As parents, we often imagine the world our children will inherit and daydream about who they will become and what they will achieve. As a Black Latina mother to two beautiful and curious Black Latino boys, my imagination exists in nearly distinct camps: the one in which my boys are able to become great musicians, successful engineers and compassionate fathers. Then there’s the reality that often invades these happy thoughts, and I’m often consumed with fear.
I fear for their safety and the moment my children will go from being two innocent boys to menacing men in the eyes of our unjust and broken criminal justice system. There’s also a somber reality that Black mothers face: No matter how many bedtime snuggles or impromptu road trip sing-a-alongs, our boys will still have to enter a world where they will be judged by how they look, dress, or walk before they can even speak.
My son could one day become an Ivy League-educated, well-regarded science-fiction writer, and he still have his life threatened by a woman who doesn’t feel like keeping her dog on a leash. My child could go off to a great college, mentor his peers, recite scripture, sing in the church choir, work at a well-respected multinational corporation, and still die on his couch, bowl of ice cream in hand, by an officer who could not conceive of her culpability even with a gun in her hands. Maybe, while still a child he’ll go out and play in the park, and be shot for appearing precociously menacing. Maybe he’ll run to the grocery store and die calling out for me. I think through these nightmarish realities for days and weeks and months and years, because that is how long you live with them as a Black mother in this iteration of America.
But in America, Black and Brown mothers cannot accept this somber reality. Acceptance is tantamount to death. It’s counter to the love we feel for our children and the dreams we have for our families. We persevere. It’s through our perseverance – a muscle at the very heart of Black and Brown communities – that we push this country to live up to its ideals.
It was my mother’s unshakeable will to persevere that gave her the courage to flee domestic abuse. Her will to persevere meant that we’d spend nights sleeping outside of a gas station and inside a homeless shelter. It also meant that her courage would not be one without struggle, but struggle we would eventually overcome. Today, I bring my mother’s will to persevere to our fight to make America meet the moment of reckoning our country faces right now.
It’s that same sense of determination to make America better that first compelled me to run for the Carrollton-Farmers Branch School Board. Despite the obstacles we faced when I was growing up, the classroom was a safe space where my teachers encouraged me, where I felt fed, both mentally and physically. Our children deserve a country that is designed to nurture their talent and ambition, not bring them down because of their race or circumstances.
I see the same will to persevere in those Americans marching for peace and justice – in all 50 states. So many of our neighbors are ready to reckon with America’s racist past. We’re ready to build a nation where institutionalized racism doesn’t result in the mass incarceration of Black and Brown people, where Black mothers do not die at three or four times the rate of White mothers during childbirth, where our nation’s long history of health care disparities, wage discrimination, and housing segregation does not lead to Black Americans dying of COVID-19 at nearly three times the rate of White people.
In this election, living up to that promise of a better America requires electing leaders who have been at the mercy of a broken justice system and who will leverage the power of their position to hold law enforcement accountable of their duty: protect and serve everyone. Equally.
When it comes to justice reform, we can start by passing the Justice in Policing Act introduced by leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus. It would set a national standard for use of force – banning choke holds, expanding Pattern and Practice investigations that hold police departments accountable for misconduct while also establishing a national police misconduct registry so that bad police officers aren’t
able to jump from one community to the other.
The truth remains that racial bias and discrimination are embedded in every aspect of American life. And we won’t have an equitable future until more of those in power personally know the suffering of those they represent. We must elect leaders who believe in transformational change because their survival depends on it, too. We need leaders who are willing to take bold action to transform our criminal justice system, put an end to health disparities, fight for affordable housing, allocate proper funding for our public schools, and that’s exactly what I will do in Congress.
It is our will to persevere – our greatest strength – that will pave the path toward a more just America.
Candace Valenzuela is running for Congress in Texas’s 24th Congressional District, representing parts of Dallas, Texas, she previously sat on the Carrollton-Farmers Branch School Board and would be the first Black Latina woman elected to Congress in American history.