Four Agreements: For Black Mothers Who Fear For Their Sons

by Sheila Dianne Jackson

I wrote a collection of biographies on the Civil Rights Movement. The months of research into one of the darkest eras of our history still haunts me – especially the story of Emit Till. I wondered how Mamie Till was able to make her son’s tortured body public. Now with more than a decade in the Motherhood, I believe she wanted to hold up a mirror. She wanted the world to share in her pain, for no one to escape the harsh reality.

Valerie Castle

And the hits keep coming. The “not guilty” verdict in the murder of Philando Castle prompted a  visceral response from his mother, courtesy of FB Live. I hesitated, before I tuned in, because I didn’t know if I could bear her pain alongside my anger, and concern for my own son. But I listened to her pour out her truth and stand in its power. And I felt free. She had no platitudes to offer, no prayers for the perpetrator, no solutions. She was unapologetic and raw, in that moment – and many Black women silently held her in that space. This seemingly impossible space where injustice, inhumanity, a ferocious love, and motherhood co-exist.

You cannot solve a problem at the same frequency as the problem. In other words, you cannot conquer hate through more hate. So we must find ways to RISE. These Four Agreements are exactly that – 4 provocations to elevate your consciousness.

1. Acknowledge your truth.

The first step in dealing with trauma is to acknowledge your truth. It takes courage to be honest. It is important to acknowledge what is true, and to reflect that truth to our children, and those around us. We must validate our own experiences as real.  It sounds simple. But we live in a world that asks us daily to pretend the injustices and inequities we suffer are not real; that they don’t have a profound  impact on us. It has become an expectation of Black women in American culture. To simply acknowledge your truth can free up a lot of energy that would otherwise build up and wreak havoc on the mental and physical well-being of you, your children, and ultimately the larger community.

2. Be a part of the solution.

I don’t know how you can be a Black mother and not be an activist. I still cannot wrap my brain around a woman who doesn’t consider herself a feminist. You don’t have to save the world. But for things to get better, it requires  the momentum and efforts of many. It’s like people who don’t vote. If you’re not a part of the solution you are most definitely the problem. I am calling on all Moms to be activists. Perform tiny acts of revolution. Raise ‘woke’ children who know their history and understand their power. Find an organization with a mission that aligns with yours, and give your time, effort or money. Do something.

3. Accept uncertainty, not injustice.

The truth is no mother can protect her child from life. This is one of the hardest truths of the Motherhood. All of the innocent boys who followed the rules and were still gunned down, are proof of this. Things happen that are out of our control. Some mothers never make peace with that fact. That ferocious mother-love comes with a vulnerability that overwhelms. Whether you are religious, spiritual, atheist, or other, it’s vital to find a healthy perspective – to maintain your sanity. These Four Agreements may be a good place to start.

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

-Kahlil Gibran, On Children

Uncertainty does not equal helplessness. Do not give in to injustice. Everything is energy – our anger, fear, and pain. We have the power to transform that energy. We can channel it like fuel into a gas tank and use it to empower and enhance all those aspects of our lives over which we do have control.

4. Acknowledge what is also true.

You can do this by reinforcing the positive. There are people who see the humanity, beauty and brilliance of our boys. Surround yourself with them. Some of you have alienated yourselves and your children, in environments in which you are marginalized and antagonized – in the quest for a ‘better life.’ Surround yourself and your sons with people who share your perspective. It’s super refreshing to visit a FB group filled with other Black mothers and read “Proud-Mama” posts of special moments, achievements, and challenges. It’s one of the few places where I see our boys consistently celebrated and elevated in love. Take advantage of the dialogues and sisterhoods that positively reinforce your identity, value and culture. It’s easy to get mired down in what’s wrong. It’s equally important to stay in touch with all the good around you, and to ground yourself in that truth.


I acknowledge the truth of my experience

I am an integral part of the solution

I accept uncertainty, not injustice

I embrace the positive, which is also true


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