A letter to Black mamas

Photo above: Chanelle Croxton, an organizer with the National Domestic Workers Alliance and member of Black Youth Project 100 Durham at the Black Mamas homecoming. BYP100 was a fundraising partner for the bail campaign. Photo by Danielle Purifoy

For Mother's Day this year, Southerners On New Ground (SONG), a regional queer liberation organization with an intersectional focus on LGBTQ people living in the South, made a simple, transformative request of its members, its communities, and its affiliate organizations--Bail Black mamas out of jails.

Black women are twice as likely as White women to be incarcerated, many jailed indefinitely because they cannot afford to post bail, which can range from a few hundred dollars to a million dollars. Sixty percent of women in state prisons are mothers. With neither trial nor conviction, most women's lives are upended by serving just a few days or weeks in jail. They lose their jobs, their homes, and their children may be placed in state custody. Jail conditions--as we've covered before--can be dangerous, as prisoners may be subject to abuse, denied medical care, and served contaminated food, among other harms.

SONG wants to end money bail as one step towards ending incarceration. It led a coalition of Black-led grassroots organizations, which raised over $700,000 in just three weeks to free over 100 Black mamas from jails across the country, just in time for Mother's Day. In the South, SONG and partner organizations bailed out 41 Black mamas in North Carolina and Georgia.

In Durham, 14 Black mamas walked out of the county jail last week and reunited with their families. On Mother’s Day, NC SONG hosted a homecoming party for them at Durham’s Hillside Park. Gathered in a circle, participants offered an invocation in the form of visions of other possibilities, of words of gratitude, of expressions of hope. And then there was food, gifts, long hugs, tears, a photo booth…and the electric slide.

This is just the beginning. In a recent interview for Pacific Standard Magazine, Atlanta-based SONG co-director Mary Hooks shared the bigger vision:

We could literally shut down the jail. And if they did this for even more jails? At that point we would have to turn to our local leaders and say, 'Why are the lights still on because there is nobody in there?'

-- Danielle Purifoy, Scalawag editor

Photo below: Undreya "Muffin" Hudson, an organizer with the Durham-based participatory defense group All of us or None and Serena Sebring, campaign organizer with NC SONG, speaking at the homecoming party for Black Mamas on Mother's Day. Photo by Courtney Sebring.


To our Black Mamas

This is for our Black mamas. All of them.

The ones who died at the hands of the state or at the hands of a partner. The ones who have done time and the ones who are still sitting in cages. This is for all the Black mamas who had their children taken away from them. And all of the Black mamas who were taken away from their children.

This is for Tamir's mama. This is for Korryn Gaines.

This is for our Black mamas. All of them.

This is for our Black queer mamas, our Black trans and gender non-conforming mamas. This is for our Black mamas facing poverty, addiction, homelessness, or mental illness. This is for our Black mamas who had to fight for their motherhood.

This is for the Black mamas who didn't have a choice.

This is for our Black mamas who can't afford childcare during their job interviews and leave us in the car with the window open.

This is for our Black mamas who have stolen to put food in our mouths, to put clothes on our backs, to put a roof over our heads.

The ones who are shamed and criminalized for making a way when there isn't one. The ones who do what they have to.

This is for our Black mamas.

The ones who build and rebuild home after every displacement. The ones who pick up extra shifts so we can go on the field trips.

The ones who help us with homework that they don't know the answers to.

This is for the Black mamas who can turn the backyard into a water park with a hose and a kiddie pool.

The ones who know laughter is medicine. The ones who taught us survival is resistance.

The ones who showed us that no one can ever take our joy.

This is for our Black mamas who created the village that raised us. The ones who know we’re starting in last place but still push us to win. The ones who build us sturdy because they know this life will never be gentle with us. The ones who watch us leave every morning without knowing whether we’ll come back.

This is for our Black Mamas who remind us that we are valid.

The Black mamas who unclench our fists and lift our chins.

The ones who rub salve into our wounds and wipe our tears.

The ones who hold us when we have no fight left. This is for our Black mamas.

The ones who say yes to loving us when the world says no. The ones who guide our souls towards radical care.

This is for our Black Mamas who never hear thank you enough. We could never thank you enough.

Thank you.