On stage at the Democratic National Convention, the Mothers of the Movement—African-American women whose sons and daughters have died in acts of violence—exuded stoic grace.
But out of the spotlight a day later, four of the six were nestled into the couches of a Philadelphia area hotel out, their makeup wiped away and their guards down.
Their grief was apparent. The tragic losses they’ve endured are the reason they’d been invited to speak, after all. But in their collective presence, you could feel the weight of their burden lifted just a bit. Together their grief felt a little less heavy. Around one another, they can be themselves.
For nearly one hour on Wednesday, Lucy McBath, mother of Jordan Davis; Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner; Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, mother of Hadiya Pendleton; and Annette Lance-Holt, the mother of Blair Holt, spoke with ESSENCE about their experiences on the campaign trail, the legacies of their children, and why they’re encouraging everyone to vote in 2016.
As a group, the mothers have endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for president. “Secretary Clinton, first and foremost, she’s a mother and she’s a grandmother,” says McBath. “She understands from a woman’s point of view, how crucially and vitally important it is for us to save our children.”
In their words, Clinton had won them over the hard way. The candidate reached out to the group of mothers for meeting, something they say no other campaign had done. They praised her for meeting with them without a cabal of reporters and cameras, pen in hand, ready to listen. “It was supposed to be an hour meeting,” says Carr. “It ended up being like three hours.”
To these mothers, tackling the issues trumps personalities this election season. Given the racially-charged shootings in Ferguson, Baton Rouge, Dallas, Minnesota, and the violence countless mothers experience every day on the streets of cities like Chicago, putting an end to senseless death, and the systemic issues that keep children from feeling like they have any other choice is their only option. So when they hear Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump call himself the “law and order” candidate, without offering concrete solutions to the issues that affect families like theirs, the Mothers of the Movement can’t help but react. As Sybrina Fulton said from the stage of the Democratic Convention, “This isn’t about being politically correct. It’s about protecting our children.”
“When our people are dying in the streets, it does becomes political,” McBath said a day later. “How else are you able to stimulate and make the change that needs to be made? It has to be through the system.”
Since the mothers came out in support of Clinton earlier this year, they’ve since hit the trail with the candidate, traveling past the sticks to the “toothpicks” of the Deep South to talk to church congregations about Clinton. As the general election season heats up, they plan to do more.
But for Cowley-Pendleton, voting and voting often is of the utmost importance. It’s a message she wants to get across to disaffected young people, especially those who feel trapped in a system they feel works against them. “On the trail we say, exercise your right,” she says. “I think it’s so very important that we do what we do, that we gain access to the young people even younger than voting age so they truly get an understanding of how their vote counts and how their voice counts.”
The Mothers of the Movement have a saying: just because their babies were taken from them doesn’t mean they’ve stopped mothering. In all they they do, they carry the legacies of their children with them, be it speaking their names at a rally for justice or urging an elected official to address the issues that led to their child’s, and other children’s, deaths.
“This is the awakening,” says McBath. “This is the present day civil rights movement and we are the present day freedom riders.”
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