How many birthdays are left for black boys?

By Rachel D. Graham

I knew what to expect. I had armed myself with my big-girl undies and my suit of armor, because despite my highest hopes, my gut and the breadcrumbs laid out by the municipality of Ferguson, Missouri, let me know it would be business as usual. And all the way through the 24-hour barrage of timeline rants, the release of pent-up frustration from the last 100-plus days and the bizarre defenses of last night’s non-indictment, I kept it together … until I decided to post my small tribute to the madness we face: a photo of me with the black man of my dreams, my son.

Believe it or not, I always wanted to raise a son of my own, on my own. Please don’t be mistaken. I adore my daughter and am exceedingly grateful for her. But there was just something about the challenge. I decided to be a single mother of a black man who would be the exception to all the rules; to be able to debunk all the myths and prove that it could be done.

Things didn’t quite work out that way. After a contentious battle, my daughter and I moved first to Baton Rouge and then finally to New Orleans. My precious gift stayed behind with his father and stepmother in the well-appointed, comfortable suburbs of Houston … a setting like the quiet, gated community that Trayvon Martin was visiting when he lost his life two years ago. From that day to this, I have found myself confounded by the notion of actually wanting to bring a black man into this world. How selfish could I be?

I posted an aged picture of my son and me to my Facebook profile to demonstrate solidarity with others in my social media sphere of influence; a way to show that African-American men, young and old, are loved, honored and appreciated by somebody. After Monday’s verdict, I felt it incredibly necessary to let the world know that, while it might see just another young black man, he will always be my baby. It was at that point my tough exterior softened, and I allowed myself to feel all the anger, rage, pain, disappointment and frustration I felt, not only with the grand jury’s decision fueled by an inept, half-baked attempt by the prosecution, but also with the reality that this will happen again.

What is playing out in Ferguson and Manhattan and Seattle and across the country is a repeat of the days after the not-guilty verdict in the case against George Zimmerman. People marched. We all posted our profile pictures with somber faces and hoodies. The usual suspect activists – and even some new jacks on the scene – traveled to Florida and marched on the capital. There were sit-ins and conference calls and social media outrage and threats of long-term boycotts by entertainment royalty. But there was no coordinated, organized, strategic response to the injustice that occurred. And even worse, the day after the verdict our leading civil rights organization held its annual convention in Orlando … and others followed in its footsteps … and our people are still pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the economy of a state that has demonstrated just how little it values the lives of black men and women. And not a damn thing has changed.

And so here I am with my heart raw and exposed, wanting to take back what was, by far, one of the most self-centered prayers imaginable. Because I would not wish the world I fear we live in on my worst enemy, much less on the only man I can say with an absolute certainty will always reciprocate the boundless love I feel for him. And worse yet, I have all questions and absolutely no answers. Now what? Will we realize that we, as a collective, have more power than we could ever imagine? Will we as African-American people really get the fact that emotional reaction never results in tangible change? Will we switch from tactical grandstanding and start engaging in strategic, long-range, well-planned campaigns against injustice? When is enough going to be enough? When will my son’s life really matter – not just to me or to law enforcement officials or government authorities, but to the very people who get up in arms in the moments of passionate disgust, only to return to the status quo when the mood passes?

My son turns 14 in a few days. My most burning question is, if something doesn’t change soon, how many birthdays will he have left?


Rachel D. Graham is a communications veteran who now serves as communications manager for the Neighborhoods Partnership Network. She is also the principal of Small Hinges SCE, a public relations consultancy specializing in strategic political and nonprofit communications. She is a respected social media influencer under the pseudonym Bayou Lois Lane and avid contributor to conversations on economic equity, social justice and pop culture.