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Letters to Our Sons - Madison 2014

My current city (Madison, WI) is often hailed as one of the most liberal cities in the country. It is also a very segregated city. A lot of people don't like to believe we have a race problem, because we are so very liberal, so very wonderful, but we do. Here are letters from seven mothers to their black sons, sharing their hopes and fears for their boys and men as they grow up in a city that likes to ignore its problems in the era where we still shoot black boys and men for walking down the street.


I wonder now, if that's the reason why the shooting of Michael Brown hit me so hard this summer. When I look at you I see a world of potential. I see someone who will probably be phenomenal at sports. I see a child with incredible wisdom and curiosity. And I see a young man who already has a strong foundation in early mathematical concepts.

The thought that someone could take away from all of this promise wrapped up in one person is more than heartbreaking. It's soul crushing. I can't begin to fathom how Lesley McSpadden must have felt when her not-so-little-anymore ball of hope was taken from her. I pray that I will never know that feeling.

In that same prayer, I ask that we take a truly reflective look at ourselves as a city, a state, and a nation to figure out why shooting black men is so easily justifiable in our country. You will make mistakes, my dear sweet son. I sometimes think about how I will react when you make some of the same errors I did. As I run down the list of personal life lessons you could go through, very few of them justify the taking of your life.

– Darlinne Kambwa-Bell

Six feet, three inches. That is how tall you stand. You are intelligent, funny—no, hilarious—inquisitive, gregarious, handsome and most of all, you are my baby. At least that is how I still see you, even though you tower over my five-foot, four-inch frame. But, when you are out of my presence, you are seen as seventy-five inches of Black threat. Every extra inch of height, every extra pound of weight, every deeper hue of darkness of his skin, a young Black man in America increases his risk.

Whew! Thank goodness we live in Madison, not Ferguson, right, son?


You are actually in even more danger in Madison, Wisconsin, of dying a slow death behind bars of steel in prison, the place that kills the dreams of Black mothers and Black sons. I am haunted by the fact that a Black man has a fifty-fifty likelihood of being sent to prison by the same crime that a white man will walk away from. Wisconsin incarcerates more Black men than any other state. I am not worried about you robbing a bank, gang-banging, carrying a concealed weapon; I have raised you better than that. I am worried that you will just be walking down the street at the wrong time and place and then the rest will be the end of your his-story. And some police officer or some "well-meaning" citizen will wash his hands clean in the blood of another young Black male, while one more Black mother is left once again to pick up the broken pieces of her life and expected to go on.

-Lilada Gee

You know, son, it's not about me, it's about you. It's always been about what you need. You needed a new start. Wisconsin is no place for an African American man. Statistically, eighty-five percent of all African American males between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five go to jail. I told you that. The recent Race to Equity Report confirms that Dane County is one of the worst places in America to be Black. Why would I possibly want you to stay here?

Can you imagine: you're safer in Los Angeles, California, than you are here, where you were born? It's a sad commentary. I spoke to you on your birthday, and you told me you were good. You thanked me for my patience bringing you into the world and being patient enough not to take you out. That's what my old people used to say, I brought you into the world and I'll take you out. They often talked like that to make us behave. And we did.

– Molinda Henry



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