Raising Black Boys to Men

A Mother's Guide to Raising Thugless Sons

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A Mother’s Fear

Often, my writing has an in-your-face tone and style. I’m not apologizing — my writing is a reflection of who I am, and my upbringing. I grew up in the housing projects of Washington, DC, during the 60’s. I lived through the riots and civil unrest. I saw first-hand how the lack of employment and educational opportunities created hopelessness and despair. Thus, creating an environment filled with crime and drugs.

When I became a mother of 3 sons, I not only feared that my sons wouldn’t have access to opportunities for success, but I feared for their safety. Unless you’re raising a black boy in America, you can’t understand that fear. I’d like to share that fear that I felt, day after day. Below is an essay I had written, but was unable to get published. It expresses my fear, as a Black mother raising sons. Sadly, the essay may never get published beyond this blog; editorial guidelines sometimes determine whether your voice is heard or not.

If we don’t tell our own stories, and lift up our voices, then who will speak for us and give the world a glimpse into the Black experience in America:


A Mother’s Fear

Long before Trayvon Martin’s hoodie represented fear and intimidation; long before Eric Garner lay sprawled on the concrete, and gasped “I Can’t Breathe;” long before a chalk line traced Michael Brown’s bloody body in Ferguson; and, long before Tamir Rice lost his life while playing with a toy gun, I feared for my own sons’ safety.

My fear, much like other Black mothers’ raising sons, didn’t just surface today. It’s the same fear shared by Black mothers raising sons from earlier generations. This fear, birthed from historical accounts of murdered black boys (Emmitt Till, Virgil Ware and Johnny Robinson), all early symbols of overzealous police and others, is branded into our subconscious minds. The heightened media coverage of recent incidents has given society at-large a glimpse into the persistent and hard-to-shake fear that Black mothers raising sons have always felt.

On any urban street across the nation, black mothers cry out in pain, while holding the lifeless bodies of their sons, who have become victims of yet another senseless crime. When each of my sons was born, I made a commitment to do all within my power to protect them. This commitment included loving them, guiding, and finally helping them to navigate amidst negative influences in society. To whoever could hear, or would listen, I made my message loud and clear: “You Can’t Have My Sons!” I was prepared to go down fighting, or die trying.

By far, raising Black boys in an urban area intensifies the fear – raising three sons increased my fear three-fold. The anxiety of raising my boys in several Philadelphia inner-city neighborhoods, strife with crime, violence, and drugs was enormous. With danger lurking on every corner, I was well aware that raising my sons in this environment meant that there were influences in my community, and in society waiting to devour them like sacrificial lambs.

The moment one of them walked out the door, I began to worry. Even a trip to the neighborhood corner store could result in one or more of my sons becoming a victim of a drive-by shooting. Likewise, even their daily walk to school made them vulnerable to the advances of neighborhood drug dealers. And although my husband and I had raised our sons to have intelligence, good morals, respect for women, and themselves, I just wasn’t sure if this was enough to protect them. In my heart, I was always, always afraid for them.

I fought hard to suppress the fear and pretended that I wasn’t worried, by telling myself “He’ll be ok.” After all, we raised him and his brothers’ right. Still, deep down inside I didn’t really believe those words. Prayers silently recited: “Oh God, protect my son and return him safely” gave comfort. Without faith in those prayers, I would have surely, slowly succumbed to that nagging anxiety of waiting for my sons to come home.

As much as I longed to keep my sons protected from society’s ills – this was impossible. Knowing that I couldn’t watch them 24/7, I could only advise them to always do the right thing; a principle they could apply to every aspect of their lives.

Once my boys became teenagers, I tried to prepare them for what they might encounter as they left home, by having “The Talk” –those words of wisdom on what to do if stopped by the police: show respect, keep your hands on the steering wheel, and most importantly don’t provoke – the goal is to leave the situation alive.

Still, the uneasiness when darkness fell, and my sons hadn’t returned home, gave rise to anxiety, then fear. This fear, as it arose was much like a pot of slowly boiling water. Beginning as a thought, then growing to acute terror, the closer darkness overtook the day.

Telling myself that ‘No news is good news’ helped with my anxiety, of not hearing from one of my sons, for several hours. Yet, when the phone rang, I prayed that bad news wasn’t waiting on the other end of the phone, upon answering it — feeling relief when it was only a family member or friend calling to see how I was doing.

The moment all of my sons arrived home safely, I sighed, thankful that God had protected them another day. Although they arrived home safely that day, didn’t mean the fear had ended. It had just ended for that particular day.

Trayvon Martin’s death seemed to mark the beginning of open season on young, Black men, in America. As such, I anticipated hearing the news of another mother losing a son. Today, my heart aches for all the mothers that have lost sons. The sad truth — the fear of losing a son is something we black mothers know — better than any other mother.

Patricia Joseph


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