilton, and Jordan Davis share what it's like fight for justice alongside one another.
Mother of Sandra Bland
How did you decide to start traveling around the country, and what are you trying to do?
I have joined together with several other mothers who have lost children. We are the Mothers of the Movement. We have decided that we are going to band together, and we're going to tell the world our personal stories. This movement is about getting up and moving! It's about changing what's going on in our criminal justice system, what's going on with policing in our communities. I know this is what I need to be doing, because there are many people who are so angry with the state of what's going on in the world that they're not going to vote. So I can get out there and say, "Hey, I'm still standing. Even in the midst of all this grief, I can get up and move, so you can, too." That's why we say we're Mothers of the Movement. We are moving. We're not parked, we are going. That's it.
What does it feel like to take up this fight alongside other mothers?
You know, when you're a mom and you're grieving and you're missing your child, even after you're done with the crying, you still have to go home and deal with your regular life, which is hard. And so when we get together, it is one of the most powerful things you ever can imagine. We catch up, and we hear what's going on with the legislature in each person's state. And we try to have fun. We try to at least laugh. Because there is a lot of crying sometimes. We keep tissue available. We will talk about our kids, of course, but we also talk about all the things that are going on in the world. And now, with all of us endorsing Hillary, we're in this movement to get her in there. We don't care what we have to do, we're going to do it.
What was it like when you came together in Chicago last November?
Well, first of all, I wasn't even going to go to that meeting. It was one of those days where I woke up, and it was a bad day. I was having a "Sandy day" all day. I was crying, and I said, "I'm not going, ok?" And then my daughter said, "What do you mean you're not going? Oh no, we're going." So I get there, and all the other moms are there, and it's like this big reunion. We just hugged each other. Might not have said a word, but we just hugged each other and you could feel that energy. Then Hillary Clinton comes in, she sits down. And immediately it was like she's at our kitchen table. There was this overwhelming sense that this is family. She said, "I'm honored to be here with you guys. Tell me about your daughter, your son." And we were like, "My God." She took her time and listened to each one of us around the table. And then, around the end of the meeting, she said, "You guys really need to unify." And that's what we did. Then she said, "I will be getting back with you." And to talk with all the ladies and find out that's literally what she did—you can't fake that. That's not phony. We're just rolling with Hillary. Period.
Mother of Trayvon Martin
What is like to be a "Mother of the Movement"?
Well, I guess you can call me an unwilling participant. I don't think any of the mothers that I come to the table with want to be on that side of the table. I would not have signed up for this, I would not have trained for this. This is something that happens in your life and you feel like, "I have to do something about it. I can't just continue to be broken. I must do my part." And so this is me doing my part, not only for my son who's in heaven but for my son who's here on earth, too. I'll always have two boys. But I will continue to do the work to try to fight against senseless gun violence. I will try to do what I can, and I'm dedicated to this fight. I can't help Trayvon at this time. But there are other Trayvon Martins who I can help. And working with these mothers is one way I can do that.
What was it like when you first sat down with the other mothers in Chicago?
It was a very heartfelt meeting. It was supposed to be pretty short in the beginning, but because of the topics and the tragedies and the things that were being discussed, Secretary Clinton wanted to hear more. The meeting was very productive on our end as mothers. But it was also an eye opener for Secretary Clinton, because now, not only did she hear about these tragedies in the news and on social media and from her staffers, she heard first-hand from the mothers. And she's a mother. She's a grandmother. She's a wife. She's a woman. She related to us at a time when nobody else would listen. She made no promises about, "I'll do this and I'll do that if I'm elected." What she did commit to do was put every effort into making sure that this does not happen to anybody else's kid. She wanted to make sure that she put the proper laws and policies in place to try to make a difference. And that was important to us as mothers.
Why did you decide to come to South Carolina?
We are having a crisis in the United States. Hillary Clinton has stepped out and is discussing this, because she knows it is a huge problem in our community. She addressed the issue—and that meant a lot to us. Her experience and her leadership speaks for itself. Her information and how she deals with equality for women, for minorities—it speaks for itself. I tell everybody to make sure they're taking a look at the track record of some of these candidates and to make sure they're not just talking the talk. That they have put the work in. Hillary Clinton has put the work in.
Mother of Jordan Davis
What is it like to travel around the country with other "Mothers of the Movement"?
It's camaraderie. Just a sense—I kind of hate to say it—but a sense of belonging. Because for us, we are our own circle of mothers. It's very difficult to express what we feel and what we think to people who haven't experienced what we've experienced. People claim, "Oh, I know how you feel." No, you don't know. And so to be able to lean on each other, and to support each other, and to nurture each other, is so rewarding. And as we go forward, it may seem like we're very strong—but at the core, we're still pretty weak, because you never get over this. I mean, this is every day of our lives. And so to be in the company of other women—black women—who understand what I'm bearing because they're bearing the same thing, it's comforting. It's so comforting to be embraced by other women who really, really share your pain.
What happened when you came together as a group that first time in Chicago?
It was very powerful. There was just this sense of awe, because I've been watching the cases on television, and I've been watching the women, and I've been listening to their stories and listening to the news. But to actually be in the same company of women who have been so morally injured by the same gun violence, the same implicit bias, that was just ... I looked at Cleo Pendleton, and I said to her, "You know what? I'm so glad we're together, but it's just so painful why we have to be at this meeting with Secretary Clinton. We shouldn't have to be here for these reasons." But it was empowering, because during that meeting Secretary Clinton told us, "I need you, the mothers, to mobilize and move forward in this movement." And before that, nobody else had really given us permission to really begin to challenge those things that we've suffered. We'd just taken permission, and decided ourselves to do it. But to have someone of the stature of Secretary Clinton back us up, and support us, and ask us to help champion as well, and to know that she's championing for us and our communities, that was huge. It was monumental to me.
Why did you come to South Carolina?
These are moments that are once-in-a-lifetime. She's going to be the first female president of the United States, and she's going to be able to help usher in change through everything that President Obama has already put in place. So to be a part of that history, even this little small part that I get to play, is such a tremendous blessing. So then it makes me know that Jordan and all of our children didn't die in vain. That we're just all a bigger part of God's greater plan. And so to be able to be a part of that, whether she wins or not, I'm grateful.
Mother of Dontre Hamilton
After your son was killed, you founded a group called Mothers for Justice. What does that organization do?
Through Mothers for Justice, I provide support to families who are victims of stolen life. I call them stolen lives—I don't call them victims, because they're not victims. The victims are those who are left in the wake of that stolen life, and that's who I help. I get phone calls at three, four in the morning from moms who just can't deal. And I know how they feel. I know their lives will never be the same. So we nurture, we grieve together, we depend on each other. And that's what we get our comfort from. Our joy comes from God.
What has it been like to spend time traveling the country with Geneva, Sybrina, Lucy, and Gwen?
I enjoy being around my sisters. It's been educational. It's empowering, and it's been a spiritual journey. We laugh. We cry. We hold each other up in times of need. We depend on each other for answers. We are companions, and we're supportive of each other's efforts. All of us have our connections with the Lord and what we're doing in this movement, and it's phenomenal. And we keep our children right in the midst of everything we do. We say that our sons are seeds. I feel as though me and my family have been chosen to be a part of this movement because of our faith and God's mercy and his grace. And a lot of the other victims of stolen lives feel the presence of those lives as well. This is my life's work—to get justice for my son, and for those coming.
Why did you come to South Carolina?
Because I believe Hillary Clinton will make the best president. I chose Hillary because of her record, because of her caring spirit, and because she's a listener and she's been involved since we got together. After we first met, she made my struggle for justice her business and her affair. I had a meeting with Hillary at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. I spoke with her for about five minutes. She told me that she was a mother and a grandmother. She was very compassionate. She told me how sorry she was, and that she was going to build her policy in a way that allowed her to do everything in her power to stop things like what happened to us from ever happening again. And right then and there, during the meeting, I knew that I was going to endorse her. I knew that some point in my near future I would be partnering up with her. I didn't know it would be to this extent, but I am able to move forward because of her efforts. I appreciate that. That's why I'm here.
Mother of Eric Garner
New York, New York
Why did you become involved with this movement?
My son no longer has a voice, but his mother does. I'm going to get out there, and I'm going to speak out. I'm going to walk, I'm going to rally—whatever it takes—until my voice is heard, until we get justice. As a people, we have to take a stand. And I have to take a stand for my son, as well as for the people who experienced this, but no one knows their stories. Or they were in the news for one day and never talked about again. I'm going to be the voice of the voiceless and the nameless. I'm going to speak out—not only for Eric, but for all the other mothers, sisters, brothers, uncles, and aunts out there. We have to make the world aware of what they are doing to our young men. And if we don't stop it, it's going to continue.
What stands out to you from the first meeting with the mothers and Hillary Clinton?
There were 12 of us mothers in that meeting. Hillary asked each of us to share our stories, and everyone's child had died of gun violence—except for my child. So when it became my turn, she said, before I even spoke, "Well I know, Ms. Carr, your son didn't die from gun violence." I said, "You're right, he was choked to death." She said, "There's something we have to do about that, too." She took that into consideration, that no matter how your son died, it was still violence. And this is what we need our officials to recognize—our hurt and our pain, no matter how it came. It was really impressive to me because she was clearly concerned about my situation.
During your time in South Carolina, you attended service at Macedonia AME Church. How did the sermon that day make you feel?
The sermon was all about stepping outside of the box, and for me, that was a very powerful message. Because I sometimes say the same things to people about stepping outside the box. The box is repetitious. You do the same thing over and over and keep getting the same results, which most of the time are not positive. When you step outside the box, you don't know what you're going to get, but you're taking a leap of faith. A lot of times when you go on faith, you can get more things done, more things will materialize. Sometimes you don't even know how they happen, but they happen. And I step out the box a lot of times. This movement for my son—this is outside the box for me. I never thought that I'd be doing this. I never thought I'd be in South Carolina. I never thought I'd be in Florida, in California. But I've been all these places, and that's outside the box for me.
Hillary Clinton, Press Release - These Moms Are Turning Grief Into Action—and Reclaiming the Narrative Around Their Children's Deaths Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/317383