In April 2016, I learned I was pregnant with a little boy, and what should have been an exciting time immediately brought thoughts of “the talk.” When should I have it? What would I say? How will I respond if life educates him before I can? How do I make sure I get ahead of the world imposing its biases on my sweet child?
I was able to subdue these worries until I returned from a babymoon trip with my husband that summer. During our time away – which we affectionately called our “no cell-phone vacay” – my husband and I disconnected from the world by logging off the internet and enjoying some solitude and reconnection. But when we returned, we were met with news that was all too familiar for Black Americans: another series of police killings of Black men.
The fear, stress, and anxiety peaked for us as we learned the details of the killings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and Ronnie Shumpert at the hands of police officers in three different cities. My social media feed was raging with expressions of hurt and anger coming from the Black community, but my white counterparts were largely silent. It hurt. I could hardly believe how loud the silence was.
I knew at that moment that I had to do something to protect the life of my child – and I had to do it alongside people who had the same level of vested interest in ending police violence. In short, I needed to connect moms who were motivated to act, not just stew in anger. This was the birth of 1 Million Madly Motivated Moms (aka 1M4).
For as long as I can remember, Black people have known the dangers of law enforcement. Now an abundance of data proves what we have been saying for generations. Black people are three times more likely to be killed during police interactions than whites.
Here’s another data point: Black women are three times more likely to die from complications of pregnancy than white women.
These are facts that Black mothers across the country know all too well. It’s frustrating to survive birthing a child only to face the possibility of someone taking that child through gun violence or police violence – two forms of bloodshed that disproportionately affect Black people.
These statistics replay in our minds, over and over again. We do all we can to quiet the noise but eventually the news breaks through: Another unarmed Black person has died at the hands of police. We empathize with the impacted family and we wonder: What would we do if it happened to us? It’s a lot to handle, and it can consume us if there is no outlet or safe space to share our feelings.
That’s where 1M4 comes in. We are a membership model organization – a sisterhood – with each paid member having one vote on cases of apparent police violence that we will or will not support. Our email list and calls to action are open to anyone. However, voting on cases and the confidential details of cases are exclusively for paid members only.
We work on multiple fronts, but our overarching goal is to end police violence in the United States by the year 2038. We know this is a huge undertaking and that to many people, it sounds impossible. But we are confident we can and will succeed by pursuing a three-pronged approach: Organizing Black moms to end police violence through legislative advocacy, offering financial assistance to impacted families, and encouraging the next generation of Black youth to pursue roles in the justice system and politics with integrity.
This type of activism and organizing requires that moms protect our greatest weapon in the fight: our mental health. 1M4 is here to give moms a place to air our frustrations with recurring police violence, create solutions that have measurable impact, and prioritize our mental health to maintain peace of mind despite the chaos of inequality.
We address the impact of policing in the past by assisting impacted families; we address it in the present by advocating for legislative change, and we work to change the future by helping Black youth – especially the children of our members – gain influential roles (like one member’s 13-year-old daughter who vows to become a judge!).
We vote as a collective on impacted families to support with not only monetary gifts, but also with emotional support. In many cases of police violence, the person that was killed or injured is painted as a criminal, and their family is left to fight for accountability alone. 1M4 works to provide ongoing support by checking in on the family, drafting public statements, and providing resources to assist with the legal fight. It is heavy emotional work as we grow close to the families and learn details of the cases that are not provided to the general public. It is heartbreaking at times but empowering because we are directly assisting those who need it most – fellow moms.
In the legislative arena, we seek the end of qualified immunity, which makes it nearly impossible to hold officers accountable for lethal or excessive force.
We want federal legislation to make body and dash cam footage – in full unedited form – available to families. Most people don’t know this, but police departments aren’t always required to release complete, unedited camera footage. It makes little sense to require body cams but then fail to share the footage with the family of the impacted party, and it causes additional mistrust of officers. It took two years for the family of Ronald Greene to gain access to the footage of his arrest – and when it finally emerged, it contradicted the officers’ claim that he died as a result of a car accident.
1M4 also supports federal legislation that provides funding and resources to new kinds of mental health responders that don’t involve police, and we are working to educate the public about policies and programs that build this effort. Research has shown that at least 25% of people killed by police have a history of mental illness. For this reason, we created a national directory of non-police mobile crisis response units which you can find on our website. Reducing interactions with police during these types of emergencies will save lives and bring us closer to ending police violence.
1M4 uses the collective voice of the mom community to remind ourselves of our own power. We often feel powerless, unheard and misunderstood. But through this united work and our bi-weekly “Sista Check-ins,” we are able to transform the anger we feel into healthy, focused action.
During our Sista Check-ins, our time together is not only used to discuss injustice. We center our conversations on how we will fix the flaws to the system and what practices we will use to protect our mental health in the process. These check-ins are our time to decompress and share in a safe space with like-minded moms. No pressure. Just open, transparent communication to release whatever is happening in life. We have found that this space is cherished by moms since it represents one of the few times when the focus is on ourselves and our mental wellness.
If you are a Black mom interested in joining a community of care-centered, solution-oriented women, join our Sista Circle at https://www.1m4.org/. If you’re not a Black mom but you want to support our work and stay connected, you can become an ally and sign up on our mailing list here.