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By Christine Henderson
I remember the first time I was blown away by the strength of a mother to inflict change. A little girl in elementary school and learning of Emmett Till’s story, I was heartbroken on how evil adults could be to a child, no matter the race.
At a young age, through his mother’s story, I identified that innocence didn’t protect you from violence and a mother’s fight doesn’t end in her loss. It must extend through her grief to continue to protect the children in our village.
Through that heartbreak it was Emmet’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, who activated activism through her loss. Sixty-eight years ago, she decided to keep her son’s casket open, forcing the change necessary to take on violence and racism strategically and forcefully through her grief.
Even in the midst of her tragedy, she advocated for all in hopes that no mother should endure what she was forced to.
Surviving the tears and trauma
Earlier this summer, I was privileged to be in a space with women from an organization called Mothers in Charge. An organization birthed in Philadelphia but one that has expanded nationally as mothers take to the streets to stop violence and support each other through the struggle of the loss of their own children.
A support system where mothers can be an ear, a hug, and hope for each other while building solutions to end violence in their communities.
I sat in a room where mothers shared the heaviness of their loss and at the same time paired it with the difficulty of their roles.
Advocates with the relentless charge of ending the same violence that took from them. In this room it was understood that when we wipe her tears, the bullets don’t die. This space is necessary for the recharge and the reboot to not just support, but to survive.
In that moment, a swift reality check reminds us that loss interrupts our lives abruptly and absolutely. With tragedy comes grief. And the roadmap is scattered. You learn that healing is never complete but your journey provides the recipe to continue.
How to heal through the tears
As I gaze around the room, I ask myself, “How can you truly heal when your advocacy causes you to relive that trauma everyday standing by someone as they endure theirs?” In that very moment your loss is the brace to her shattered heart. You can’t stop the pain but you understand her tears, her racing heart, the confused distress impacting her body, so you squeeze tighter.
She’s got you… joining you with the steady breaths and comforting the tremors.
She exhales with you…bracing for the screams that howl in torment.
She comforts you…shouting prayers and words of comfort giving direction in darkness.
Collectively…you have each other and healing reciprocates organically.
Where does strength come when we can’t stand on our own? It’s the community around you that holds you. The individuals that stand up, and in the gap, when harm is done.
They represent the many women that can no longer celebrate birthdays with their children but never forget memories of their love. As a mother, a Black mom, with a young Black son whose daily life struggles controls my very heartbeat, I understand the advocacy of these mothers is our protection, our children’s hope.
Showing up for the village
This community of mothers, daughters, grandmothers in this tiny little office in Philadelphia, all harmed by violence, are incomplete individually. But as a unit they fill the void for each other. Rebooting in their safe space and activating advocacy; sharing their stories of loss and heartbreak as examples for the need for change.
In recognition of the mothers who show up for their villages through their loss; whose individual healing journey continues to protect and strengthen our communities. You are seen, you are loved and you are appreciated.
Christine Henderson is Senior Manager of the Equal Justice USA Trauma & Healing Network, which supports communities and their grassroots leaders in addressing trauma in transformative ways that promote healing and create systemic change.