Happy Thanksgiving to all who are reading my words. There are so many people to be grateful for it's hard to be sad in this season. Yet with the recent developments in Ferguson, there is sadness weighing on my heart this morning!
But I'm grateful for every person who has supported my vision of Sisters from the beginning back in 1998 to the present time. I'm especially grateful for all those who supported the Exceptional Adults with Disabilities Gala that we hosted in May, 2014, and for those who support Our Voices production and understand that it is produced to change hearts!
Supporters have been of all races - Jewish, Italian, White, Hispanic, German, African American. They have been of all ages, from teenagers to 90 year olds. They have been from all economic backgrounds: A head of a movie studio. The head of a Network. An investment banker. An owner of a professional football team. Homeless women and struggling single mothers.
We live in a diverse, wonderful country for those of us who are willing to judge a man by his character and not the color of his skin and who are willing to extend ourselves beyond our boxes of comfort.
It's Thanksgiving and I remain hopeful. As Martin Luther King said when he accepted the Nobel Peace prize:
"I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically
bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that
the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never
become a reality".
And so no matter how many times I suffer because of the color of my skin, I still have an organization with the legal 501 (c) (3) non-profit name of Sisters Supporting Sisters. My Sisters are from all backgrounds and nationalities. This past weekend, I attended a meeting of my sorority Delta Sigma Theta, which is one of the largest group of professional black women in the nation. My mother was a Delta, and I'm prayerful that one day I will be able to pass on this organization, its name, that denotes Sisters Supporting Sisters of all colors helping each other, to the next generation of women who believe that sister-hood can be a reality.
Because my strength comes from facing my pain, I stand in times of difficulty for myself, my family, and my country. So I am standing today with every African American mother, my sisters, who have feared for the safety of their sons.
Yesterday when the Ferguson Grand Jury decision and testimony of Officer Darren Wilson were disclosed, I thought back on my early days with Sisters Supporting Sisters and how I was almost killed serving Sisters while I was with my handsome sons, pictured below as the adults they are today.
My youngest son My middle son
My Autistic Angel, the oldest.
But on this afternoon that I write about today, my sons were ages 7, 10, and 14. My two youngest sons were attending a predominately white school in Holmby Hills, one of the most affluent areas in Los Angeles. For the most part, they were accepted with open arms, although there were petty incidents:
The time when a white kid ordered my 10 year old off the playground because he said the school was for white people. My sons were always sports stars. My son had taken over the court, and this kid wanted his time in the spot light so...he ordered my son off the court. This son, popular as could be, later became the first African American President of the student body of this predominantly white School, and he never left the court. He played varsity basketball in high school, along with baseball. He was always an athletic star and could have continued with sports had he wanted.
His younger brother followed in his foot-steps but by that time things were beginning to change. A new generation of Reganite parents were rising up. They had no use for Martin Luther King and the struggles of African Americans. The change was undeniable. These parents believed, like the little white boy on the playground with my middle son, that this was a white school and that a little black boy should not be President of the school, like his older brother had been a few years prior.
At the culmination of my youngest son, these parents left my son's name off of the list of graduates. "Oops," they said. "They had simply forgotten his name." They rearranged the graduation ceremony so that the Student Body President was not the Master of the Ceremony. My youngest son would not reside over their graduation ceremony although he was the Student Body President.
When I complained to the Principal, our entire family was introduced. We all stood in front of these few racist parents who were running the school. My youngest was called to the front of the stage where the Principal talked about his reign as Student Body President. Because of the evil doers, the spotlight was turned brightly on my youngest son.
My sons were untouched by the incident. By then they understood the ugly truth of racism because I had shared the sad truth with them a few years prior. They had cried in the back seat of my jeep and begged me to take back what I had just explained to them. It was one of the most heart crushing moments I had as their Mom.
I had decided to tell them the truth when they were 7, 10, and 14. Sisters Supporting Sisters was having a huge clothes, books, and computer drive for parents at the school where I was teaching in Watts. It was 1998, I believe.
The affluent mothers of my sons' school in Holmby Hills had embraced me, Sisters Supporting Sisters, and were bringing a ton of hi-end books, clothes, and a few computers. Each week, I would load my Jeep with as much as I could fit in it, leaving tiny spaces for my sons to sit, and take all the used, but incredibly good, items back across time to my school in Watts.
I loved doing this and remember mothers who were struggling to feed and cloth their kids being so grateful for all of the beautiful used things coming from the affluent mothers in Holmby Hills. The affluent parents in Holmby Hills loved sharing their things and donating time for good causes. In fact, in 1993, I wrote an article that was published in the Los Angeles times about this special school with its magnanimous parents .
On this particular day, there was a ton of stuff waiting for me. I asked my husband to help me pick up the boys up and all the donated things. The jeep was bulging with clothes, books, toys, baby items as we traveled south on Beverly Glen near Century City. I saw the police officers following us and hoped that they would leave me alone. I saw the suspicious look in their eyes, but by the time we got to Santa Monica Boulevard, they had made a decision!
They had decided that I was a criminal stealing stuff from the rich people in Holmby Hills. "My God," I imagine they thought, "she's about to get off with ripping off the rich people in Holmby Hills." Because of all the stuff in the jeep, I didn't see their flashing lights behind me so they pulled up beside me and motioned for me to pull over. I pulled into a busy parking lot of a grocery store on the corner.
With their guns drawn , they approached the car slowly, aiming the gun at my head. I guess they called for back-up while pulling over because by the time they got to my window we were surrounded by cops. They begin to scream for me to get out of the car with my hands up! With a gun pointed at my husband's head, who was in the passenger seat, they ordered him out!
Without thinking of the danger I was in, I begin to scream to the top of my lungs!!! I had never had a gun pointed at me, and I was scared to death. I was so scared that I couldn't remember how to unlock the car and open the door. I couldn't remember how to roll the windows down. I screamed, hysterically. "You are wrong! We are not criminals! Put your damn guns away!!! My kids are in the back seat!" I realize today how close I was to having my head blown off!
I thank God Darren Wilson was not at the end of the gun pointed in my face. Thank God the officer that I was screaming at didn't see a demon Black woman staring back at him. Thank God the officer on my husband's side didn't think he was up against the Incredible Hulk! My husband is 6'4, over 200 pounds, a former UCLA basketball player. Thank God the officer who was pointing the gun at him wasn't scared like a 5 year old as Darren Wilson said he was. Thank God he didn't make a split decision to blow my husband's head away.
Instead these officers listened to my hysterical screams and slowly put their guns down. They told the back up to stand down! They called the watch commander. They allowed me to remain in the car.
While waiting for the watch commander, one of my youngest son's friends passed us with his Mom. He was the cutest, little blonde, blue eyed boy with curly hair. He was a first grader. He just stared. I was humiliated and hoped that he and his mother wouldn't stop. I hoped that they didn't see my first grader petrified in the back seat. They didn't stop, and the watch commander came. I accepted his apology and all ended well. I lived to write this story.
But the next day as I took my boys to school, I decided that I had to tell them the truth. That they needed to be guarded while out with their friends. That they couldn't play pranks or be too loud or rambunctious while out. That although their friends may want to run up and down movie aisles or game arcades in Westwood, that they had to always be cautious and guarded. I explained that they were tall boys and could be perceived as a threat. That if they were ever stopped by the police, they should make sure their body language was in a surrendered stance. That they should never act in a threatening manner. I wanted them to survive a random stop!
They should speak calmly, softly, but confidently. They should ask that the officers call their parents immediately like I did when I was 12 or 13 years old in Ann Arbor Michigan and was suddenly surrounded by police while sitting on a bus stop. I was waiting for my mother who was in her office at the University of Michigan and had just completed her Ph.D. I was told I fit the description of a bank robber. I was tall for my age. This is how I looked at the time of that stop!
As I explained the state of policing in America, my sons cried! They said they didn't want to be different from their friends. They sobbed on the 405 as we travelled from our black side of town to Westwood. I sobbed with them as I explained this was still a racist country. That I wanted them to survive! That police officers were often times un-educated, scared little boys with guns, who would shoot them dead if they perceived they were a threat!
I didn't want a police officer who perceived them as a threat to kill them like they killed a 12 year old boy, who was shot twice in the torso, as he played with a toy gun in a park on this past Saturday in Cleveland.
"Don't make any strange moves, my precious sons," I instructed. "Put your hands up. "Always surrender without a fight to a racist world that may demonize you, at times, because of the color of your skin. You may be viewed as a predator with super natural strength even though you're just a child. By the time we got to Westwood, the boys had calmed down. We had all dried our tears.
As soon as I got out of the car that morning, the little first grader who saw us being detained in the grocery parking lot the day before, rushed up to me. I dreaded what he was about to say. I held my breath as he said, with innocence in his eyes, "Mrs. Kelly, I didn't know that your husband had a bald head!" I laughed so hard tears again dropped from my eyes. I hugged this sweet, precious first grader.
In an instant, he restored my hope and faith. I kissed my sons goodbye. I left my son's school and traveled south on the 405 to the African American side of town thinking about Martin Luther King's I have a dream speech:
"This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day...
From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
Free at last! Free at last!"
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
My heart is filled with hope. I write all of this with hope that we all will advocate for change of the policing tactics and training policies in America. I write to encourage all parents of African American boys and young men to train them to survive a random stop by the police. We parents must take responsibility for the well-being of our boys until our country is healed of racism! I have faith.
Founder of Indelible Impact Program
Sponsored by Sisters Supporting Sisters, a 501 (c) (3)
P.S. My youngest and middle sons are both working in Hollywood and successfully building careers. They are embraced by their companies. My oldest, my Autistic angel, works with me, and I worry that his mannerisms may cause alarm when he's out alone. All three are handsome, cool, educated, and successful. Yet, I must pray, incessantly, that they are never demonized by a LAPD officer.
Indelible impact Productions inspire CHANGE!
TBone, the fictional security guard at the make shift non-profit in Our Voices, tells the story of a Black man accused by society of wrong doing
Cast & Crew of Voices of the Unheard
July 6, 2013