The unmistakable tone in her voice. That cadence that indicates testimony was about to begin. Geneva-Reed Veal, Sandra Bland’s mother, had just called everyone in the Wells Fargo Center to attention.
“Give me a moment to say thank you,” she said.
Chants of “Black Lives Matter!” had been so loud in the convention hall she could barely be heard.
“We are not standing here because He’s not good, we are standing here because He’s great.”
To call God great in the depths of one’s deepest pain is a practice black people have mastered for centuries. Grieving bodies that would never be returned. Justice that would never come. Questions that would never be answered. And yet we’ve insisted on moving ‘forward,’ creating opportunity in sorrow.
Reed-Veal was in great but tragic company — 8 other mothers stood by her side on the DNC stage.
Joining her was Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin; Lucia McBath, mother of Jordan Davis; Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner; Cleopatra Pendleton, mother of Hadiya Pendleton; Maria Hamilton, mother of Dontre Hamilton; Wanda Johnson, mother of Oscar Grant; Lezley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown; and Annette Nance Holt, mother of Blair Holt.
The details of each story are unique and endlessly debated: gun violence in Chicago, homicide over loud music or a bullet while handcuffed on a subway platform. All share the pain of lives cut too short.
The ‘Mothers of the Movement came to the Democratic National Convention to endorse Hillary Clinton for president. As I sat in the convention hall, I imagined the speech would be powerful, but like all things political, there are always tradeoffs. I knew people would debate whether the ‘Mothers’ really represented Black Lives Matter in their endorsement or question why some mothers who lost children to gun violence had opted out of the appearance.
In this moment— if only for a moment— the ‘Mothers of the Movement” did something more that offer an endorsement. They reminded us that their children were real people.
In 2016, the humanity and contributions of people of color is still debated. The insistence that ‘Black Lives Matter’ is considered highly offensive. And each death — whether it be in our own neighborhood or splashed across the national news, carries the possibility of becoming nothing than a headline we scroll past on Facebook.
These are exhausting times that tempt many of us to check out.
But Tuesday night, ‘The Mothers of the Movement’ made us see their children’s faces again. If we could share in their pain, perhaps, like them, we could be mobilized to action.
I sat in awe of the pure power and authority each woman spoke with on stage. Through sniffles, Sandra Bland’s mother was unbowed, Lucy McBath was determined and Sybrina Fulton was resilient.
How were they so strong? I didn’t know. But I did know their very presence at the DNC and the words they spoke gave us a gift we’d never forget.
Sybrina Fulton said it best in closing: “We leave you what God has given us, strength and peace.”